Saturday, 25 June 2016

"How did you get it?" - an invasion of privacy, intrusive


It's like people can't help themselves. When you disclose that you're HIV+ to them, often one of the first things is the question. "How did you get it?". As if that has some sort of bearing on how they'll look at your HIV. 

The inference is that if you got it through unsafe sex or drug injecting, then you deserved to get it? That you should feel terrible guilt about getting it? If you got it through a blood transfusion years back, or by some needle stick injury in healthcare somehow, then you didn't deserve to get it? That you shouldn't feel any guilt about getting it?

The simple fact is that nobody should feel guilty about having HIV. How you got it is irrelevant. To feel such guilt is to cement the stigma that comes with the question "How did you get it?"

Is that question asked for other serious illness? Cancer? Diabetes? MS? Stroke? Heart attack? 
Like anyone else, people with HIV grapple with many things in life. For some these things include judgement, stigma and discrimination. I recently heard that an ambulance officer attending a person who disclosed he was HIV positive, blurted out – “how did you get it?” This is not an uncommon question. How anyone becomes HIV positive is no one else’s business but the person with HIV. Nevertheless, this needless intrusive question comes from those we least expect to pry. 

An Aboriginal woman I recently spoke with lives in fear of her community knowing her very painful secret. She is fearful of being stigmatised because of how she caught HIV. As she said, “it’s embarrassing but people want to know.” I wondered to myself about the burden she was obviously carrying and how unfair that was. If she had cancer there would be a completely different response. Her level of vigilance and caution has severe impacts on her health, like many other HIV positive people living in rural and regional areas in small communities. 

Most HIV transmissions are passed on during sexual intimacy that doesn’t always fit within what others see as the ‘norm’. Heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, we lock people into stereotyped boxes of sex and gender. The more we define, the tighter the box gets and the greater the likelihood of treating people as different or ‘other’. Along the continuum of sexual orientation, the reality is we are all at risk of being marginalised by another group of people. 

Sometimes people will choose to live a lie for fear of being thought of in a stigmatising way. This isn’t just HIV causing this. It is misinformed and ignorant people judging other people and discrimination, pure and simple. The worst of this is what I call ‘homogeneous discrimination’, or ‘like discriminating against like’. For example, gay people against gay people or straight people against other straight people. If you’re bisexual or transgender, this experience is a very isolating experience. The truth is there is always someone living with HIV not very far from you. You just won’t know. Positive Life