The problem is so common there is a term for it. Andrew shares his personal struggle trying to deter the “bug chasers” from his “gift” (NSFW).
I have been around the block quite a lot and I thought I had seen and read everything and that nothing would shock me…but I was wrong! A few years ago I was chatting with friends on Gaydar when a bisexual husband and wife started talking with me. At first all was going well- just casual chats. Soon this changed to a very sexually infused conversation so I told them I was HIV+. I thought that this would be the end of it and that I would get the usual comments back when I disclosed that I carry what some had labelled “THE GAY PLAGUE”.
But much to my shock they got even more eager and horny saying ,“Oh please fuck us bareback!”
Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t even here looking for sex, let alone sex without a condom. I tried getting rid of these people who seemed to be looking to become positive but this didn’t work. So I tried explaining to them the downsides to having a disease like this: the tiredness, the slow healing, stigma and losing friends and family due to misunderstandings. None of this sunk in. If anything, it seemed to turn them on even more. By this time, I had resorted to my basic instincts and frankly told them where they could insert their desires and that I wanted nothing to do with them.
Now I’m not a fan of children in anyway and avoid them and their screaming like a medieval person would avoid a plague infested rat, but on this occasion I had to act.
You see, what got anger levels way up was they had said above all else they wanted me to fuck the wife bareback filling her with my “poz seed” and making sure that she fell pregnant by me so that they could have a positive baby! I felt sick and disgusted and so scared of the fact that there were people that not only wanted to be “POZ” themselves but would actively seek to create a new life- a baby who would be born with this terrible life-altering disease.
So I did what any decent human being would; I blocked the people, warned the room, and even spoke to Gaydar themselves, letting them know that the profile in question was seeking to purposefully contract “HIV” and to get the lady pregnant with a “positive” baby.
Gaydar said that it wasn’t within their control and that they didn’t have the right to tell people what they could or couldn’t do on their website and that I should just ignore them. Now I wasn’t satisfied with this outcome so I turned to the charity which offers advice to people about “HIV” and other STIs, ‘Terrance Higgins Trust’. I thought that they would agree with me and make a stand; tell Gaydar to block these people from the site and at least help educate people more. But no. They said as well that they couldn’t control what people did and that it wasn’t their place to tell Gaydar what to do.
I was lost and didn’t know what to do about this situation aside from carrying on telling people who wanted bareback with a positive person that they would be very sorry and have to deal with so much grief both from stigma and dealing with side effects of medication. Most people saw how stupid what they wanted was and changed their minds but some still went on looking and would search out those that were known as “Gift Givers” who would infect these “Bug Chasers”, as they called themselves.
Due to this situation, I have avoided Gaydar. Once people had learned I was HIV Positive they were drawn like bees to honey and it depressed me so much seeing their stupidity time and time again that I would at times cry.
There were a few things I realised due to this terrible event. The education of sexually communicable diseases needs to be increased and made openly available along with better display of condoms in shops, and that websites and other places that people can go for sex take more responsibility for dealing with people who are actively searching for the “GIFT” of disease from those people who are infected.
Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own.
Like a lot of people, I always used to think someone with HIV or AIDS was going to be super skinny, so when I was diagnosed in 2005 I thought, “Yes, never fat again“. Looking back with what I now know (Including my own waist line) I realise that this is not case. Yes, some people are skinny with it due to many reasons , but on the whole we are all different shapes and sizes, and some are like me: stocky.
Now in 2009, I made a decision to show the world that people living with HIV can be chunky as well, so I took part in the Walk for Life and all I wore was a t-shirt some new rock boots and a tight jock strap.
A cheeky way to remind us that people living with HIV come in all shapes and sizes.
Now I know this may shock some to know that I own a jock strap (6 actually) but I do and I walked what ended up being 12 miles and ended up in Soho London having a drink in a bar. We barely got any trouble from passers by aside from one nasty homophobic woman who worked for a rather famous London attraction.While dressed as a Victorian whore, she called me a sick pervert who needed to be sorted out.
Throughout the day, people loved having pics taken with me and even the police had a good giggle at my bare bum getting so much attention. Not one person that day guessed I was HIV+ though. This is sad in a way that we have such compartmentalized views or ideas on how someone who is ill should look and act.
