Yes, I have HIV but I am not HIV “Positive”

While having a discussion with Kevin from Rise Up to HIV and a few other online advocates at the recent conference I attended something was brought up to me that I think is a very valid point.  The topic was brought up by someone who is not living with HIV and it is something I had never really thought about before but it struck a cord with me on a personal level.

Why do we have to say that we are HIV Positive when we have HIV?

People who are diagnosed with Diabetes or any other chronic illness do not say they are Diabetic Positive or Cancer Positive etc.  So why must we, as people living with HIV be forced to say that we are HIV Positive?  Why can we not just say “Yes, I have HIV”?  This is part of the stereotypes that are still alive and thriving when it comes to living with the virus.

It is time to start a movement for both those living with HIV, and those who are not.

Image4Remove the labels Positive and Negative when referring to your HIV status.

This is not going to be something that is easy to do because those two words [positive and negative] have been embedded into the culture and society when talking about HIV.  But do they need to be?  Is it really not enough just to say that you have HIV?  It is very simple when you actually sit down to think about it.  You either have HIV or you do not.  Just as with any other illness, you either have it or you do not.

Image courtesy of Monica Skee

Image courtesy of Monica Skee

To me, those labels are just as harmful as others used to describe those of us living with HIV such as “dirty”, “sluts”, “toxic”, etc. and they need to be removed from our vocabulary.  Some of theonline dating sites have helped fuel this by making us choose to label ourselves as either “negative” or “positive” when we create our profile.  They should rephrase these questions to “Are you living with HIV?” so that we may simply answer yes or no.  I do understand the need to have these questions listed on the profile but I think the wording is hurting the HIV community as a whole.

Living with HIV is so much more than just positive or negative and I do not like having to sum myself up and define myself with just two words.  Are we not more diverse than what two simplistic words are able to make us?  I think it is said best by Sergei Polunin “Perhaps I’m all of these things, perhaps I’m not.  But what I am is for me to find out, not to be dictated to me.  It’s for me to know”.  While I know he was not speaking about HIV when he said this, I think it can still relate to many of us and on many different levels.

So I think it is time for us to stand up as a united front and work to remove these terms from our vocabulary when we are speaking about HIV.  When, as a society are we able to move past terms used to describe someone living with a condition and get to the point where we just simply say that they are living with it?

Maybe these are all just the hopes and ramblings of a mad man who wants to see us move towards a civilization and a culture where we are not defined as positive or negative.  Maybe it is too much to ask for society to change, but we will never know until we try.

3 comments on “Yes, I have HIV but I am not HIV “Positive””

  1. Ken Warnock says:

    These are some interesting points. I sometimes find it easier to simply say, “I’m poz” or to write that I am “HIV+” rather than having to write, “I am living with HIV.” For me, it is simply a form of shorthand, I guess. You are absolutely correct when you discuss other health conditions. Working in the medical field, I have only casually thought about the use of a “+” sign or “-” sign when discussing HIV. I do believe this would be a positive change (pun intended) in discussing HIV and eliminating stigma!! Keep up the great work, Brian!!

  2. Jason says:

    Positive/Negative – I’m so sick of the labels. Although I’ve always been a strong person – sometimes I just want to get a t-shirt with a big red + sign and wear it everywhere. I think people would ask me if I worked for the Red Cross – or was a Life Guard. If they did – I would say no, I’m just positive (a play on words). It’s been 3 years since I was diagnosed and I feel like a warrior for getting this far – but most of the time it’s just a battle with myself – not for or against. Neither positive or negative. I’m still the same person I was before getting HIV, just stronger. Stories and blogs like this show me that we’re still debating what to “term/call” our “plight” – most of the time I just feel like a fifth class citizen. After testing “positive” for HIV I used to make jokes about it – I still can – because “laughter is the best medicine.” The biggest issue I find having HIV – is that you seem to find yourself alone much more – even in a crowd. It seems to make you an island unto yourself where you try to navigate ways to stay “positive.” Get it? Positive? LOL Brian I hope your degree is going well. Nice site.

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