Op-ed: The HIV Shame Game

Published: June 7, 2013

Throughout the modern history of homo dating and mating, there has always been an undeniable, resilient link between sex and shame. The gay movement has made many strides in relinquishing much of the guilt associated with our innate attraction to the same sex, but shame still lingers. Sure, we now can be seen holding hands in Texas and kissing in Georgia, but there are still a healthy amount of guilty thoughts among gay men when it comes to sex. Why is that? Frankly, it’s because there is still an unsettling fear associated with gay sex and HIV/AIDS. And when shame is involved, it is inevitably accompanied by a healthy dose of blame.
Naturally, it is easiest to pinpoint those who outwardly identify themselves as HIV-positive as the ones to blame for the continuation of this black stain on our community. It is easy to forget that these individuals were also HIV-negative at one point in time and, most likely, consumed with the same fears of transmission as the rest of the HIV-negative demographic. Now they must assimilate to the HIV-positive ranks and be constantly berated with stereotypes of behavior and health fallacies, which plague a population that should know better. It can be a difficult road for some, depending on how privileged they were before discovering their new identity. Turns out, those who dish the most shame aren’t very good at taking it.
Of course, the shaming of those with HIV doesn’t occur in a blatantly obtuse fashion. We have come a long way since the AIDS virus was discovered nearly 30 years ago. Then the viral divide was like a gaping crevasse within the gay community that had people plummeting to their death left and right. Now depths of the crevasse are much more shallow. People who are diagnosed with HIV are no longer plummeting but rather cast down into a lower rung in the community, where they are expected to stay. How do we keep them in their place? Through shame in the form of stigmatization.
Just like any prejudice born out of fear, we must eliminate the ominous stereotypes and prerequisite judgments that perpetuate HIV stigma among gay people. But where do we start? The answer is simple. We assess the language of the HIV culture and remove the words that inherently cast shades of shame.
Coming from a community that just recently removed the f word from America’s common vernacular, we know that words (whether intentional or not) are sometimes all it takes to keep a second class firmly in its place. Whether it is the way we address HIV education or the terminology we assign to our status, the HIV language is littered with dirty little innuendos that HIV-negative people would never notice and HIV-positive people can’t seem to forget.

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