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Wish HIV Away

By Jeff Berry

July/August 2012

Truth is a funny thing. It has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it, like a guest who shows up at a party, uninvited.

"Wish Me Away" is the name of a song by country music singer Chely Wright, and is also the title of her recently released documentary film, which chronicles her struggles coming out as a lesbian to her fans, the country music industry, and the world at large. It's a touching, sometimes sad, often intense, and ultimately empowering film that tells her truth, as she has lived it, in the hopes that it might help others who may also be struggling.

During the film's opening, Chely states that she is just trying to live her own life openly and honestly, because not doing so is nearly killing her. She knew from a very early age that she was different, that she was gay, and for decades she swore to herself that she would take that secret to her grave. Years ago, I made a similar vow to myself -- that I would take to the grave my own secret that I had been sexually abused as a child by my father.

I have no doubt that a similar conviction exists for countless others when it comes to their HIV status. We live in fear -- fear of losing our jobs, our family, our friends, our very safety. So we wish HIV away. We take our pills in hiding, so others won't ask questions. If there is a blood drive at the office, we call in sick, rather than have to explain why we can't donate. We drive hours to visit a doctor or clinic in another town, rather than be recognized at "that clinic" at home. We wish HIV away.

I'm sure we all have that one friend who has never been tested, and refuses to, because they would just rather not know. They wish HIV away by pretending it doesn't even exist. There is the family who hides the cause of death of their son or daughter by saying they died of cancer. The church that preaches that AIDS is God's punishment for being gay. The legislators who slash budgets and funding and deny lifesaving medications to people with HIV. They all wish HIV away, and sweep it under the rug, erroneously believing it can't happen to them, attaching shame and stigma to simply having a virus.

We need to stop wishing HIV away, and it has to begin with us. I know for some of us the fear of losing our jobs, and hence our health insurance, is a very real, palpable fear. But we need to start by speaking and owning our own truth, if only in the mirror. In this issue, Jamar Rogers speaks very openly and honestly about his own struggles, and the power of speaking his own truth regarding his HIV status. However, there are some of us who continue to hide, or live in denial, because it's more comfortable, or it's easier, or we are afraid of the unknown. But it might be that we could have a real impact by coming out about our status, if only to ourselves. HIV is nothing to be ashamed of. The only stigma attached to HIV is that which we allow. It has no power to dictate our actions, our feelings, or our beliefs, other than the power that we choose to let it have over us.

Let's stop the fantasy. Let's stop pretending that HIV can be wished away. Until there is a cure, HIV is unfortunately here to stay. Just like that uninvited guest at the party, it can either be shunned, merely tolerated, or it can be embraced.

Remember, you are the host, and it's your party -- what happens is up to you. So shine your light brightly, hold your head up high, don't be ashamed, and refuse to live in fear. It's only when we finally decide to embrace and rejoice in our own truth, that we can begin to see the truth and light in others. And by joining together, we create a force and a light so bright, so strong, that its presence is undeniable and it cannot be extinguished or ignored.

Take care of yourself, and each other.

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