So when you go out please try and not label people just because they maybe skinny or stocky, as any of us can and do have HIV/AIDS, or some other kind of condition and we do not deserve to be judged just as you all don’t deserve to be either.
So much love to you all. Drew
Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own.
For Andrew, the end of STI and disease stigma beings at the disclosure process. He finds that being open, matter-of-fact and disclosing his HIV status without shame is the most effective method- no beating around the bush. What is your approach to receiving or giving an STI disclosure?
It was like any other day where you take those tentative steps in a new friendship. I stepped out the door and headed down to my local pub to meet up with a guy who I had been talking to for a few weeks on-line. Today was the day we had decided that we should meet face-to-face in the flesh and see where it goes from there. So when I get in the bar he waves me over and hugs me tightly and says, ‘Pleasure to finally meet you’. Of course, I am happy to be expanding my circles of friends but deep down I have a dark secret; a secret I was ashamed of back then.
So after a few rounds of drinks the conversation (as you can well imagine between to very horny men) got down to the nitty gritty of sex. ‘Aww Gary’ (not his real name), ‘There’s something about me you must know.’ To which he came closer and gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered, ‘You can’t shock me. I want you’. I blushed and looked down then back up and stared him long and hard in the eyes and just blurted out, ‘I have HIV’. He open and closed his mouth a few times then pushed me hard away saying, ‘Ewwwww, you have what?’ I told him again everything. After a long tirade of abuse both physical and verbal, he just walked away, and thankfully I never saw him again.
For people who are as scared as he was I have taken to introducing myself like this: ‘Hi. I’m Andrew and HIV+ is what I am.’
This as you can well imagine has its ups and downs and can at times frighten people but I do it because LIFE IS TO DAMN SHORT not to! I shouldn’t have to waste time on what false friends might think or how they may treat me due to the positive diagnosis.
There is the other side of the coin as well: In order to protect yourself from harmful reactions or protect those you hold dear, at times it’s OK not to disclose to others. Positive people develop ways to navigate a disclosure and search for social cues to try to predict if it is safe to share their status with a particular person. Just know that anyone who truly loves you should have no bother with you begin HIV+ or having any other STI other than, ‘Will you be ok?’
The only time you really must disclose is when you intend to have any form of sexual contact with someone else.
And the onus isn’t only on those who must disclose a positive status. Harmful reactions to disclosure strengthen stigma and further help the virus spread. The general public needs to learn how to respectfully receive a disclosure.
The disclosure of any disease, infection or condition should not be an embarrassment or something to shame. It should be as easy as telling them, ‘Oh god, make me fucking cum.’ But we can’t, we don’t, we wont, and this is destroying families, lives and killing people whether be in direct connection to the said STI or due to the secondary effect which is the suicide of so many every year. The fact that this can still happen in this century is a disgrace.
I argue that the fault lies in the hands of all those who have reacted badly to being disclosed to- including reacting with violence or verbal abuse. It also lies in the fault of those who do not disclose. There is a general fear in our culture towards talking openly about diseases and conditions. This fear must be overcome.
The reasons people don’t disclose ranges from fear, disgust, pain (both physical and mental). The one that stumps me is people who want to intentionally pass on the virus. These twisted, deranged assholes are rare, but their extreme actions are potent enough to further stigmatize the entire HIV community and make tolerance of HIV in the dating scene even more difficult. Any reason for intentionally transmitting any disease is a disgusting habit which needs to be stamped out by everyone who cares about this. We can make stigma a thing of the past if we all shamelessly disclose and respectfully receive disclosure.
So to end this little piece, understand me when I shout this:
‘IM ANDREW JOHN NIELD AND I’M A PROUD MAN WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE HIV+, STAND BY ME AND I WILL STAND BY YOU AND TOGETHER WE WILL WIN AGAINST THE BIGGOTS.’
Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own
The reality of TasP (treatment as prevention) is having a profound effect of serodiscordant couples today. Scientific evidence shows that under certain conditions, the risk of HIV transmission is so low that doctors now recommend some serodiscordant couple have condomless sex if they want to get pregnant. But for many, updated evidence cannot match the deep-seeded fear of contracting HIV. Armed with sources and facts, this monologue is a personal letter from an HIV positive woman confronting her husband’s apprehensions to start having condomless sex.
