Maybe this is a vernacular issue, but are we confusing “pride” with “not ashamed”?
by Chuck Willman
Over the last few months I’ve noticed a number of gay blogs, Web sites (including those specifically selling “bareback” or no-condom porn), even advertisements for pharmaceutical companies selling their “positive” images of the “new” young, “healthy” HIV-infected person, proclaiming their “HIV Pride.” There are even Web sites for those of us with HIV/AIDS to “hook-up” (which I personally think is a valuable tool, if you’ll pardon the pun, to have a good time with someone already infected, while getting that awful, though responsible conversation of one’s own status out of the way from the get-go!). But I’m having trouble believing there are people truly “proud” of their HIV-status.
Maybe I’m just confused. The Oxford Dictionary defines “pride” as: “1) elation or satisfaction at achievements, qualities, or possessions, etc., that do one credit; 2) high or overbearing opinion of one’s worth or importance; 3) self-respect.”
Now, I can certainly see “self-respect” as an attribute which we all strive for, and many of us have, or do, feel self-respect in many ways for many reasons. In fact, this quality is probably one of the few reasons a lot of us get out of bed in the morning. We have things to do, or people to take care of, including ourselves. For many of us, especially those women and some men living with HIV/AIDS who are raising children while struggling to take care of themselves, they should feel a great sense of pride that they’re even able to function; navigating the medical and benefits system, in many cases working despite how they may feel because of their illness. For any of us living with HIV/AIDS and able to function at all is something to be proud of.
But does that mean we’re “proud” of being HIV-positive?
I don’t ever recall feeling “elation or satisfaction at [my] achievement…,” for having my body first speared with the clever little molecules that began tearing it apart from the inside out, or the psychological torture of facing the prospect of dying within a couple years. Did you?
Some of you may be familiar with a blogger by the name of Laurie Garrett. She wrote about AIDS activist Spencer Cox’s recent death, and a strange fog characterized by people (from the White House, as well as a variety of agencies and organizations) making it sound as if AIDS is “on the way out!” (It’s sort of like George Bush II standing in front of his premature “Mission Accomplished” banner when, in fact, the mission was far from over!)
But in her blog (www.lauriegarrett.com) she wrote about Spencer Cox’s death with truth, and the suggestion that the real cause of his death was his crystal meth use, a growing—actually raging—phenomenon among gay male youth. It’s almost as if we’ve turned full circle: HIV/AIDS is quickly becoming a “gay man’s disease” again! Garrett wrote, “According to the [CDC] 47,000 people were newly infected in America in 2010, and the major surge in HIV incidence is among young, gay men.” The drug problem has become so prevalent that it makes people stupid and not care about infecting others, and people are actually selling or trading antiretroviral medications for the party drugs they prefer. She also writes that “the community is getting tired of the drugs, many young men are coming out, believing HIV is no big deal, and Ecstasy and meth are sweeping the club scenes from the Castro to Chelsea.”
And this is something to be proud of?
I was moved by Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco’s wonderful piece “Giving It Raw” in this magazine’s January 2013 issue. I loved his clear reminder that: “In case you didn’t know, HIV still leads to AIDS and it is still fatal. Gay men are disproportionately infected in North America.” He went on to mention the new drug “cocktails” that have, in fact, made the disfiguring effects many of us “old timers” dealt with a thing of the past, but made an interesting point about what is not known—yet—about the new drugs; what effects will they have on bodies and brains in the future?
I’m not “proud” that I have AIDS. But I’m not ashamed! Shame crippled me when I first tested positive and figured I’d die soon, and probably deserved it for being stupid and careless. But after some therapy and finding a wonderful “family” with my local HIV/AIDS support group, the shackles of shame and self-hatred fell away. Maybe that’s what we’re talking about.
Shame carries a hefty price tag and a lot of baggage. One of the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of “shame” is, “distress or humiliation caused by consciousness of one’s guilt or folly.” Maybe if we put down the recreational drugs, took care of ourselves, and protected others we might actually feel some “HIV/AIDS Pride” someday.
Chuck Willman has had poetry, erotica, and essays published or forthcoming in a variety of anthologies, journals, and magazines. He is also the author of After (forthcoming from JMS Books). He lives in Las Vegas with his partner of twenty-four years.