no one’s stigma was created as a form of resistance against the dominant discourse surrounding hiv/aids and the insidious ways in which stigma renders those living with hiv/aids invisible. there is power in the ways in which we enforce stigma upon those with hiv. there is power in the movement to eradicate hiv and aids, but that power becomes corrosive and destructive when we also eradicate the voices of those living with hiv. i know we don’t mean to render those voices silent; but we do. it happens when we create an essentialist paradigm around this issue, calling hiv an MSM, gay, or bisexual male problem. it happens when lack of knowledge about hiv becomes apathy. hiv/aids does not just reside in history. it resides here with us now- it is overwhelming, gut wrenching, elusive, and destructive. let us not turn away from it. let us also not turn away from the interconnected dynamics of hiv. true, hiv knows no race, gender, ability status, faith, socio-economic condition, or sexual identity.
however, the numbers show that it is disproportionately impacting marginalized communities (read: youth of color, trans/gender-variant,queer, poor). there must also be a dialogue surrounding that as well. the disease might be the same, but the circumstances are indeed very different. for some time, hiv prevention focused solely on those with a negative status. meanwhile, those who are poz have been languishing in the background while services have been reduced and budgets slashed. the invisibility became starkly visible. now, a verbose national strategy has been published hoping to break the cycle by providing funding to prevention for positives. there is a tarnish in this silver lining, however. because at what point do we begin to dismantle stigma, which is just as harmful as a lack of resources? at what point do we end the policing of hiv positive bodies? when do we begin to create transformative spaces for people living with hiv/aids? and if we are truly committed to moving beyond a politic of stigma and invisibility, let us also address the language that surrounds hiv and aids.
yes, because language does hold power- the power to disenfranchise, disempower, and vicitimize. the implications of the clean/dirty dichotomy have an immense impact on those who are positive wishing to navigate spaces that are predominantly negative- and this includes spaces that are designed to provide resources to those who are hiv positive. if you aren’t aware of the clean/dirty dichotomy, it goes a little something like this: ‘i tested negative; i’m clean.’ while there may not be intentional malice in those words, it implies that hiv and the bodies of those living with it are ‘dirty’, and therefore, inherently flawed and less valuable. it is dehumanizing. if you do not recognize the harm in this sort of language/ideology, check yourself. the movement to end hiv/aids cannot be forged solely by those of us who are negative, because those who are positive have a stake in this as well. indeed, their very lives depend on their inclusion in this movement.
(shout out to mia mingus for inspiring me to keep moving beyond)