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Breaking the Silence?

By fogcityjohn

December 2, 2010

As an action-packed year for the HIV/AIDS community draws to a close, TheBody.com takes stock of 2010 in a new series of articles, "HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)." Read the entire series here.

The end of 2010 brings with it the first anniversary of my stint as a blogger for TheBody.com. When I started blogging, I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. I'd never done this before, and I had only a vague idea of what I might write about.

fogcityjohn

fogcityjohn

As a lawyer, I found that one of the most daunting aspects of this whole project was that I had no assigned topic. In my professional life, whatever case I'm involved in dictates what I write. I don't get to choose the subject; it's chosen for me. What's more, my goal in legal writing is obvious -- I have to persuade my audience that I'm right. I'm an advocate with a case to win, and winning is the goal.

In contrast, this blog didn't come with a predetermined goal. And I didn't consciously sit down to figure out my "mission" before I started writing here. I initially thought I would just write down some of my own thoughts and experiences and then perhaps respond to a few comments on the blog. But over the course of the year, something happened that I hadn't really expected. I began to receive e-mails from people all over the world who had read my posts. Some were complimentary and came from readers who said they enjoyed my writing. Those messages were -- and still are -- deeply gratifying.

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Other messages, though, were anguished, and came from people who wrote to me of their isolation, their loneliness, and their lack of support as they struggled with HIV. Not a few confided that they had no one else to talk to. There was no one who knew what they were going through, no one with whom they could air their fears, anxieties and insecurities. I was surprised to discover so many people suffering in such complete silence. It was then that the goal of my blog became clear to me. I decided I would try, in my own small way, to help break that silence.

On the personal level, this meant I had to write about topics and feelings that make me uncomfortable. My hope was that I might reach others who were struggling with the same problems but felt unable or unwilling to discuss them. So to that end, I've written about my solitary, unpartnered life. I confessed to everyone who reads this blog that I'd had no sex for years. I discussed my struggle with lipoatrophy and the sense of loss and shame it's caused me. I tried to write frankly about things like the death of a loved one, the experience of grief, and how homophobia and bigotry can lead one to contemplate suicide.

Moving beyond my personal feelings and experiences, I looked at what was going on in the gay male community and offered my thoughts on why gay men still have unprotected sex three decades into this epidemic. In my post, "Raw Emotion," I called for us to have a frank, open, and honest dialogue about the practice called "barebacking." I wanted to bring out into the open a subject many seem to have trouble talking about.

If the number of comments that post received is any indication, there's a tremendous hunger for a truthful discussion of this issue. And TheBody.com made a huge and valuable contribution to that discussion with the podcast "Laying It Bare," that brought together psychologist Walt Odets, Rashad Burgess of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Professor Jeff Parsons from Hunter College to give us all the benefit of their knowledge and expertise. Moderating that podcast was probably the highlight of the year for me.

I don't kid myself about the effect of what I've written. In the best of circumstances, a blog like mine will barely make a ripple. Like the tree falling in the forest, I have to wonder if anybody hears. Still, I hope that I've been able to give voice to some of the thoughts and feelings so many of us with HIV keep hidden. I'm only one guy with a blog, but if enough of us speak up, I truly believe that together we can break the silence surrounding this disease.

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My name's John. I'm 49 years old. I'm a lawyer by profession. I now live in beautiful San Francisco, California, after spending a long time on the east coast. I was diagnosed in 2004, so I've been positive for something like five years.




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