For me, HIV has always been there.
When it comes to being a young gay man, HIV IS my issue. The virus has, throughout history, disproportionately affected the communities that I live, work, travel and play in. However, were it not for HIV being unabashedly non-discriminatory in who it affects, it would likely have remained as aloof and irrelevant as it was made out to be during high school sex education.
When you work in the field, the opportunity to sit down and talk to someone living with HIV is an incredible moment. Lucky for me, these moments happen on a daily basis. Sometimes they are conversations about hearing a diagnosis for the first time, and sometimes they are conversations about how a person has managed their health and relationships over the last 25 years of being positive. These are the moments that hit me the hardest. For me, HIV has always been there.
Sitting across from someone who has been living with HIV for longer than I have been alive, and trying to identify with the emotional, physical, and psychological toll that the virus has taken on them is not always easy. I have never taken a picture with my friends in which I am the last person standing. I have never been told that I had three months to live… two decades ago. I have never feared catching a cough and I have never been shunned for just being me. For me, HIV has always been there.
My biggest fear as a young man is knowing that I could have all too easily never become aware of HIV or the stigma that we so easily perpetuate. I did not live through the years of GRID or Stonewall, of Patient Zero and of endless loss, but I am certainly reaping the benefits of the communities that have driven HIV prevention and awareness from long before my time. For me, HIV has always been there.
I feel lucky to have fallen into an abundance of HIV knowledge, and a community that is both supportive and challenging in the ways in which we move HIV awareness and education into our community. What it means to be a young gay man working in an AIDS service organization now is the chance to know a history of the people who have brought the field of HIV as far as it has come. Rarely are we invited to be such an integral part in both making and sustaining history, so I take great pride in being able to support the work that AIDS Calgary does for me as a young person, as a gay person, because for me, HIV has always been there.