We have been in this relationship for a year and you know how I feel about you. I think you are the most wonderful man in existence, in my unbiased opinion. We share many interests, we have fun together, and in spite of my HIV status, the sex has been great. There have been no major challenges with my status until now.
As I long for a time when I could have condomless sex and exchange body fluids, an intimate act that feels like none other, condoms are an increasing reminder that we have a barrier between us. Regardless of how much lube one uses there is no condom available that does not feel like a condom. The female condom is okay but as my colleague noted, it is like having sex with a garbage bag inside you, complete with the noise of the crumpling latex.
I did get pregnant the good old fashioned way with my first child from a previous relationship and she is not HIV positive, nor is her father. I want to have another baby, but somehow that conversation gets diverted each time I initiate it. As you very well know, I do want to get pregnant naturally and our doctor recommended we try the good old fashioned way, like other hetero-couples wanting to have a child. We are in a committed, monogamous, trusting relationship. We know each other’s sexual health and HIV status. Scientific evidence presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) and discussion leading up to CROI left me feeling hopeful that soon the condoms would be put to rest.
Gus Cairns explains the outcomes of the latest PARTNER study which is showing promise while waiting for the final results in 2017. The PARTNER study is an international collaboration taking place in several European countries and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research in England and coordinated by Copenhagen HIV Programme (CHIP), in collaboration with University College London (the sponsor) and The Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, London.
“When asked what the study tells us about the chance of someone with an undetectable viral load transmitting HIV, presenter Alison Rodger said: “Our best estimate is it’s zero” (In Cairns 2014).
Seeing all of this evidence presented, along with knowing about my HIV negative child, makes me anxious as we wait for the time when we can stop using condoms. I trust you and I know you trust me but your refusal to accept new scientific evidence resulting from research studies, information that is not really new, as I was told years ago that under certain conditions I am not infectious, is making me question many things about this relationship. Mark S. King raises the question of whether people living with HIV will ever be considered safe sex partners. He refers in his writing to the ways in which people living with HIV are viewed as “suicide bombers” (2014). While reading his articles, I realized just how much work is ahead for the HIV community. But does there need to be such effort with us as I wonder if we are continuing to make informed decisions?
Who would have thought a condom could create so much stress in our relationship. Stress I was not prepared for and did not see coming as I believed you would eventually accept the evidence presented and change practices accordingly. After all, we are not in a one-night-stand as random strangers not knowing each other’s sexual history, where a condom would be used without question. We have evolved in our relationship. Or so I thought. But the continued use of condoms makes me question whether or not you can finally rid yourself of the fear of HIV transmission.
On a global scale, Bob Leahy (2014), who initially was not sold on the idea of treatment as prevention (TasP), now supports it completely, but he does remind the HIV community of “the huge amount of work that needs to be done, with advocacy at all levels being a sizeable component”, to convince institutions of the need for supporting and implementing TasP. As individuals, you and me are part of the TasP model.
Sex is not as spontaneous as it could be because we always have to ensure beforehand that condoms are nearby. The act of getting the condom ready and reaching for it is a constant, nagging reminder that screams out – “Watch out for HIV the big boogy man waiting in the corner reminding us to constantly be on guard”. I fantasize about the day when we can simply wake up in the morning and have sex without any reminders, with complete intimacy and trust without anxiety and fear.
What would I do if I were in your position?
I cannot say with certainty that I would embrace the idea and abandon the condoms without any lingering fear and doubt. I just do not know. I would like to think I would understand the science of HIV and realize that there is no real risk; that I would abandon my trepidation and in turn abandon condoms eventually. Maybe I would, and maybe I would not, preferring to hang on to the comfort and security of the condom.
Condoms are for one night stands, random sex, having sex with partners whose status is unknown, for avoiding all other sexually transmitted infections. We have none of those concerns. I have to be honest as I share my thoughts. I have thought on a couple of occasions of pursing sex with someone else who wants to have condomless sex. I need to feel the intimacy and deep connection to a man as we have sex that is uninterrupted with reminders, good old fashioned spontaneous sex. I never thought a small piece of latex could cause so much stress and doubt in a relationship. I want to maintain the status quo but on the other hand I want to have sex without condoms.
