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Look At Us Dammit! We're Not One Color, We're a Flaming HIV Rainbow!

October 16, 2013

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So what else makes people with HIV think they're so darned special?

Here's a few names for you to think about:

From writing:

Gordon Stewart Anderson, Canadian writer; Isaac Asimov, Russian-born US author famed for his science fiction work; Bruce Chatwin, British novelist; Sam D'Allesandro, US poet and fiction writer; Michel Foucault, French philosopher and writer; Larry Kramer, US author and activist; Vito Russo, US activist, Film historian and author; Randy Shilts, US activist and author; Edmund White, US novelist. There are dozens more who are as well-known or better.

From politics:

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Edwin Cameron, South African Supreme Court judge; Roy Cohn, US lawyer; Chris Smith, British member of the House of Lords and ex minister; James K Dressel, US state representative for the Republican Party in the Michigan legislature; Ryuhei Kawada, Japanese member of parliament who sued the government for failing to prevent HIV transmission through tainted blood products; Nicholas Eden, British Conservative politician and son of Prime Minister Anthony Eden; Makgatho Mandela, South African attorney and son of former South African president Nelson Mandela. There are probably dozens more who are as well-known or better.

From sport:

Magic Johnson; Arthur Ashe; Greg Louganis; John Curry, UK Olympic figure skating gold medallist; Tim Richmond, US NASCAR racing driver; Ji Wallace, Australian gymnast; Michael Westphal, German tennis player; Roy Simmons, US athlete who played for the National Football League; Esteban De Jesús, boxer. There are dozens more who are as well-known or better.

From business:

Vasily Aleksanyan, Russian lawyer and businessman, former Executive Vice President of Yukos oil company, jailed as a suspected accomplice to tax evasion and money laundering, allegedly denied treatment in jail; Stephen D. Hassenfeld, US businessman best known for being the chairman and chief executive officer of Hasbro; Chuck Holmes, US businessman, founder of gay pornography studio Falcon Entertainment; Steve Rubell, US owner of New York City disco Studio 54. There are probably dozens more who are as well-known or better.

From music:

Freddie Mercury; Andy Bell (Erasure); Jorge Bolet, Cuban pianist and conductor; Cazuza, Brazilian singer and composer; Stuart Challender, Australian conductor; Eazy-E, US rapper, member of gangsta rap group N.W.A; Youri Egorov, Soviet classical pianist; Tom Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater revival; Andy Fraser, Free; Ray Gillen, Black Sabbath; Liberace; Klaus Nomi, German performance artist; Sylvester; Divine; Holly Johnson, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There are dozens more who are as well-known or better.

From visual art and fashion:

Richard Amsel, US graphic artist; Robert Mapplethorpe, photographer; Keith Haring; Herb Ritts, US photographer; Gia Carangi, supermodel; Perry Ellis, US fashion designer; Halston, US fashion designer; Tina Chow, US model. There are dozens more who are as well-known or better.

All these people have lived or are still living with HIV. There just isn't room to print all the possible names and you will have spotted so many omissions but the point is not to collect a list of names but to show just how proud we as a group can be of the contribution we have made to society. These people are not all gay but they are or were all HIV positive, Should their names be quietly forgotten as well so as not to ruffle the feathers of those who just want us to fit in? I don't think so.

We've revolutionised the social scene. Pop culture and highbrow culture have been enriched by our presence and would have been even richer if some of those people had lived longer. You may say that most of these names come from celebrity niches but that's only because we can't name the millions who lived and are still living with HIV and are contributing at their best level to their own communities and in their own fields of work but haven't been given Warhol's 15 minutes in the spotlight.

For every celebrity name there are thousands of HIV-positive people getting on with and making the best of their lives and of those around them, each to the best of his or her ability. My point is that the lives of people with HIV are not something that should be ignored, or denigrated or stigmatised, just because others don't want to be embarrassed by our presence.

HIV is an accident waiting to go away but in scientific terms it's a fascinating one. It could have happened in any corner of society -- another virus, with another name, via another entrance to the body -- but to turn your back on it and stigmatise its people is a betrayal of human courage in the face of adversity. We're different because we've been infected with a virus that may have a very short lifespan in terms of human history, but that in itself is what makes it and us special.

We should be being lauded not condemned; but if that's not going to happen in society as a whole, those who've had the good luck to have avoided it should give us a little credit for having lit a few flames along the way. If they don't, people with HIV should stand up, shake our tail feathers and remind them. I'm HIV positive; I'm different; I'm proud of that difference and don't patronise me by looking down your nose again. Pride doesn't have to come before a fall now does it!

Send Dave an email.

Read Dave's blog HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck.

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Cara Jones (Montreal Canada) Fri., Nov. 1, 2013 at 8:12 am EDT
I can't understand why this hasn't got more Recommends. It's a really good article. It's funny but it's also what we all need to hear in these bad times when stigma's getting worse not better.
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Comment by: Leon (Mexico City) Mon., Oct. 28, 2013 at 5:12 am EDT
It's true. We're in danger of fading into the background. we need more voices like your to remind us what's positve about being HIV positive.
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Comment by: Mary Scriver (Montana) Tue., Oct. 22, 2013 at 5:42 am EDT
Good essay, Dave! I think there are two forces at work. One is the idea that prosperity equals safety and prosperity is a thing you show by owning all the right things. And then this keys into the whole purchasing machine in this country. IMHO, a good part of the reason that gays (and lesbians less so) have been brought into the mainstream is mercantile. If they are stigmatized, they can't get good jobs, right? But if they are conventionally settled down -- except with no kids -- then they have all this discretionary income to capture if the right pressures can be brought to bear.

I'm straight, HIV neg, retired, female, small-town, low-income, and the pressure to spend money at the same rate and in the same way as the neighbors is always there. "Why don't you . . .?" Because I'd rather buy books.
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Comment by: Gary (London) Mon., Oct. 21, 2013 at 6:04 am EDT
You're right. It's about time we stopped feeling ashamed of ourselves and it's about time the stigmas stopped too especially in the gay community.
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