This month’s newsletter shares some highlights of Pride and tips on disclosing to various people in your life that you are living with HIV. I wanted to be honest and share a story with you about my own struggle with HIV stigma and coming out related to PrEP(Truvada) to prevent HIV.
I waited a few days before filling my prescription. I was afraid of what the staff might think of me, how they might judge me, and how I might have to explain why I was taking Truvada. When I took in the prescription to the pharmacy, I was hyper-aware of any looks or expressions that might be judging me. The pharmacist came out to talk to me about my script. She started with “this is an anti-retroviral medication to help manage HIV infection…” and then I jumped in, “I’m actually taking the medication to prevent HIV, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis.” She seemed caught off guard and quickly went over some potential side effects and asked if I had any questions.
Why did I jump in so quickly? Sure, I wanted to educate her on patients taking Truvada as PrEP. But, was I worried she’d think I was living with HIV? If I’m honest with myself, I probably WAS worried. I assumed she might have some notions of what people living with HIV are like and I wanted to distance myself from those stereotypes. I’m surprised by my reaction. I thought I’d gotten past my shame and stigma about HIV status.
To be clear, I believe there’s no reason to be ashamed of living with HIV.
But when I think back on this now, I know that the belief that I’d “gotten past” my shame and stigma shows just how much I don’t understand about what living with HIV is like. It must be a daily task to combat HIV stigma in my own life and the community and to understand the courage people living with HIV show by being out and proud every day and by continuing to come out to doctors, pharmacists, counselors, lawyers, friends, family, co-workers, etc.
The shootings in Orlando are a glaring reminder of the work left to do for the LGBT community. Our sense of safety and justice is shaken. All the past memories and traumas of violence, harassment, abuse, and feelings of being unsafe are dredged back into the present moment.
How this all comes together for me is under the theme of Pride. Pride in who we are. Pride in the identities that are part of what makes us whole. If it’s gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, living with HIV or not, on PrEP or not – whatever it is. If we’re out and proud about these identities, we make ourselves and our communities more visible. We refuse to be afraid and back away from others who may judge or try to shame us.
While coming out isn’t easy, your visibility makes a difference. Thank you for being you! Thanks for being proud of who you are.