Because a HIV status turns things around. Whatever you have been, you are now less of that thing. And less here is more. The additional stigma will weigh heavily from anything you've done, diminishing from it. You are no longer a young single mother, you are a young single HIV+ mother. You are no longer a recovering addict, you are a HIV+ former junkie. You are no longer a foreigner, with all the implications and unspoken accusations that accompany being one no matter which country you emigrated to, you are a HIV+ foreigner. You are no longer unemployed, you are HIV+ and unemployed. And goes with our saying, you are no longer a homosexual, but a HIV+ homosexual. And so forth...
And the only thing you can do is bear the burden in some shape or form. You can ignore it, but ignoring HIV always appears to lead to at least one of two things: self destruction in one form or another (drugs, pills, alcohol) and self denial which often leads to infecting others. Even when you don't infect your partner, you are living a lie, and every fiber of your being screams that constantly.
So some people go into denial. If not denial, into semi-denial and seclusion. They don't pretend not to have it, they just withdraw. They stay home, they eat alone, they avoid friends and family, the slip down into the dank well of depression. And I know because I have been there. Walking from room to room in my parents house. Slipping out for cigarettes and ducking whenever a neighbour passed by for fear of being spotted and chatted to. And to a certain extent I still do that whenever I go home. My last visit, which was a spontaneous week in June decided on just days before, I went to my first family thing voluntarily. There are many members of my family I haven't seen for years, cousins and the like, I am sure they have forgotten all about me. And why shouldn't they? They've gotten married, had children, got into the daily grind, established their adult identity, while I was clinging to shreds of my youthful one, and when the diagnosis came they turned to dust in my hands. I couldn't be the lighthearted persona I always pretended to be (though nothing could be further from the truth). I have wasted my entire life creating a self image. I have wasted it in front of mirrors, and now I couldn't even look at a mirror. I felt a surge of dread and utter panic whenever I even glanced at myself. There was no escape from me. There was no going back, no undoing. I was in my 30s, sucked into the whirlpool of adult education (for those who can't teach, and those who can't even teach, learn, and those who can't even learn properly, learn something completely impractical), without any economic stability or social rights where I was living, without a future or any type of assimilation or affiliation with that country, with a long and winding history of making wrong decisions, of running away, of embarrassing my hard working, long suffering parents, with many a dark secret tucked away in the torture cellar of my teens, on which I managed to built some sort of unplanned shack. Other people had buildings, because they had the foundations. I had the traitorous soil above that hollow of horrors, and I did what I could, and it was ramshackle but it was my own, and now I could see it for what it was, a frail, crooked assembly of bits and pieces, barely standing, but adorned with a huge flickering neon sign like a jungle path brothel, screaming AIDS.
There are so many ways to tell this story, and using metaphors is just one of them. But the truth is, i didn't even have that, I didn't have the words, they only came later. I just had the overwhelming panic. Sitting on a dark, packed, humming jumbo, knowing that I am the only one, knowing that I am the outcast. Coming out into the bustling world of travel and leisure, of business and family, but I have already written about that. There was just a big nothing. And there was nothing I could do but fall head first into that nothing. And when I try to look ahead now, the only thing I see is fog. I do see shapes in it though, but I have no idea how concrete they are. And I don't even dare to hope for them, but who am I kidding, I totally do. I want to finish this
And that's where you are, unchartered territory. No one has walked here before you, although there are some trails around you but they are few between and faded. You walk and you walk, you make your life journey, despite all this. You see others making theirs. And some may not even have your status, but they are struggling their as well. And there is nothing more I can write about this, because I don't know what is around the bend, I can't guess. I can'only duck my head down and keep walking. And that means in very practical terms, get up, make myself reasonably pretty, go to work, do stuff, go home or to the gym, try to take care of my boyfriends, call my parents, and live almost as though HIV was not part of my life. That's what I can do for now. I have mixed feelings about the "poz pro" thing. I think there is a lot of genuine hrd work, and I think there is a great degree of manipulation and politics in this too, the poz and proud thing, the glam alternative. And there is corruption. At least here in the Netherlands there is a huge amount of it and it doesn't just amount to bad taste. It is on a criminal level. But I suppose for all these people, and for people in general, these are all ways of survival. I don't forgive them, but I know we are all holding on, some more desperately - and ruthlessly - than others. Some at the expense of other poz people, because they just don't care anymore. Because they can. Because they need to. Because we are fine on just getting barely by and on human companionship, and they are only fine with HIV if it includes trips abroad, five start resorts, cocktail parties, poz cruises, bareback orgies, huge houses, high salaries and even Botox treatments, all paid for at public expense from the government sponsored AIDS fonds, all paid for at our expense from money donated to women, to children, even to Africa. They have developed into a machine of greed and corruption, their "poz power" consists of levels of peer pressure to keep this momentum going, even as they are under scrutiny for the purposeful sex crimes and mass infection performed by 3 men, one of which is one of their active members. They can't break out of it anymore, and so I don't envy them. I'd rather make my own painstaking path.
Dedicated to my friends from Amsterdam.