Positive Thinking: Part 2

To mark 30 years since the first HIV / AIDS diagnosis, Dazed Digital has turned its attention to profiling the everyday lives of people living with the virus

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Daniel Shot by Fabien Kruszelnicki

The terminology surrounding the virus may still be complicated but the bottom line is simple. Far from being the death sentence many people still perceive it to be, the virus is now manageable as a chronic illness thanks to scientific advances in treatments.

The life expectancy for HIV positive men and women receiving anti-retroviral treatments is now somewhere around one month less than their negative peers. Add to that the impressive ability of modern medicine to reduce the viral load of HIV positive people to undetectable levels and the outlook for a full and healthy life is now better than ever.

For our July issue, Dazed spoke to two HIV positive men, fashion designer Philip Normal and Medieval Art History student Michael Carter, to get their stories. Dazed Digital continues the project of challenging misunderstandings and phobias with a series of interviews over the coming week that put an honest and personal face on the reality of living with HIV.

Daniel is a 32 year old University Lecturer who specialises in Classics and teaches Greek and Latin literature. He was diagnosed in the summer of 2004. 

Dazed Digital: How long have you been receiving HIV treatment?
I have received therapy for more than two years now. It’s been very effective in getting my viral load down to an undetectable level and raising my CD4 count to sound and healthy level. [In laymen’s terms, viral load refers to the concentration of the virus present in the blood, CD4 to the strength of the immune system which the virus weakens without treatment.]

DD: How far do you still feel there's a taboo around HIV positive people openly discussing their status?
There is huge taboo around the public discussion of HIV. This is both self-enforced and reinforced by society more generally. HIV is associated with sexual deviance, irresponsible personal behaviour and decadence.

People in Britain primarily associate HIV with gay men and Africans (whether living in Africa or immigrants into this country). Neither can be homogenised into a group, but they’re treated that way by mainstream British society. The current most potent stereotype for gay men is someone who’s creative, urbane, professional and financially solvent. This view of gays (now at least some 40 years old) has helped to cement the idea that gay men adopt hedonistic lifestyles, which naturally lead on to the contraction of HIV.

The voices of African immigrants in the UK (the other "group" associated with HIV) are largely silent in mainstream UK media. A large collection of offensive beliefs are held about African people living in Britain. Their sense of stigma is virtually ignored.

DD: What's the best advice you could give to a newly diagnosed HIV positive person?
Keep in touch with the health and social services you are entitled to rely upon in Britain. There is a plethora of health-care professionals (doctors, advisors, counsellors, charity services) waiting to support you. If you can, you should also tell a close friend or family member you trust. You will need them.

DD: What do you think needs to be done to improve the support offered to the HIV positive community?
HIV needs to be normalised by society more generally. Its seriousness obviously needs to be registered so that funding for treatment continues; but discourses of blame and irresponsibility should not be attached to HIV-positive people. HIV is a medical, not a moral, condition. It takes over our blood cells. It shouldn't take over our brain cells.

Revenue officer David, 46, was diagnosed in 1987.  He has previously spoken candidly about his experiences as an HIV positive male as part of the online Saving Lives health awareness campaign.

Dazed Digital: What was it like telling friends and family you were positive?
I was disowned at first but not for long. I didn’t really have a good coming out first time so HIV was frowned upon more. They had a general a lack of understanding and expected me to be dead within 2 years!

DD: How far do you still feel there's a taboo around HIV positive people openly discussing their status?
I feel that HIV is not at the forefront anymore in comparison with other sexually transmitted infections which are curable to an extent. The public need to have their awareness raised around understanding that HIV is a manageable illness. It feels like the taboo is driven by the fact that people don’t know how to react to it or even begin to understand what it will do to a person which I feel is all down to lack of knowledge. 

DD: How does your status impact the way you live your life?
I live my life to its full extent. I don’t think I would have been as strong as I have turned out, but then again I have an amazing partner of 14 years whom I love very much and whose support has been invaluable.

DD: What's the best advice you could give to a newly diagnosed HIV positive person?
Eat well, live healthily and just look after yourself with an ambition to combat and control it. Don’t let it lead your life.

The writer and Dazed have made a donation to the Terence Higgins Trust and NAM – the National Aids Manual – to support their invaluable work.

This article was sponsored and commissioned by Janssen. Janssen, employing 450 people in the UK, is one of the world’s leading research based pharmaceutical companies with a heritage of innovation in HIV. The company seeks to be an innovative and socially responsible participant in the global response to HIV/AIDS in order to save and improve the lives of those living with HIV and prevent the further spread of the virus.


Photography by Fabien Kruszelnicki

For Positive Thinking Part 1 - read here.

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