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New Rules: HIV Social Etiquette

February 25, 2014

A few years ago, I did some work volunteering for a project detailing the history of LGBT America. We had some fairly intense training sessions prior to launch, to make sure all volunteers were on the same page, especially where "sensitivity" and "political correctness" were concerned.

We represented a wide cross-section of America, and the Boomers among us were very happy when I shared a correction to a typo in our training text:

We don't say 'sexual preference' anymore. This implies choice. Who chooses to be a stigmatized minority? Nowadays 'sexual orientation' is preferred.

I mention the Boomers' appreciation because no one wants to attempt to sound knowledgeable while making others believe they just rode into town on the back of a turnip truck.

That being said, in the 2 months since my diagnosis, I've picked up on some new "Rules of Politeness" where HIV in 2014 are concerned:

  1. Let's just get the most basic one out of the way: DO NOT conflate "HIV" and "AIDS" terminology; this is directed mostly at the remaining Baby Boomers who maybe missed the Die-Off and continue to confuse the two.

    Something I learned from early perusal of HIV forums: "AIDS" is when your Tcell count falls below 200. Due to genetics or other factors, there ARE Positive people in 2014 whose Tcell counts loiter just under 200. Meaning: they have AIDS in 2014. And I would imagine they're quite sensitive about it. So let's just use "HIV" in all cases, not "AIDS."

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  3. Sort of similar, and I'm including it because I got schooled on my own ignorance recently. Nobody dies of AIDS, the appropriate thing to say is "died of AIDS-related complications."
  4. This one I learned in the past 2 years, before diagnosis, via some quirky brave souls on Grindr/Scruff: never, ever say "clean" to reflect your HIV status. Inference there being: I'm dirty? Having some bromo with a topless selfie in the mirror say he's "clean" only feeds my growing complex that gay men revel in their own ignorance more with each passing day. I'd also argue if you're on a hookup site, you're not "clean" ...
  5. Another nugget absorbed from brave souls on slutty apps: if you're gonna put the last date you got HIV-tested, maybe put your Herpes and Hepatitii statuses up, too (et al.)? In HIV forums, I've seen that some people will use their last lab results as their e-signature. I would like to see "clean" guys start indicating how and when, exactly, that they're "clean."
  6. This rule is my own personal addition: Telling a friend or loved one your status usually results in a sense of shock or discomfort out of them. In order to deflect or minimize, they tend to respond with the first thing that comes to mind:
    How did it happen?

    You should know that this is probably the most intensely personal question you could ask someone with HIV. It's a normal, human, kneejerk response ... but don't be surprised if it's met with a haughty smile and a "that's not really your concern."

    Truth is, this can take a long time to work through. There are layers to working through a diagnosis, and it can take years to piece together exactly when; I would wager there are some Positive people out there who will NEVER know. Putting them on the spot so that they reply with, "I don't really know" is only going to add to the intense "dirty/worthless" emotions the newly-diagnosed might be struggling with.

  7. Finally, a topic I had considered doing an entire post on: Are AIDS jokes funny?

    The only template I have to go by here is racist jokes.

    I asked a black friend once, "Black Friend, do you laugh at racist jokes?" His response: "Yes, because otherwise the racists win."

    This is not a simple concept of humor to absorb. The JOKE here is the ignorance. Those who constructively laugh at racist jokes are actually laughing at the racists. It's a fine line, though, because that takes an awfully "high brow" to comprehend; low-brow rednecks laugh at racist jokes for an entirely different reason.

    I find South Park's skewering of AIDS hilarious (literally, their Jimmy Buffett parody song "AIDS Burger In Paradise" is infectious), but then my sense of humor has always been a bit off. Myself personally, though I DO know those who have died of AIDS, I was not close to them, nor was around in their final days.

    My personal "humor boundary" ends with Alzheimers. It's not funny, and it's probably the saddest way a human can decline. Because you're not even a part of it -- it's inflicted upon your loved ones, as you grow more and more oblivious.

    So. I would not find Alzheimers jokes funny. But ... maybe there are those out there who would, and also find AIDS jokes repugnant? It's entirely possible. Therefore, re: AIDS humor, you gotta examine your audience first; an intelligent laugh isn't always received properly.

This is a living document; I intend to update as I learn more!

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
Day One With HIV: Finding Out Your Status, in Your Own Words's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed
More "Just Diagnosed" Stories


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A House in Virginia

Ben B.

Ben B.

Ben is an old soul from the American heartland. Indoctrinated as a child on AIDS education throughout the 80s/90s, he's fascinated by the sociological and psychological outcomes that resulted from that exposure, for all of us. Especially as new medicines and new generations rise to the challenge, relegating this once-fatal disease into "merely" a serious condition.

A recent diagnosis paired with this ancient education means internal conflict. Ben thrives on examining the layers of HIV-- where society, relationships and even the law are concerned.

Besides that, Ben's innate intellectual curiosity steers him toward diverse things such as immunity and diet, body politics, and "HIV subculture.

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