The last thing I want to do is transmit this virus to you. But as Marc-André LeBlanc (2014) so eloquently explained it, you are in fact safer with an HIV positive partner than with one whose status is unknown. I am beginning to give up hope as I try to explain that in fact, you -my partner- are safer with me as an HIV positive woman with stable, well controlled health status. I am getting impatient. There is growing tension in the relationship. If you cannot trust me and scientific evidence then I am going to begin to wonder if you have really addressed your fears, in depth, about HIV.
The province of British Columbia as an international leader in developing a model of the Test and Treat strategy, recently collaborated with China in offering services for them to implement to reduce HIV transmission through TasP, (Povidence Health Care: 2014), providing further evidence for the need to recognize how treatment does prevent transmission of HIV. I am on and adhere to treatment and am well controlled.
I understand completely and if the shoe were on the other foot. It may take some convincing on my part to trust and believe what is being presented. I am no different from anyone else and my personal perceptions and ideology take time to adjust to scientific evidence which is presented. My education about HIV came from the old fear based strategically targeted place. It is not easy to let go of those fears. They are embedded in our institutions and in our individual psyche, very deeply, I am finding out.
Len Tooley who does HIV testing, explains how “sexual health is often framed in the idea of risk instead of rewards. He goes on to explain how “this may present HIV and those living with it as the worst possible outcome imaginable, which is not only stigmatizing but often irrational and false since many people with HIV are, in fact, just fine” (In Straube: 2014).
So, will you let me know when the condom can come off?
Your partner and lover.
Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own.
We need to question the efficacy of pushing condoms as the only safe sex choice. The condom campaign does not seem to be working anymore and people are not getting the message. Yet Aids Service Organizations (ASOs) continue with this message. Granted, with PrEP there is a shift in responsibility that goes beyond those already infected with HIV, to everyone engaging in sex. Yet this shift brings a lot of discomfort as people outside of the HIV community and within begin to see their own roles and responsibilities changing.
Sticking with the condom campaign is the safe route, (pardon the pun) for institutions as they begin to formulate and consolidate their position on PrEP. Is there fear that supporting PrEP could imply promoting unsafe sex and sexual behavior that is out of control? Is promoting the use of PrEP taking too much of a risk with funders and stake holders who are comfortable with the good old (but not tried and true) condom message? Is PrEP a tough sell as the general public remains in a state of fear and denial about HIV?
Let’s be honest. Who practices safe sex all the time? People make mistakes. People faulter. Who likes using condoms all the time? I don’t. I was in a long term relationship with an HIV negative person where “all conditions” were adhered to, meaning – we were monogamous, had no other sexually transmitted infections, I had an undetectable viral load and was on anti retroviral treatment. Also being a woman, the likelihood of transmitting the virus has been shown statistically to be low. Throughout this time my partner remained HIV negative. It was what Josh Kruger refered to as an “adult informed decision”.
But if I mention this to the general public or my local ASO the reaction would be one of horror. I would be handed a condom pack, with a corny safe sex message inside, and given a pat on the head and small lecture on safe sex with condom use as my only option. My job might be threatened too as I am not adhering to the organization’s policies.
In the meantime, I will continue to tow the party line, pretend that condoms are the only solution to reducing HIV transmission rates, while those of us in the know will continue to make responsible, informed decisions about bare backing. Are Aids Service Organizations, the Supreme Court of Canada and the general public in denial about the latest development in research and medical evidence? Who are the risk takers and who is going to take risks and acknowledge that condom use alone, as the safe sex message, is not working.
I choose to remain anonymous as I value my job and the funding that comes to the organization I work for.
Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the writer’s own. To learn more about PrEP, ARTs, and other prevention measures, the Beta Blog is a great resource. What HIV sources do you recommend? Have you experienced fear of PrEP? What HIV awareness campaigns are working?
After my HIV diagnosis I basically shut down and withdrew from everyone for a long time while I struggled to make sense out of it, to understand what exactly HIV was and how I contracted it. I thought at the time it was a virus that affected only gay men, along with many other misconceptions I had read in the newspaper. My doctor, who was the only person I spoke to, suggested I meet a woman he knew who was also HIV positive. He explained that she did have a drug problem in the past but it was all behind her now. I declined the invitation initially because I did not think I had anything in common with the woman. But, after more encouragement from the doctor, I agreed to take her phone number.
I met Julia at her apartment where she lived with her girlfriend Barbara. They greeted me at the door and immediately asked if they could borrow twenty dollars. I gave them the money and Julia went downstairs to see her landlord. Throughout the evening Julia and Barbara made several trips downstairs to see the landlord and each time they came back upstairs, both women appeared to be high on some substance other than marijuana.
