Down Syndrome gets a month. Childhood cancer gets one, too. So do autism an muscular dystrophy. Mitochondrial disease has a week.
HIV and AIDS gets a single day: December 1.
December 1 is usually the day when children in Europe start to open their Advent calendars, and eat that first piece of mediocre chocolate. For me December 1 is the day when I take my HIV plushie to school.
I was diagnosed with HIV when I was a child, during a routine test following an accident. Neither of my parents were HIV positive, and for a while it was a mystery how I contracted HIV. There is a chance we know now, but it no longer matters. What matters is the way my life changed because of that diagnosis. For the remainder of my childhood, it was something that was not talked about much. It was kept a secret: a dark, shameful secret, something that embarrassed my father.
I always felt that I was worse than others because of having HIV. I knew that I’d be expelled from the school I went to if anyone found out I was infected with the gay plague. When I eventually came out as gay to my father, he made it known that bringing homosexuality and HIV into his home was more than he could tolerate… and soon I found myself alone, homeless.
Maybe that’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was found by a great family, where having a well controlled chronic condition wasn’t the end of the world. So far away from being the end of the world that when I found a Human immunodeficiency virus plushie online that made me squee in delight, I got it for Hanukah. I have been sleeping with it ever since. My boyfriend sometimes kicks it out of bed, but it is a nice, soft pillow substitute.
One of the things I found problematic was really growing up with HIV and facing challenges of adulthood with the virus. From military service to relationships, I found myself having questions that I wasn’t know who could answer. The counselor at the HIV clinic was trying to be helpful. “Always use a condom.” I had a million questions. What about oral sex? What about other things? Like my accident? What if it happens in my home? “Always use a condom.” Not very helpful at all.
I will never forget the evening my dad set my boyfriend and I down to discuss things beyond the birds and bees. He knew mostly what I did: that undetectable viral load in the blood doesn’t mean undetectable viral load in semen. Of course the incidence of passing the infection through oral sex with undetectable viral load is minimal–we couldn’t find a recorded case–we should check out the CDC site about what they advise. Here it is:
At least one scientific article has suggested that plastic food wrap may be used as a barrier to protect against herpes simplex virus during oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. However, there are no data regarding the effectiveness of plastic food wrap in decreasing transmission of HIV and other STDs in this manner and it is not manufactured or approved by the FDA for this purpose.
Plastic. Food. Wrap.
This must have been the funniest thing about living with HIV, but not the only one. Living with HIV is not a death sentence and not an awfully sad thing in the West. What makes it hardest for me is not the virus itself, or the medication I have to take every day. It’s the attitude and ignorance of other people. But that, too, can change.
To read other posts about HIV and AIDS, and to join this effort to educate and share, visit Positive Posts 2012!