HIV has been around for a while. Though we came a long way in fighting this virus and having it is not a “death sentence” anymore, we still live with the images of suffering and people dying of AIDS. The stigma and judgement of people who are HIV positive remains. My guest dealt with the topic of HIV for 15 years. When he contracted HIV, he knew he wanted to live what he preached.
Some excerpts from the interview:
I was diagnosed with HIV 5 years ago, which has been an interesting journey.
I teach at the university here in Leeds. I teach issues in relation to gender and sexuality.
The part of the Netherlands where I grew up was basically defined by conservative forms of Dutch Protestantism, Calvinism, the Dutch Reformed church. That defined my youth, my upbringing.
Being diagnosed with HIV was an interesting combination of different parts of my biography. I had been working on issues of HIV in my academic work in the past 15 years. While I studied, I was a visiting student in South Africa. I was a visiting student as part of a master program for Theology and HIV/AIDS. At that time the HIV epidemic was in South Africa at its top level. I did a lot of voluntary work for people with HIV. So that was my first exposure to the realities of the HIV epidemic. I ended up writing my masters dissertation on theology and HIV in South Africa. Somehow it was an irony that 10 years later I was diagnosed with HIV myself. This was the moment of truth for me. If I was really serious about fighting the stigma of HIV then it was now time to do that myself.
I had a wonderful social environment with my partner and a few friends with who I shared this news and who were really supportive. That helped me combined with the basic medical knowledge I had that HIV is not a life-threatening disease. When I started taking my medication, I realised that I had to take this medication for the rest of my life which was kind of weird to realise.
HIV made me much more aware of my body. Of having one and the vulnerability of my body. I realised that I wasn’t going to allow this virus to take over my body and to take over my well-being. The most difficult step was to disclose it to my immediate family, to my parents, to my siblings. I don’t really care what other people think about me having HIV or if they have issues with it, but I did care how my immediate family would take it.
I’m proud of deciding to stick to the principles, to the stuff I believe in. I do believe that living with HIV is not a problem medically speaking, but also kind of morally speaking. Living with HIV doesn’t say anything about who I am. But the way I decided how to live with HIV does say something about who I am.
In the end, I would love to see a world where no one is stigmatised for who they are or how they decide to live their lives. I want to see a world where no one is being judged for the decisions they made.
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LINKS ADRIAAN SUGGESTED:
Adriaan’s book: Kenyan, Christian, Queer https://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08380-3.html
– This website includes some good, helpful basic information about HIV and the medical issues around it: https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health
– This website offers lots of support to people living with HIV (it’s a UK based organisation, and of course there will be similar organisations in other countries): https://positivelyuk.org/
– This website is specifically about faith and living with HIV: http://www.positivefaith.net/church-community-and-hiv.html