I’m disappointed every time someone says something ignorant or ill-informed about HIV. I’m shocked every time I hear someone say they didn’t know HIV was still a “thing.” How people can possibly still believe after 40 years that it’s transmissible by kissing or sharing silverware is beyond me. With information so readily available, it annoys me to hear that people still think it’s only a gay man’s disease or that only “down low” heterosexual Black men get it. All I can do is roll my eyes and shake my head that people think if you are heterosexual and have HIV you are a drug user or sex worker. My eyelid twitches when I hear people who think those with HIV should live in some kind of quiet shame without a healthy relationship or healthy sex life. The pervasiveness of Magic Johnson jokes and memes 30 years later makes me want to pinch people on the soft part of the inside of the arm. You know, where your parents pinched you so you would be still in church?
It’s the people in HIV work that fight apathy to keep trying to pull us out of the epidemic. Because it most certainly is still an epidemic. It’s still a ‘thing.’
Then I have to take a breath and gather myself—a deep, long breath. Sometimes I have to count to 10 and pray to the tiny eight pound, seven-ounce baby Jesus. Just because I knew the basics about HIV even before I was diagnosed doesn’t mean everyone does. The reality is most people don’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss, and plausible deniability means folks can take risks without guilt. Sadly, if you aren’t in HIV care or don’t know someone directly affected by it, chances are you know next to nothing about it. It falls to advocates and activists to keep the conversations going, which is in direct contrast to the abundance of fear and misinformation that was everywhere in the beginning. That drives me crazy! People are so quick to perpetuate fear, and whisper lies and half-truths. The media coverage peaked in the ’80s and ’90s, shouting with fear-driven, sensationalized headlines about AIDS, lifestyle choices and taboo culture and sexuality, but whispers about living and thriving with HIV now. HIV information, the truth and facts of it, have mostly been relegated to specialty cause magazines or scholarly and medical journals. I’m thankful for the medication commercials making their way to mainstream TV and magazine ads which at least can help spark a conversation. It’s the people in HIV work that fight apathy to keep trying to pull us out of the epidemic. Because it most certainly is still an epidemic. It’s still a “thing.”
I really wanted to take this moment to give a shout out to the activists and advocates. The doctors, nurses, and scientists. The pharmacists, researchers, and scholars. The writers, editors, and publishers. The countless faces of knowledge and heart and hope that go into fighting HIV every single day. I see you. Even if few on the outside do. I hear you even though you get hoarse from saying the same thing over and over. I fellowship with you and send you hope and light and encouragement to keep doing what you do. Doesn’t matter if it is one person at a time or 10 people at a time. I promise you, the efforts you make matter. Keep shouting about PrEP and PEP, and TasP, and staying in care, and U=U. Teach about harm reduction and reducing self-stigma. I’m hugging your life and am grateful for what you do. I believe in you. I thank you. You matter.