Eventually the landlord made an appearance wearing a pair of cowboy boots in the summer heat. He sat next to me on the sofa and started flirting with me, telling me I had nice legs as he stared at me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I reassured myself all was well because he was a friend of Julia. Also, I got this referral from the doctor so they couldn’t be that bad.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door and a man burst in looking wired and out of control, on a chemical drug. He was in an agitated state and began screaming at the landlord to “give me my fucking drugs”. The landlord screamed back “you will get your fucking drugs when I get my fucking money”. The argument got so heated I was convinced one of them was going to pull out a weapon and someone was going to be seriously injured or killed.
To say I was afraid was an understatement, as I glanced around for a place to hide if shots were fired.
Eventually, the landlord reached into his cowboy boots and pulled out a bag of white powder and gave it to the guy, with some harsh words and threats. I peaked in the cowboy boots and noticed they were both stuffed with bags of white powder.
During the heated argument not only was I afraid about my safety and the safety of Julia and Barbara, I wondered whether the police were going to arrive. I imagined myself being led away in handcuffs during this drug bust, pleading with the officers, as I explained I was simply visiting these ladies for coffee. I even went as far in my paranoid state of envisioning my picture all over the local news and having to explain to family and friends what the hell happened as they nodded in disbelief.
Something like – “Sure Virgina, you were simply visiting for coffee when all of this went down”.
After the scene I was beyond relieved to get home and lock my door. That was many years ago. I sometimes think about Julia and Barbara and wonder how they are doing. In spite of being in a situation where I had never felt so terrified, I liked the women. They opened their home to me and shared their stories about HIV. We connected with each other on some level.
They called a few times afterwards and left messages on my answering machine at all hours of the night. I did not return the calls but now I wish I could speak to Julia and Barbara and say thank you for the hospitality, because all these years later, and after meeting many more HIV positive people, I realize we are in this battle together, regardless of who we are or where we have been.
Thank you, Julia and Barbara, for reaching out to me in a time of need.
P.S. I did give my doctor a brief synopsis of the visit with Julia and Barbara. He quietly nodded and we did not talk about it again.
Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. For more information about living with HIV, check out Rise Up To HIV and be sure to watch the online documentary, Positive Women.
I know it is possible to have good sex with a partner who is HIV negative. I did it for years. As I look back, the fear and frenzy about HIV transmission was more manageable back then, more so than now when the mere mention of HIV to potential sex partners causes them to behave in irrational and inconsiderate ways out of fear and hysteria. All of this to say, fear campaigns do not work, they do the opposite of what they were intended for. I can write forever about experiences but I do not want to bore anyone, so here are just a few from recent encounters.
1. I was pleasantly surprised when a man I met claimed he was comfortable with my status and wanted to pursue a relationship. Initially it went well but after a short while he began doing strange things, like checking to see if the condom was on during sex. That got frustrating when he upped the frequency so often that I wanted to scream – FORGET IT! How frustrating to be having sex, getting closer to an orgasm and him stopping the show to check the goddamn condom.
2. I met another man who claimed to be comfortable with my HIV status and after a great romp in the sack he promptly jumped up and washed his dick in the sink with hot soapy water. I don’t think the erection had subsided he was so fast. I walked out and never looked back on that one.
3. I can’t forget another experience with someone I had known for a long time who had not been aware of my HIV status. We decided to get intimate and he was shocked when I disclosed my status before hand. He mentioned how I did not look likeI had HIV. I really wish I knew how someone looks who has HIV. He did assure me he was comfortable and well informed about HIV; not to worry. The first time we had sex it was great. The next time he came over his pockets were filled with every brand of condom on the market, dental dams, latex gloves and whatever safe sex paraphernalia he picked up at the university health center.
I checked in with him and asked if he was still feeling comfortable because he sure didn’t appear to be. Being that I had an undetectable viral load and was regularly adhering to my meds, the risk of transmission was extremely close to non-existent and we talk about this. His answer was less than convincing, however, I decided to stop the craziness right then and there. I did not understand how we could have sex comfortably with him caressing me while wearing latex gloves. In the end, I suggested that he purchase an entire body condom, just to be sure. They must be available on EBay. Everything else is these days. This was a particularly sad situation because I lost him as a friend in the process. He left a message on my phone explaining how he could not cope with the fear of contracting HIV.
