Fear of Retribution

There was an article in a Montana paper I read that caught my attention: Montanans living with HIV face stigmas, uncertainty

What are the real barriers to HIV prevention? As a gay man who has lived through this epidemic, this question keeps haunting my thoughts. It seems we live in a time where disclosure of one’s status signifies discrimination. When people still feel shame for becoming infected and their pride and dignity can be stripped away. For those infected, the gossip mills, run rampant, driving people into a deeper closet from which they can not retreat, leading to irreparable emotional distress, sometimes resulting in suicide. Their lives becoming dysfunctional as they struggle to come to terms with finding a new sense of normalcy. We live in a time where it is considerably harder to disclose one’s status then ones sexuality and this breeds an environment that is devastating to our communities. There is still so much stigma attached to HIV that it becomes one of the most elusive and often ignored issues of our time. No one wants to talk about it as we all live in a seeming healthy bubble of denial. Is this the really thing we should live in dread of in these modern times? There still seems to be so much internalized loathing surrounding this issue that it has become the central dividing line of who we are as a movement. I would expect this sort of attitude from the religious gay hating zealots, but not from our own culture whose journey for existence is based on acceptance.

I know of many discordant couples, one positive the other not, who have had long healthy relationships without the other ever servo converting? This seems to indicate that a balance is possible and that to sleep with someone who is positive no longer equals death. Yet, so many infected people remain hidden for fear of some sort of retribution from a culture that thrives in ignorance, fear, and drama. It seems the barriers then for effective prevention should be based on demystifying those terrors associated with the virus and focusing on the positive healthy aspects of dealing with someone who might be positive. But we have done the opposite; instead we have shunned them and pushed them away, creating a negative attitude toward those who are infected, causing them to retreat. Not accepting them as a whole within our society. For some reason, culturally, we have perceived protection with a dismissive connotation because it has always been approached as too confining. People are unwilling to accept it as a standard and or demand it. Everyone only wants to rely on those who are positive to reveal their status and not accept responsibility for their own protection. Unfortunately, with the phobia that currently exits those who are infected are reluctant to reveal their status and remain silent.

So the real question becomes how do we break beyond this phobia? First we need to recognize that the paranoia surrounding the issue actually exists and is unhealthy. Next we need to eliminate the witch-hunt mentality and discrimination that surrounds those who have become infected so they feel they can live openly in a healthy environment. I recently had a friend who servo-converted; he lived a life of awareness surrounding HIV issues, was cautious, and yet still became infected. He marveled at how much his eyes were opened, as he saw the attitude toward both sides of that world, now in polar opposition as he felt he had to approach his life with trepidation for a new perceived fear. I have also known of others who were terrorized by someone trying to extract a vindictive revenge just to create drama. Until this sort of attitude can change, we all will live in fear and trepidation. This sort of thinking needs to be recognized as a barrier for things to change. Only then can we come to some sort of acceptance of ourselves and make the prevention effective against HIV.