New Internationalist

Positive Lives

Issue 250

new internationalist
issue 250 - December 1993

 

Positive Lives

'A plague of hatred, prejudice and intolerance is spreading against the gay community. While we've been creating our own support groups, educating ourselves and funding our carers, the media have been making criminals out of the victims. While we've been fighting for money we need, that we have paid in taxes, the authorities have been too busy trying to decide whether straights are affected so as to justify any expenditure. The fact that people are dying seems to be irrelevant if they're queer.

If you don't like our lifestyles you have no right to comment, because when we are dying or crying or grieving you are only there to add to the misery. Soon you may come to realize that we have long stopped caring what you think of us. We just want you out of our lives. If Aids does spread to the general population, don't expect compassion in return for the scorn you gave us. We're not saints or angels, just people exhausted from years of supporting our own.

Our real existence has been denied in the media, in public life and on the streets. So, we've defined ourselves and explored and understood our sexuality unaided.

The two of us have been together for nearly 10 years. Yet we do not pretend that we will never be attracted to other men. The strength of our relationship is that we can let our partner have safer sex with someone else. We don't need to have secret liaisons. We don't have to lie to each other. We know what's important: that love outweighs sexual fidelity.

Your relationships would be destroyed by simple honesty whereas ours are deep enough to be strengthened by it.

So when you see images of us having sex, realize that by being open we are being honest to ourselves. That is our surest defence against the "gay plague''.'

Aamir and Martin, UK

 

'I was a very protected child, in an 'ideal' family. I was good at school. I had success in everything I did. On the outside, I had to be the luckiest child on earth. But I never felt that way; I was very unhappy. I felt that this was no life, everything was on track - straight, straight, straight.

Things outside that world were very attractive to me - being with somebody who had 'bad' experiences. My boyfriend was an ex-drug user. He tested positive. In 1985 nobody knew how to handle the disease; there were contradictions in information. I was quite naive and refused to think about it. I infected myself, half knowingly.

I tested positive. Then, there was a time of fighting in the family. It broke down their whole nice world. It was very hard for them. I wanted to show that I can handle it, that I'm strong. Because they warned me, 'don't get involved with a drug user'. It was a breakdown of everything. We didn't talk about it, it was taboo. I had to pretend that I just accepted it and that I could deal with it.

One year later, my boyfriend started to take drugs again, to shoot heroin. I can't understand why - but I told him, 'If you take drugs, then both of us will'. And so I started to shoot heroin for about two years. HIV or Aids was never a subject to us; it was just suppressed. When you have drugs, everything is okay, so why think about HIV? It didn't come close to me.

The whole situation changed when my boyfriend died suddenly. He didn't die of Aids. He died on drugs, his body was just gone. It was a very big shock, because I really loved that man and now he's gone. I was standing there alone and all the problems fell on me.

I had to find my way out of drugs, out of denying my HIV. This was four years after my test result. It took me about one year to fight my drug addiction. It was a very hard time, very self-destructive - thinking and blaming and self-recrimination.

I started an apprenticeship and for two years I worked. Then suddenly, everything broke down. I just stopped, dropped out. I couldn't work. When my bosses learned that I was HIV positive, they wanted me to go and I left. And the heroin wasn't there so I felt that stress for the first time in all these years. I didn't receive any help from anybody.

Even the doctors I went to didn't know what HIV was. When I went to the hospital with a severe pain and told them I am HIV positive, they didn't know how to react. They asked 'What are you, pregnant?' They didn't know what this was until I said Aids. I was one of the first examples of those strange animals in my home town...

...Sex is another problem for me. My boyfriend and I never had to practise safe sex, because we were told it wouldn't matter - that a few thousand viruses more or less doesn't matter. So we never thought about safe sex.

Afterwards, it began to be a problem. I met many men so afraid of being infected that it wasn't fun to have sex. It was just explaining, apologising, 'I'm sorry, I'm HIV.' My sexual life just finished, stopped. I was so depressed that I did not have the desire to have sex.

And there's the question of guilt. When I look back I have to keep myself from feeling guilty that I infected myself. Sex came to have a connotation of guilt. And responsibility. I think it's a typical woman's role - being responsible for somebody else. It's there when I have sex. What about the condom, if it bursts? There is always a little risk.

That's very sad. Sex is, for me, a question of life and death. If I want to survive, I want to be there with my whole body.'

Monika, Germany

Notes for articles 'Positive lives' and 'Children and Mothers: Thank you to all the people living with HIV and Aids who agreed to be photographed and were willing to tell their stories, both here and on pages 16 and 17. These personal accounts are taken from 'Wise Before Their Time', compiled by Ann Richardson and Dietmar Bolle, from an initiative of Dietmar Bolle who died last year, aged 31, and published by Fount, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 1992. Most images were developed through Network Photographers and The Terrence Higgins Trust who produced Positive Lives, an exhibition exploring the range of impacts of HIV and Aids (see Worth Reading).

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