Activist Joshua Middleton wants the world to know we are all brothers & sisters in this fight together
by Robert Kingett
Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen people think of a blog, they usually think “diary” or “journal.” Folks like Joshua Middleton, however, are blogging to educate others about a new way of living and to give thoughts about HIV.
Pozitive Hope is a blog that chronicles the life of Joshua Middleton, a straight man living with HIV. The blog includes his thoughts on events, reflections, funny stories, and a healthy dash of wisdom.
Even though the blog is a glimpse into life with HIV as a heterosexual man, the blog is also an informal resource for people to obtain basic information. For instance, the page that is titled “Newly Diagnosed” has links to various outside resources, such as “International Places For People With HIV/AIDS, and the people who love us,” an on-line group founded by Maria Mejia that he helps moderate.
Pozitive Hope, however, mostly details the journey of Joshua. Posts outline various reflections, moments of joy and heartbreak, and inspirational cheers that any reader can embrace. What Joshua learns about HIV, and about his thoughts and feelings, he shares.
“I was once very ignorant about HIV and [ignorance] is this virus’s best friend. When I found out I was positive, it made me come to terms with how wrong I truly was. It wasn’t the TV commercial showing someone withering away of opportunistic infections due to advanced HIV progression; it was a virus that now resides in my body,” Joshua says during our interview.
One hard lesson he had to learn was about taking care of himself, not just getting tested.
“I would regularly get tested for HIV among other sexually transmitted infections but what I wasn’t doing was taking precautions to ensure the outcome of those tests,” he shares.
On social media, he also helps to destigmatize HIV and promotes the importance of sexual health: “I
make sure that people are aware that I am not someone here to judge, tear down, or give a lecture about what people should or shouldn’t have done. I am simply someone living with HIV that has made decisions in the past that have landed me in this spot and, regardless of how I or others have come to this journey, we are all brothers and sisters in the fight together.”
He continues: “Educating the public that this is not only a condition that affects gay men or other stereotyped groups is by far the largest hurdle to overcome. The ignorance in people’s minds is so deeply embedded that challenging that stereotype is hard for people to accept at times. As someone who is also an LGBT ally, I feel that I have to be an advocate for multiple, different communities when speaking of my HIV status. When I tell people I am HIV-positive, it’s natural for me to say, ‘Oh by the way, I am heterosexual’ afterward or I can feel the judgment already starting to set in. Even when I do say that I am a heterosexual living with the condition it then turns into a conversation of how I must have slept with every girl under the sun. The judgment surrounding HIV is overwhelming and I’ve experienced it, believe it or not, from the negative and positive communities, as well. People think that I have to be lying, [that] there is no way that I, as a straight man, could be living with HIV. This is absolutely true and getting people to get out of thinking in terms of ‘risk groups’ and more in the way of ‘we are all at risk’ [is difficult]; [it] is a hard concept for people to understand.”
Born in Las Vegas, and raised in both Nevada and California, Joshua has kept the thriving, tenacious spirit that he has always had, even as a child. Growing up, his jokes and buzzing personality coursed through his friendships like an electric current. He also embodied peace within himself and tried to bring this calm to others when needed. These two sides might seem to clash on the battlefield of life, but he made them work together. He’s become the humorous peacemaker whose hobbies included and continue to be traveling, writing, dance, theater, public speaking, and learning new things, like languages (Spanish, in particular).
People can make bad decisions, however. After he broke up with a woman who was going to live the white picket fence dream with him, he started to have one-night stands with women he sometimes didn’t even recall or remember. He would regularly get tested for STDs but didn’t think one of them would come back positive.
And conversations about sexual health didn’t really exist among his circle of friends. “I never really sat down and had that one-on-one talk with anyone because to my knowledge no one I knew was positive. Low risk to many heterosexuals means no risk; therefore it wasn’t even a concern to be brought up,” he says. “It is such a hush-hush subject in the straight community due to a variety of reasons, including lack of people being open about their status out of fear of judgment, not knowing their status, and the stereotypes that surround HIV. In addition I don’t think most in the heterosexual community are as open about what is going on between the sheets as many of my LGBT friends.”
