The Importance of the Slow Lane
Claire Gasamagera Uses Social Media Video to Bring HIV Advice to Women
by Chael Needle
As an activist, Claire Gasamagera is always searching for new ways to share her insights about women and HIV, U=U, and her experiences of living with HIV since birth. She writes, attends workshops and conferences (in-person and virtual), and now has increasingly populated her YouTube channel with advice on issues facing women living with HIV/AIDS.
On Gasamagera’s channel, you will find tips about HIV treatment, how to achieve viral suppression, addressing bullying, online dating, and more. Her warm personality comes through as she makes her points with depth and always a little humor. Subscribers won’t be disappointed!
A&U recently had the chance to correspond with Claire Gasamagera.
Chael Needle: Why did you decide to bring your message to YouTube?
Claire Gasamagera: I decided to bring my message on YouTube because YouTube is a library in today’s digital world. Whenever I need a recipe for a pie, I know I can find a couple recipes and decide which one to use.
I want women living with HIV to find different types of recipes of living with HIV.
Living with HIV and being a woman come with a whole set of challenges and in our daily lives we are always looking for solutions/recipes to solve our problems. In my time, growing up with HIV, there were limited lived experiences of ordinary women living with HIV who look like me.
In my YouTube channel, as one of the oldest people born with HIV, I use my personal experience and acquired wisdom to provide younger women living with HIV with solutions to their daily challenges.
In today’s times, younger women are rarely looking for solutions by going to libraries, as they use the Internet. Unlike other social media platforms, content posted on YouTube is evergreen and women in different seasons of life can benefit from my experience and wisdom for many years to come.
Also, I echo Phill Wilson, the founder of Black AIDS Institute, who said, “As black people we spent many years requesting a spot at the table; yet the most important thing is creating the table.”
While the women living with HIV are advocating for fast-lane issues for women living with HIV rights, there are unsolved issues of women living with HIV I classify as slow-lane issues. Those issues include women’s…desire to have children and the complicated journey to motherhood.
For instance, a big percentage of women living with HIV are women of childbearing age. All we hear is women’s rights to “abortion” yet we do not hear much about “babies, dating, pregnancy experiences, breastfeeding, advocacy for childcare benefits, maternity leave.” It is surprising that a substantial number of our HIV Inc. [institutions and organizations] do not have childcare or family policies. That’s leaving some women in need of a second look at slow-lane issues related to women.
It wasn’t until I raised the issue of childcare at USCHA conference that we realized that women living with HIV who are activist do not belong in the “kitchen” …This idea of being punished to stay in the kitchen because I have babies is my worst fear! [In a column titled “Back in the Kitchen,” Gasamagera wrote about this issue for A&U in March 2017.]
The journey to motherhood from dating to baby and beyond is filled with a whole set of slow-lane challenges that are often overlooked yet impact women living with HIV daily lives.
I want my YouTube channel to answer those simple specific questions that women who desire to have babies ask themselves.
What do you want listeners to learn from your show?
I want listeners to learn that women living with HIV are out there living their lives despite HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
In our HIV community, we focus on big issues such HIV-related stigma, discrimination, and criminalization. As individuals we cannot end these issues [immediately], which leave people living with HIV sometimes feeling defeated. In my show, I want to show that, as people living with HIV, we still have power to significantly change our lives for the better. The foundation for a better life for us people living with HIV begins with starting and staying on HIV treatment. Then we take care of our body by committing to health and wellness, our minds by committing to emotional stability and mental healthcare, and our soul by committing to meaningful connections with people we love and the higher power we believe in to stay grounded.
You mention U=U on several shows. Why is this message so important to you?
For me the life-changing miracle starts with treatment: HIV treatment prevents me from getting opportunistic diseases; I grew up thinking they are part of my daily life. I am healthy: no chronic mouth sores, shingles or respiratory diseases; I look good, with meat on my bones, and have a round, curved body (very important for an African woman to feel sexy.)
On top of that, the U=U message for me brings a light at the end of the long tunnel of living with HIV. The idea that I cannot pass HIV to sexual partners is liberating. The idea that we can have children free from HIV is mind-blowing.
Thus, on my channel I preach the good news of U=U, encourage my viewers to stay on HIV treatment until they reach and maintain a viral suppression, and convert them into U=U disciples and join me to spread the good news of U=U around the world.
Besides informing my viewers about the wonders of starting and staying on HIV treatment and U=U, I share struggles related to staying on top of HIV treatment.
For example I have been on HIV treatment for over twenty years: I share my struggles at different seasons of my life and how I have overcome them.
Anything else you wanted to cover?
Our different experiences living with HIV make our history…and our history determines our legacy.
Our differences make us stronger, not weaker.
I have been getting social media attacks from men in our community who do not like my show even though my channel focuses on women.
I would like men living with HIV to show grace when women, especially black immigrant women living with HIV like me, are sharing their experiences. It takes some gut to navigate a new culture and language to convey a message.
In fact, HIV and AIDS have affected the entire world; nobody has ownership of the story of what it means to live with HIV. Our stories matter; thus men living with HIV who have had a platform for a long time should never try to silence women living with HIV. In my experience I had white men reach out to me to express their disdain of my YouTube channel…some bullied me and called me names …one white man said I should die….
I bring this up because many other black women speaking English with an accent are bullied by supremacist ideas in our HIV community and they retreat because they do not have a thick skin like mine.
English is my seventh language. I make an extra effort to communicate my message …please do not bully me… if you do not like the message, there are millions of Youtubers you can follow. In my mother tongue we say that “the sky is so huge even birds never collide.”
To watch and/or subscribe to Claire Gasamagera’s channel on YouTube, visit: https://bit.ly/36n0ZGk.
Follow Chael Needle on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.