AIDS: The scarlet letter

Tue. December 16, 2008 12:00 AM
by Bill Pritchard

The negative stigma attached with HIV is overwhelming. There's no easy way to say that. It simply sucks to contract. Sure, we have come a long way in drug research and prevention, but ask any HIV+ person and they will tell you that it sucks.

Clearly, life changes for the individual diagnosed with HIV. In Jay's (Not his real name) case we've seen a new commitment in helping prevent others from the unhealthy choices leading up to AIDS. Installments one and two in this four part series have introduced us to a man; who not unlike ourselves; knew what he was doing.
Jay will tell you how situations in life made him ignore what he knew to be a bad decision. I don't know about you, but I really relate to Jay. Haven't there been times in our lives when it just didn't seem like life was worth all the fuss and worry that we devote to it! All of us can relate to the "I'll worry about it later" tape that plays in our mind. Jay is just like us.

Or is he? Like it or not, the straight community is not the only people group that brandishes the scarlet letter to victims of HIV. The scarlet letter [usually the letter "A"] was branded on your skin so everybody knew of your sin. Women would have it sewn on there dresses. It was thought by the Puritans that if you sinned, you would go to hell and because of this no other citizens would want to be near you lest they go to hell by association. Our legacy not just as the LGBT community but as the community of humanity depends on how we care for others. It is my hope that you will see a bit of yourself in Jay. In his shoes we might be able to renew our commitment to loving, accepting, and serving others.

Have there been any physical signs?

There have not been any physical signs of me being positive and hopefully there will never be. But there is the large potential for things to happen down the road! That all depends on a persons body type, medications and lifestyle. One of my biggest fears is the occurrence of lipodystrophy; also known as wasting.

Definition: Lipodystrophy meaning "Lipo" [refers to fat] and "dystrophy" [refers to abnormal growth or change.] Abnormal fat changes. Fat redistribution syndrome.

A build up of fat: Some people see the amount of fat deep within the body—around their gut increase significantly. Increased fat pads—a buildup of fat on the back of the neck and shoulders has also been seen, as well as increased fat tissue in the breasts. Some people have also reported round, moveable, flattened lumps of fat under the skin.

A loss of fat: Some people see the fat in their legs, arms, buttocks, or face diminish. This can cause veins to protrude in the arms and legs and sunken cheeks in the face. Source:

I do know that the best prevention of this is the gaining of muscle and decrease of fat.

Were you worried people would find out?

I am really not out with my status. It's not one of my proudest moments!! Lots of my friends and some acquaintances know. I've found it important to be careful with the people you choose to tell. We all know that people can be cruel and unfortunately this can be ammunition for someone to hurt you. I have become more comfortable in my own skin lately so I feel there really is no need to tell everybody.

Did anyone you told shun you?

I have not necessarily been shunned, but have dealt with that type of behavior from some coworkers. One in particular has come to his own conclusion of my status even though he has not been told. One day he wouldn't even touch the same stapler that I had just used because I had a cold!

How were you treated by doctors, nurses, & pharmacists?

Absolutely wonderful. The day my doctor told me, Travis, a nurse at Northstar came in to take more blood. He asked how I was doing and I just broke down. He held me for a good fifteen minutes and just let me cry in his arms; saying "Just let it out".

Have you been honest with tricks about your positive status?

At first I did tell some and didn't tell others. Why exactly I don't know. I think it was fear. But now I do tell everyone and if they have a problem with it, then it wasn't meant to be.

Jay is not the only one who's not been completely open about his status. Take one look at sex proposition websites and you'll see a "no answer" in the field populated for HIV status. Sadly this is a fact of life. The HIV infected individual is damned if they do; and damned if they don't.

NOTE : Illinois law says that any HIV positive person who does something which could transmit HIV is breaking the law. You don't have to actually infect someone to break this law. Just putting someone at risk is enough. This is even true if you are practicing safer sex. Under Illinois law, if you wear a condom during intercourse but don't tell your sexual partner your HIV status, you might still be breaking the law. To protect yourself legally, you should always disclose your HIV status before engaging in any sexual or needle-sharing behaviors. ( Source : AIDS Legal Council of Chicago )

This should also serve as an unambiguous warning to those sexually active folks who have trusted their tricks! You may not want to ruin your chances for possible sexual encounter, but whether or not you are HIV+; you and your partner deserve to ask/answer that question. I would suggest you avoid thinking "Oh I won't get it.", "Nobody will know.", or "People with AIDS are living normal lives now." They are NOT! Listening to Jay has shown me that! His health (Both mental and physical) is a daily struggle. Most don't have that kind of worry added to their daily concerns.

Many of us have been touched by HIV. We may know someone who has it or might have it ourselves. It is time that everyone, gay, straight, or otherwise; step up to the plate of compassion and Make A Difference with our time, care, and cash!

There are countless organizations that are there for you. Ask for help! It's time for all of us to play safe; get tested ; and make healthy choices daily! Your lifestyle, mental, and physical health depend on it.