Originally written 1st December, 2016 (World AIDS Day)
World AIDS Day is incredibly important. People who believe themselves to be forward-thinking and open-minded may be surprised that some of their opinions are at best hurtful, at worst dangerous. This could be you.
I don’t have HIV, but I’m not afraid to say that I very easily could have, given decisions I’ve made. I am and always have been very careful, but I’m not perfect.
It is sometimes said – more often believed – that people who contract HIV somehow deserve it. This is an illogical and unpleasant twisting of a simple truth, which is that we are all responsible for the decisions we make. Given the probability of infection, contracting HIV is almost always ‘unfortunate’ (if you disagree, I’d be happy to discuss statistics with you in a few months when I’ve finished my PhD). If you’ve ever participated in extreme sports, drunk so much that you’ve passed out, or even spent too long in the sun, then you have also participated in risky behaviour that could have had ‘unfortunate’ results. The only difference is a pervasive (and to my mind out-dated) attitude about sex.
If you feel that HIV is a fair punishment for behaviour that you consider ‘promiscuous’, ‘sleazy’ or ‘stupid’, then that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. Please at least consider that your opinion may be based on lessons that were handed down to you from a parent, a teacher or a church. If you have never questioned these lessons before, please take a moment to do so now…
The veneration of chastity and the condemnation of promiscuity are values we have inherited from medieval society. You may think they are values worth keeping. That’s fine. However, please remember that they are man-made conventions, not self-evident truths. Simply being in the majority does not make you right (or wrong). Personally I think it’s time to think a little differently.
I’ve taken the time to write this because the stigma associated with HIV is real and it prevents people from living the best lives they can. It clouds debates about which treatments and preventative methods should and shouldn’t be made available. It reveals hidden prejudices that should have been buried decades ago. It reminds us that we are far too quick to place lifestyle choices on a spectrum of good and evil – and if we haven’t learnt what dangers that brings by now, then we’re really in trouble.
World AIDS Day isn’t just to make you aware that AIDS exists. It’s asking you to be aware of and consider your own thoughts and feelings about AIDS and people living with HIV. You might be surprised what you learn.