Don't get me wrong: As I begin to drag this conversation out of the closet and take it with me to hang out with the boys, I plan on doing so with a healthy amount of self-tanner, copious doses of sarcasm and a shot of tequila every now and then.
When I went on Project Runway, I didn't really plan on getting into the subject of my HIV status. But when I revealed my HIV status, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It turned out to be one of the most important conversations I had ever had. It changed my life.
I believe one antidote to stigma is pride, and by taking pride in our HIV status, we can foster a feeling of responsibility and openness -- to seek medical care, disclose our status to our partners and serve as models for those who are too afraid of HIV to even get tested.
A few years ago, we at Positively Aware came up with the idea of A Day with HIV, an anti-stigma photo campaign that has begun to tear down the walls of shame and silence that surround HIV by showing that, even in the face of HIV, life goes on.
We can bring about the same kind of change for HIV. People living with HIV have no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. HIV is a disease, and having it doesn't make us dirty, worthless or immoral. It simply means we have a virus.
The dearth of proud, openly positive gay people online in most cities is a lost opportunity for all of us. More open disclosure can lead toward better, more informed, and safer sex. It would also go far toward removing some of the shame we have toward the disease.
One morning, two of my doctors had just finished evaluating me. They had left the room and routinely sat down at their computer stations to type their medical notes. I could easily hear their conversation. I heard one doctor say to the other, "Oh well, he brought it upon himself."