First published in Gscene Aug 2020
More to Me Than HIV is a project that aims to breakdown the stigma that has historically been attached to this virus.
When I saw my piece in last months Gscene to promote the More to Me Than HIV project, I was extremely proud, but a small part of me was filled with anxiety; but why should I feel this way? I have been on effective antiretroviral therapy since the early 1990s, but having lived through the period before there was any treatment, watching friends die of AIDS, or from the toxicity of early medication AZT, those memories of uncertainty can still creep in and unnerve.
With this in mind, I can imagine that for the group of people who HIV has not had a significant impact on their lives, when they hear the words HIV or AIDS they will recall the time when the only information out there was AIDS = Death, which was only compounded by the tabloid press who went above and beyond in spreading misinformation about how HIV could be transmitted. Perhaps because HIV is not part of their lives, this is their recall on what HIV is still about. It is this misunderstanding that perpetuates HIV stigma and one that needs to stamped out with re-education.
The one thing that stops many people being open about their HIV status is the stigma, stigma that comes from outdated ideas about what HIV is and how it can be passed on.
Let me make this perfectly clear, people living with an HIV+ diagnoses who are on an effective antiretroviral therapy cannot pass the virus on, put simply: Undetectable = Untransmittable.
People living with HIV, on effective treatment can expect to get older and get on with living their lives. Not that living with HIV doesn’t have a whole set of challenges, but having an HIV diagnoses should not be the defining thing about us, we are so much more than those three little letters and that is what is at the core of this project.
We understand that to speak openly about our HIV+ status may be an uncomfortable step to make, but it is through this project we feel we can break down the stigma associated with HIV by showing that we are not ashamed by our status, it is something we live with but that is not a label that defines who we are. Through this photo project we will show that we are: determined, resilient, funny and capable, we are chefs, beauticians, builders, mother’s, fathers, grandparents, artists, listeners, musicians, carers, writers and so the list goes on. So for those living with HIV, we ask you to show us who you are beyond your HIV status; check out the website moretomethanhiv.life, upload three photos, one portrait of yourself and two photos that show another part of what make you, you, along with three, positive, descriptive words. Together we can combat HIV+ stigma and resign it to the history books where it belongs.