4. Now back to my HIV negative partner with whom I was in a monogamous relationship. We had the best sex for many years and at no time did he display any signs of being afraid of contracting HIV. He decided, after many discussions, and a visit to my doctor’s office to get the facts, that he was not going to use condoms. We learned that I was an extremely low risk for transmitting the virus and besides, we had been sexually active with no condoms and lots of sex for a year before I learned of my status. When I did get the diagnosis he was tested and the results were negative, as the doctor predicted. I cannot pretend I was completely comfortable with his decision as I strategically placed condoms all over the house and in the car, just in case we were stranded and wanted to have a quickie to pass the time. In the end I had to accept that it was his informed decision to not use condoms and he remains HIV negative today.
I am not encouraging people to have unprotected sex. I am not encouraging people to be reckless. I am encouraging people to use a bit of common sense. It is possible to have sex with a person who is HIV positive and not get infected. Circumstances vary for each couple. Depending on what is negotiated to protect one and other the sex can be great. I know first- hand and I long for the day when I meet someone who has the same understanding and lack of fear that my partner did in those days. Until then it looks like I am going to be having a lot more stories to tell that are less than satisfactory.
(Monologues are independent stories. Opinions are the author’s own). Got a question about HIV transmission and diverse-cordant couples? Ask us below. We also recommend following Shawn & Gwenn, a serodicordant heterosexual couple (Shawn is HIV postive, Gwenn is negative) that have been having great sex for over 13 years. Learn the facts.
Upon yet another relationship break-up due to disclosing her HIV status, Virgina meets Wanda.
I was dating a guy for a short while and it was the same old story. He was head over heels until I disclosed my HIV status. He insisted it was not a problem but every day he became more distant and expressed many fears including death, dying, illness and whether I had someone in mind to care for me on my AIDS death bed. Nothing I said reassured him or removed his basic fear. About a month into the new relationship I decided to do us both a favour and call it quits and he was relieved. I saved him the trouble of looking like the bad guy in walking away from fear of HIV.
As we were walking towards my house during the break up we passed a sex shop. I watched an episode of Sex and the City where the women used a great vibrator- the Hitachi Magic Wand – and the best part of the vibrator was, it was electric. No more drawers full of batteries. After watching that particular episode I really wanted one but, being the pathologically shy person I am, it was impossible for me to go into a sex shop and buy one. So for years I walked by and only thought about it.
Sam Jones and the “neck messager”
Suddenly I turned to him, handed him $100.00 and asked him to go into the sex shop and buy my vibrator. When he came out I said good bye and never saw him again. But I am now the proud owner of Wanda and let me tell you, she is every woman’s dream. Sometimes there is a silver lining in a cloud.
There is no way I am having you cover my vagina while my partner performs oral sex on me. It is simply not going to happen. I would rather have no oral sex at all, because you sound like torture, kind of like licking ice cream through the screen door.
I am having this rant because my sex partner showed up armed to the hilt with condoms, lube and you for an evening of sex. You were a new addition to the safe sex practice because a counselor at the health center suggested you to him. Obviously, you have never covered that counselor’s vagina during oral sex.
I have no sexually transmitted infections, other than HIV. My partner has no sexually transmitted infections and we are monogamous. The odds of him getting HIV from licking my vagina are about as great as being struck by a meteor. I am going to chance getting hit by a meteor. My partner is also happy to escape having to lick you- dental dam. Oral sex is the greatest pleasure and an alternative safe sex practice that does not involve you right now. Besides, I would never knowingly put someone at risk.
My partner already had the discussion with the condoms about staying off his privates during oral sex, so why the hell would I want you covering my sensitive parts during oral sex and stifling my orgasms? The condoms are bad enough and that is as far as I am willing to go with safe sex practices with my partner. You are not going to take all the pleasure out of sex and intimacy for me. It is simply too much latex and makes no sense.
I have always believed that a little common sense in each situation can go a long way. So you, dental dam, are going to be put in the bathroom drawer until further notice. I promise to seek you out if needed for some future date.
Monologues are independent personal stories. The opinions shared are the writer’s own.