He adds: “Everyone thinks they are invincible from this virus but being straight adds a whole other level of comfort, one could say, and that is what is causing so many new infections within the hetero community. Although heterosexuals make up the majority of those living with HIV worldwide, the overwhelming stereotype of it being a gay-only condition has stuck in the minds of so many, and, despite what the statistics show, this still remains a prevalent way of thinking for many heterosexuals. I don’t think they didn’t talk to me specifically about my risks of HIV on purpose, but simply they like so many held that idea that this cannot happen to one if straight. When it comes to speaking about sex with your friends when straight, it gets to the depth of how good the sex was and that is about it!”
In his blog, he writes, “I made an appointment to see my primary care physician because I started to get symptoms of pink eye. I thought I got it because I am a bail bonds agent and am constantly working in and out of jails. While I was at the doctor, I figured I would get my annual HIV test since I was already there.”
The test came back positive. “Sometimes I will see someone put up a post when recently diagnosed and it reminds me so much of myself when I was in that dark time of my life,” he says about the Facebook group he helps to moderate. “The process of seeing that person grow and approach their virus head-on, and to not let it define them and to be able to move on with their life is a fulfilling feeling and one of the reasons I also got involved with activism.”
Alongside his blog and Facebook group work, he also hosts a YouTube channel that raises AIDS awareness.
On-line activism is not all he’s doing. He’s an Ambassador for DAB The AIDS Bear Project, and he regularly speaks at events.
“My goal is to help make sure that those living with HIV now get the emotional support needed in coping with this diagnosis,” he shares. “Talking to others living with HIV was a game changer for me in the sense that it made me realize I was not alone in this battle. Without the support of so many that heard me out I would not be where I am today.”
Emotions can be tricky, though. Joshua is not angry about what happened. Why? He says that the reason is because there isn’t anyone to blame but himself. He clarified in our interview the importance of responsibility and feelings, at the heart of everything.
“I do not personally feel any anger towards the girl that infected me; we were both at fault. I am not 100 percent sure if it was my ex-girlfriend or another girl that I hooked up with and that helped me majorly move past that point as there was never anyone to sit and point the finger at,” he says. Having reflected on the matter, tossing it around in his head, weighing everything out, he posed a question to answer this question: “Does it really matter? I mean, really, here I am HIV-positive and what good is it going to do me to have a name of someone that is only going to cause anger inside me and toxic feelings?”
Open dialogue is the key, he says. “Never let trust or the feelings of a heated moment override rational thinking to allow something to happen that could affect the rest of one’s life. A few minutes of unprotected sex is not worth a life sentence of HIV. Whether in a relationship, marriage, partnership, it is important to continue to keep that conversation open regarding HIV among other STIs because at the end of the day we can only be 100-percent sure about what we are doing. We cannot rely on other people to protect our own sexual health; we need to take that step ourselves. I am a firm believer in knowing one’s status and if you are going to sleep with someone that does not know their status then you need to use protection in order to assure your own health. Whether that be through the use of condoms, PrEP, or treatment as prevention, the more risk reduction strategies one can utilize, the better.
“I think through my situation I know different decisions should have been made but at this point I can’t wave a magic wand and make the past go away. It is all about picking up the pieces now and moving forward in life to share my story with others so hopefully in that heat of the moment, a second thought will cross their mind, and sexual health will be at the forefront.”
Indeed, Joshua is still learning and giving back. In his blog, his reflective entries explore the depth of his emotions. Even though he has learned a lot ever since he was diagnosed at twenty-two, he feels one lesson, in particular, will stick with everybody even if they have not experienced it yet.
“It is a time when taking a medicine every single day simply to continue living life and seeing the doctor on a regular basis should seem years away, in the far future,” he shares. “I’ve learned that our health is never promised; it’s up to us to ensure that we take the proper steps to protect it.”
Visit Joshua Middleton’s blog by logging on to: www.pozitivehope.com.
Robert Kingett is a journalist and author who writes and speaks about many subjects including LGBT and disability rights. His journalism work has appeared in several magazines, websites, and anthologies. He is the creator of Gaming Glimpse Magazine, a monthly publication that explores diversity in the gaming community as well as the founder of the Accessible Netflix Project. His memoir, entitled Off the Grid, is an account of living blindly without the Internet.You can find him on his personal blog at https://blindjournalist.wordpress.com.