The HIV/AIDS Stigma: Why We Need to Talk

July 1, 2016
By Mireille Maddah

In recent news, an Austrian-based men’s progressive lifestyle magazine decided to do the unthinkable: print its latest issue with an HIV+ blood-infused ink.

It sounds disturbing at first. Appalling even. How can a professional journalist jeopardize the health of its readers by exposing them to a biohazard-containing paper?

Answer: it takes HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) 30 minutes to be deactivated. It takes more than 30 minutes to make, edit and publish a single issue of a magazine.

The readers, presumed at risk, are safer than a group of cubs under the paws of a fearless lioness.

A sparking fire, that once seemed prominent, needs to be re-ignited and this time with beautifully rendered visuals that illustrate the truth that some are stubborn to grasp.

The first question that comes to mind is whether the HIV+ person belongs to the LGBTQIA+ community. We cannot allow ourselves to believe after more than 30 years from HIV discovery and fighting against one of the most potent pandemics emerging in the 20th century, that it is only limited to the borders of the LGBTQIA+ community and cannot penetrate the “straight” physiological checkpoints.

Not only does this qualify us as a group that is voluntarily submerging its logic under the depths of ignorance; but it’s also an explicit form of negligence to the facts behind a significant disease.

We are hindered by misinterpretations many pursue to push against the uneducated, instead of spreading awareness about a disease that is no longer silent. Some of the clichés distract from the scientific methods used to understand the true nature of the virus and how it is spread from person to person.

In the 1980s, a number of gay men had to endure the grueling symptoms of the yet-to-be-named disease, causing all the scare among San Francisco’s underground gay community. At that time, one trigger pulled two lethal bullets: AIDS and the loitering solitude of hiding it.

The disease was first called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) and was thought to spread only among gay people, until it was later discovered that it can be transmitted heterosexually by sharing needles, organ transplants, sexual intercourse and from mothers to infants. Once the silent murmurs had become too loud to deny and their frequency too high-pitched to be ignored, the victimized ones who had to endure both the social shaming and the intriguing physical changes.

The necessity was, and still is, to realize that a handshake will not tumble down the immune system and crumble every T cell in the body and most importantly to adopt a comprehensive protection.

An unprotected sexual intercourse is one of the main routes of transmission of the virus. Since a concrete cure is still not on the horizon and lifelong medications are the best to hope for; prevention is always key, as no effective vaccine is available yet.

No wonder some of the mentioned magazine’s critics have come forward saying that they felt violated while looking at the visualized concepts and were even afraid to hold the papers, believing they might get ‘infected’ by the ominous ink.

The Catch 22 is that people know that holding an HIV patient can never vanquish a single cell of their bodies; yet still, they choose not to come close to the specimen because an HIV realization might be lurking in the shadows of a doubt.

Physicians suggested that healthy heterosexual couples start taking PrEP pills for the concern of protection. PrEP pills (Pre-Exposure-Prophylaxis) are medications taken as a preventive measure by sexually-engaged couples within conditions permeable to a possible HIV infliction. They build the guardian walls before the viral enemy comes close. The problem was the social offense taken by the ones who thought that suggestion is a hint to an enriched doubt in their sexual orientation.

Ironically, just as the processes of replication causes copies of the virus to reproduce new immune cells, so is the process of silence to the purposefully deaf on the subject.

Isolating the matter to only hit the concerns of the gay community is no different than closing a wooden door to an arson in a room. It can only heat the debate even further, and ultimately cause it to combust in its own failure to understand. Even the insinuation of the fact that this issue is not of a concern of any other than this penalized community is a penalty made against its own inhabitants.

Banishing the stereotypes surrounding the uneducated ones and helping them fully fathom the truth behind the AIDS debate is a stepping stone towards a better outcome. Human life should be able to withstand all labels and all orientations because HIV knows no gender and no labels. I can only wish that we would arrive to the shores of this cascading conclusion without pointing any fingers and disconcerting ourselves with the rest of the endowing persons, whose only fault was a physical one.

Mireille Maddah is a bounty hunter for pessimists and melancholics, and an aspiring writer with a perpetual writer’s block.


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