Tuesday, we had a meeting.
SMUG organized it, but there was a difference in this one. We were to hear someone talk about her HIV positive journey.
A lady, a Dane. Infected by her Ugandan boyfriend. She talked about their relationship over the years, the times that she tested for HIV, and was negative. And the day that they both tested, and the news was given to them that they were both positive.
It has been a long journey for her. A white woman, positive in a country where the HIV positive were gay men. And even then, very few. A disease which by then was highly stigmatized, and with no cure.
She talked about the depression, and denial. The closet, hiding it from friends and family. The guy died, he was too advanced for the coming of treatment. She was luckier. The drugs arrived, she started treatment, and is alive some 20 years from the diagnosis.
She is now an HIV activist. Strong, articulated, and directed. She talked about what a life changing experience it has been for her, a life strengthening experience. From the despair of courting death on a daily basis, to the fire and strength of knowing that she is alive, celebrating that, and living it. And going out of her way to make sure that the erstwhile death sentence, for many others infected, is turned around.
Yet the day was not hers. Not by a long shot.
We do have a club for the positives. Kuchus living with HIV/AIDS. KULHAS, they call it.
It is secretive, and of them, only one person, a guy, a kuchu, is out and talks about the fact that he is positive.
I have known this guy for some time. I knew that he was positive, and the fact that he is Chairman of the club. Emboldened by the testimony, he also talked about being a kuchu, and living with HIV.
I was fascinated.
It is one thing knowing that someone has HIV. It is something else hearing it from his mouth. And as a kuchu, we related. He talked about his life before, discovering that he was gay, and the kuchu world out there. He talked of the days of partying, sex and high life. Drinking and dancing away life. He is young, I guess less than 25, but he had partyed.
He told of testing positive. Testing because he knew he had lived the life, and finding that he was positive. And the journey since.
The despair. The depression. Coming out (about the diagnosis) to his family. His mother cried, which made him cry too. The fear of telling other kuchus. The fear, stigma and despair associated with HIV in
Yet he had turned it around.
Attacking, as a weapon. Embracing his HIV status, going ahead to disclose it. The reaction of friends, some drawing away, and the backbiting. And some drawing close.
He talked about the activism, and the turning around of his life. From hedonist to the person who strengthened others, positive and non positive.
It was an inspiring testimony.
Yet I realized that in this case, we were confronting a nemesis of ourselves, kuchus discriminating against other kuchus. Of the other members of the club, he is the only one who dare say that he is HIV positive. The others are too scared.
They are gay, and in the gay community. Kuchus. But they dare not disclose their status to the rest of us kuchus.
A sobering thought. We may be victims, but we are also oppressors, of those who are of our own kind, and weaker, because of illness. Living a double stigma, a closet inside a closet.
I was impressed. So were the others who were there.
It is early days, and I wonder what the impact will be on the rest of the community. But it is undeniable that we can also be as cruel as our homophobic friends. Even more cruel, because we can relate and understand with what they are passing through.