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Status Undetectable? Not Really!

By Ibrahim

October 27, 2011

While the virus in my blood is becoming undetectable, other things are becoming much more visible to me. My comprehension of my status as HIV positive is staging an assault on all aspects of my life and becoming excruciating. Hiding a label that tagged me is becoming a difficult task ... and no matter what success I am achieving in my life, the burden of this status is causing such bitterness that could burn away any feeling of success.

I am becoming as used to being positive as any child who is born with a disability; and just like them, I am becoming more and more aware of the limitations people assume should be imposed on me, even if this assumption contradicts all scientific tools of valid assumptions. I am trying to deal with this new status and how everyone perceives it. My fear is that eventually I will give up ... I guess then it will not be undetectable anymore!

A status in general terms is a prominent factor in dictating how people will react to a person. This is why we need to reflect on what it means to have a "status" of HIV-positive person. Sometimes we acquire status by virtue of being part of a group, race or sect -- your status is the status of that group. It does not matter if you have a PhD in psychology; if they admit you to a mental hospital, you will get the status of "crazy person."

When I meet with other Poz guys, I sometimes understand why the first question I am asked by some workers in the HIV field is whether I use drugs. While I pose no moral judgment whatsoever upon anyone who uses them, and I am against the classification of drug usage under criminal acts rather than health issues, it is quite disturbing that drug usage is increasingly becoming the first choice to many HIV-positive persons, especially within the MSM groups.

Promiscuousness and other unhealthy behaviors are other labels that come with the status of being HIV positive. Soon this becomes a determining factor to define the status of this entire group and inherently the status of each individual belonging to this group. This is a status that obtains condemnation by society, and it conforms to ugly prejudices.

Do we make things worse by hiding our status? Or should we go public to say it's nothing we are ashamed of? One day attending a conference at the UN, a lady from South Africa showed up at the conference wearing a T-shirt that has a large phrase "I am HIV positive." I admired her courage and wondered what would happen if I dressed in a similar shirt just like her. I think I would not receive the same affectionate gestures. Why? Simply because I am a non-African and a man! My status is connected to my race, location and gender. This immediately leads people to conclude that I must have gotten it via sex and most likely sex with another man!

The question here becomes, is the HIV status paralleled with the status of gay people in our society? I think that my status as HIV positive is a derivative of the status of sex in our society and especially same-gender sex; thus, declaring it will not be as easy. My decision was to keep hiding this status just as we all hide our sexual behaviors and feel embarrassed if someone mentions the word sex in our presence ... with a few exceptions of course. :)

The stigma of being gay relates to the stigma of being HIV positive. Fighting both stigmas is so connected in many parts of the world. Weeks ago, when the conservatives decided to boo an American soldier for being gay, his status as a war veteran could not silence these ugly boos.

The lack of education about persons with "HIV status" rather than HIV itself is a problem not many are willing to address. The LGBT community is excelling in HIV prevention education; however, educating the community about who are the holders of the HIV status is still not sufficient. Even when we try to educate about HIV, we often focus on attaching the virus transmission to HIV-positive status. This huge deceiving mantra will make our younger men and women easy targets for unsafe sex with those who think they are not holders of this status when in fact they could have obtained this status with honor, a night after they were tested, or even during the window-period and it just didn't show up in the test.

The other dark side of this lack of community education shows in how persons with HIV status respond to the ignorance and stigma attached to their status. Denial and drug usage are simply behaviors of people terrified to confront the burden of their new status. In a society that is so proud to educate about the rights of different groups, we often forget to make the society -- first -- understand this different group. For example, people who listen to long speeches about how important it is to treat Muslims well, do not respond in the same positive way as those who were helped to understand Muslims and were given lectures about what Islam is. The same is true about people with any other group. To educate the community about what it means to have the HIV status is extremely important in improving the way the society reacts to them.

I know that reversing how detectable my status is can only start within me. I guess my fear of this status is the fear of being rejected and deprived from love that status determines. After all, we all want to be loved, and status is our gate to being loved, respected, treated well -- or bad. Even though, I have always hated the classification of society into layers based on a status obtained by money or power, I don't need a law to protect the privacy of my status as much as a law that criminalizes people for giving me a status they chose for me. I just want to be undetectable when it comes to status; I don't want any status but me: a Human! Is that too much to ask?

Salam!

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