The Concerned Bloggers Association strikes again: this month, we're talking about HIV and AIDS. The co-ordinator of the project, Marls Vaughan, usually includes a notecard with the preliminary research which suggests angles we could take in our blog post (all of which are very good angles) but, new as I am to the association, I have decided to be naughty and write a little bit about something I noticed when I went to do some further research. I think it's important - so here I go.
The topics of HIV and AIDS seem to be confused and convoluted in the general public's understanding of them. We are all aware, I think, of the rhetoric that suggests that HIV/AIDS is a 'gay man's disease', which causes a whole heap of problems when it comes to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. The title 'gay man's disease' serves not only to belittle the reach of HIV (which can then develop into AIDS, if I understand correctly), but also serves to attempt to contain it - to make it foreign, distant and un-catchable. Suddenly, if you are not a gay man, you don't have to listen to the talks, read the leaflets, or take the precautions; you're immune by virtue of your gender and/or your sexual orientation.
I remember reading the play Angels in America for one of my classes and being confronted with a scene in which a successful businessman is diagnosed with HIV. He corrects his doctor, informing him that he cannot possibly have HIV; it must be prostate cancer. The scene is powerful because of the intelligent man's refusal, and our awareness, as members of the audience, of the consequences of that refusal and the reasoning behind it. I feel both anger and pity for that man - anger because, as a successful businessman, he potentially has the power to change the image of those suffering with HIV/AIDS, and pity because the society of the 1980s in which he lives has made it virtually impossible for him to believe he might have the agency to do such at all.
HIV/AIDS is too important not to talk about. Far too important. I know that the situation is not, now, as it was in the 80s, but from the material I found on a quick Google search, it doesn't appear that the connotations of the illness have completely gone away, either. Personally, I think this is crazy!
By labelling HIV/AIDS a 'gay man's disease', what you are also doing is narrowing the frame of those involved in another way. It obscures from view those who might surround and care for them - their families, their friends, etc. But also: the successful businessman (I cannot for the life of me remember his name) of Angels in America might well sleep with men, but he also goes home every night to his wife. Every time he sleeps with her, he risks infected her with the virus, too - and, as far as I am aware, she has absolutely no idea, because it is a 'gay man's disease', probably, so she cannot contract it, and neither can her husband.
The World Health Organisation website has a whole section entitled 'Gender inequalities and HIV' - because men are not the only ones who suffer with HIV and AIDS - and it outlines with scary clarity the way in which the perceptions we have of gender are serving to rob people of the agency to prevent HIV transmission and seek treatment if they do catch it. This applies not just to gay men, who continue to face hostility even in our twenty-first century post-post-modern world, but also to women who are, stereotypically, restricted in access to services by the immobility of looking after children and, in some cases, have their decision-making agency capped by patriarchal systems and hierarchies. Their page explains far better than I could, so I am urging you - go and read it! The 'gay man's disease' is just the tip of the gender inequality iceberg.
We have organisations in place that are working on information about prevention, diagnosis and treatment. We have organisations in place that are working on those treatments. And we also have social 'organisations' in place that are preventing people from accessing and engaging with these things.
These issues are global, and I am not for a minute suggesting that we each individually have the power to reach out and fix these things. But we can be aware of them, pass on our ideas, make sure that our own reactions to such are not those that will ultimately be harmful, and maybe, step by step, we can pass on the message. We can begin to change perceptions and connotations and actually help each other. The internet is a powerful thing - people could, rhetorically, be reading this post all over the world, and so I thought, idealistic as it may be, that I ought to raise the issue and hope that it spreads.
Label smabel. HIV and AIDS are not diseases of only gay men, and suggesting that they are isn't going to make you and those around you immune.
June is HIV/AIDS awareness month over at the Concerned Bloggers Association. Over the course of the month, the Concerned Bloggers blog will be listing links to posts on the topic by all of the Concerned Bloggers. Please go and check it out by clicking here - here! - and if you would like any more information, please contact Marleen Vaughan.