August 24, 2010
I am not HIV. I am HIV positive.
Do I need to repeat myself?
I AM NOT HIV! I am HIV positive.
Over the last few years, I have heard, time and time and time again the phrase/question/query, "Are you HIV?"
While I totally understand the question that the individual is attempting to ask, it is all I can do to not answer honestly, "No. I am not HIV."
Or, if I were really going to engage the smart-assery gene that I received honestly from both my Mother and my Father, I would have replied, "No. Are you herpes? Are you hepatitis? Are you cancer? Are you meningitis? Are you Chlamydia? Gonorrhea perhaps? Are you half-Syphilis on your Father's side?"
To ask someone if they are HIV or to refer to a person as being "HIV" is not only hurtful it is likely to piss off a many a person that happens to live with the HIV virus.
Recently, a man that I adore, someone that is a friend of my partner's and mine was over for wine, and we were discussing some of the blogs that were published in late spring at TheBody.com. During the course of the conversation he used the terminology referenced above.
Since I'd been drinking, I decided that I wasn't going to address the issue in that moment. As this man is wonderful, sweet, and easy on the eyes, and I would hate to have lost his friendship (or the occasion to check out his butt in tight jeans) because I cussed him out in a wine induced verbal savagery inspired by nigh on eight years of hearing that poor use of syntax, "Are you HIV?" I chose to let it go and to write about it instead.
So, let me repeat for those of you out there that are wondering. No. People living with HIV are not HIV. You would never ever under any circumstance with any other disease use that phrase or question, so why in the hell would you use it for people that are positive?
Of course I know the answer. The psychology and basic truth of people living with HIV to many people that are not HIV positive is that, indeed, we are HIV. Because of the nature of the disease, because it is one that can only be transferred from human to human and because you can't cure it with a shot, a cup of anti-biotic powder, or a series of pills, we who live with HIV are subsumed into the identity of the disease instead of simply being human beings that carry one of a number of viruses that, once they enter your life, do not leave it. Indeed, by that same logic, I could also be Chicken Pox or Rhinovirus (Common Cold), but to ask someone if he or she is chicken pox sounds, well, rather ridiculous.
Asking someone if he or she is HIV should sound just as ridiculous. Unfortunately, it doesn't to many folks.
And to this person living with HIV, it sounds downright hateful.
I am a writer, and I understand the power of language. I know how to use language to uplift, I know how to use language to tear down, and I know how to use language to expand or marginalize those around me. Indeed, since I was a child, language has been, in my hands and mouth, a tool and weapon for my protection, joy, outrage, fear, and sadness. I have seen the damage that a carelessly used word or phrase can cause to another human being, and I carry many a spiritual and mental scar from harsh words used on ears, mind, and spirit that were too young to hear them from an adult that was loved.
As an adult, I have committed to using words carefully. The adage that the pen is mightier than the sword may sound silly to some. A sword can cut off your head. But what is worse? A few carefully chosen words that leave an individual spiritually wounded and locked in their own personal hell for thirty years or a quick stab to the chest by the sword? I'll take the quick, short pain over the long drawn out suffering any day.
Use your words wisely. Understand what you are saying before you say it. And know that no person living with HIV is reduced to, defined by, or subsumed into this disease.
We are not HIV.
This piece originally appeared in Brandon's blog My Feet Only Walk Forward.