To combat the spread of HIV and stigma, we need honest discussions that go beyond politically correct ways of representing today’s realities about the virus without oversimplifying and shaming. That is what these two digital stories offer. Watch and listen.
Real life storytelling is a powerful way to raise awareness about HIV and stigma. Stories not only convey information but they also communicate values that relate the storyteller and the listener in more nuanced ways. The Banyan Tree Project, run by the folks at The Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, has utilized this human resource and extended it to Twitter chat.
Viewing Stories on Twitter #BTPChat
They launched a digital storytelling initiative to combat HIV-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For those of you that don’t know, digital storytelling is a workshop-based practice in which participants write their own first-person scripts, record narration, select and scan images, add music, and make 3-4 minute digital videos- in this case, about one’s experience with HIV. The digital stories are uploaded on the project website and have been shared in panels, conferences, and other community discussions to provoke dialogue and community change.
This is how I learned about the Banyan Tree Project (BTP) and watched the two digital stories posted below. BTP organized 5 weekly Twitter chats with guest including TheBody.com and the USA Positive Women’s Network, among others, and framed questions based on digital stories they shared.
You can follow and participate in the chats by following @BTPMay19 and using the hashtag #BTPChat.
June 6, 2012, there will be a #BTPChat about HIV and Youth with the Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (@YAHAnet). It starts at 5pm Eastern /2pm Pacific Time and runs for an hour.
Image from @yahanet
HIV and Gay/Bi Men #BTPChat
Last week’s topic was about men who have sex with men and HIV with the National Minority AIDS Council (@NMAC AIDS). Tony’s digital story initiated the chat. Sharing his experience of grief and denial, Tony emphasizes the need for community support which includes the important role of family and friends.
Following the video, @BTPMay19 tweeted these questions for us all to respond.
1) Tony says “Know your status, get tested, seek treatment, find support.” What do gay/bi men need in order to do this?
2) Tony most likely contracted HIV decades ago. How has the gay community’s perception of HIV changed over the last 30 years? #BTPChat
To-the-point answers (you have to be, it’s twitter!) from various HIV outreach professionals and activists rolled out. I’m REALLY generalizing here but comments ranged from issues of disclosure and stigma, the need for everyone (not just poz folks) to have updated info on the manageability of HIV; and the urgency of different ways to frame HIV facts that resonate with different communities.
In the second video “Side Effects”, a sexual health educator candidly explains what led to his choice to have sex without a condom. He reveals that he’s secretly on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and works through his guilt.
The #BTPChat question posed were:
1) PEP/PReP can protect against HIV exposure. What do you think this means for gay/bi men relationships?
2) What challenges do gay/bi men still face when getting tested/treated for HIV? #BTPChat
Also, one of the guest moderators, @NMAC AIDS, asked if this storyteller is a hypocrite and if outreach professionals would use this video when teaching prevention? Again, I’m writing a very simplified overview but I think it’s fair to say that most twitter participants felt this story was the kind of frank discourse needed to tackle taboo subjects like drugs and unsafe sex. Every participant seemed to express support for PEP/PReP stating that it offers more options for different relationships and circumstances. Comments did touch upon the inaccessibility of PEP/PReP due to high costs. It was also emphasized that such treatment must be coupled with promoting regular testing and condoms use in appropriate circumstances. Other participants mentioned that condom stigma needs to be taken more seriously by activists.
The creation and (careful) distribution of these digital stories have potential to make people rethink assumptions about HIV issues and stereotypes of people living with the virus. These are not HIV experiences typically represented in national public discourse. You will not find them in H&M or state-funded sex ed classes. In some ways, they uphold harmful stereotypes that reduce people with STDs and infections as deviant and careless. The storytellers admit to dissent, recklessness, negligence and guilt. But that is the power of these stories- honest talk that keeps it real.
They expose the trickiness of discussing HIV-related topics without subconsciously casting moral judgment. People are slutty, people are negligent and irrational, people use drugs and take part in abusive relationships (be it with themselves or another).
However, these digital stories are not innately effective at combating HIV stigma and posing discussion. They require careful framing. Dialogue needs to be monitored and kept tailored for particular audiences in order to respect the storyteller and effectively combat myths and stigma that might be decoded by the audience. I think the people at APIWellness who run #BTPChat do a great job at this and I hope they continue to twitter #withoutshame.
What are your responses to these digital stories and the #BTPChat questions?