real life

'We need to talk about the fear that every gay man of this generation still carries.'

I was born in 1990. So by this time, an entire generation of young people had died from AIDS. For a lot of it, without any acknowledgement from their governments, their church, their communities. That’s when it started, I believe, the stigma. When the first seed was planted in the pot of “we deserve this”.

I’ve heard that sentiment a lot in my life. That it was the Lord’s doing to punish the sodomites. A gay disease that was sent to wipe us out, and from the initial reaction from organisations like the FDA and the presidential administrations of the time, you would have believed it. The real tragedy is we, as a community, started to believe it, and soon this fear began to be woven into our DNA.

If you’re a gay man reading this, you will know what I mean when I talk about the irrational panic you feel when you have convinced yourself you have contracted the virus. Maybe it’s when you leave that dude’s apartment after that awkward risky Grindr hook up, or after a boozy night out where inebriated decisions were made. That’s when it starts…

You kneel down in front of your metaphorical cross and begin to lash yourself. You start to pick not only your stupid decision apart, but yourself. You pull at the stitches until the entire generation’s pain and fear starts flowing out of you and coursing through your entire body. You pray and bargain with yourself: you’ll never do it again, you’ll be safe.

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Even now writing this, my stomach is in knots. It is a fear that lives in every gay man, and I want to say that this is not HIV. HIV IS NOT FEAR, THIS IS A STIGMA. A stigma gifted to us by ourselves and nurtured by a heteronormative experience that we are not a part of.

I have so many stories I could tell you. About times I’ve stopped talking to potential partners because I’ve found out they were positive, or gossiped about people who apparently have been diagnosed. I was the problem. Not HIV.

Before I keep word vomiting about this, I need to stop, take a breath and apologise to every gay man, positive or negative, for perpetuating this internalised homophobia. And I want you to do the same. Where ever you are reading this, I want you to say sorry. Scream it. Cry if you need to. Do it for yourself if no one else will. Forgive yourself.

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On December 1, World AIDS Day, we raised money to cure aids. And f**k yes, we raised some money! The community is strong now, we are focused and galvanised in ending this. But that is not challenging the issue. AIDS will end. It will be cured, vaccinated, eradicated. That’s fine. That’s wonderful. So, now while it is still here, we need to work together as a community to cut the head off the real snake. Stigma.

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You don’t need a chemistry degree or a science whatever-it-is. You only need to love yourself. Love your brother. Love and love and love until all the anxiety and fear is choked out. Otherwise, the generation that was left to die in hospital wings alone, scared, and in pain will have died in vain. We need to learn from our ignorance and fear and become a society that stands together in solidarity, showing nothing but love and support for the sufferers of both yesterday and today.

I don’t want to cure this thing, but leave the pain and ridicule looming.

So I’m going to clean this mess up. All of it. That’s my promise to World AIDS Day. I’m gonna’ need a big bucket and a lot of time, but I will scrub those words off the wall and in its place I’m going to paint in giant hot pink letters: “THIS DOES NOT DEFINE US, WE WILL NOT BE SCARED AND WE ARE F***ING FABULOUS”.

For more of the big conversations about fashion, feminism and sexuality, check out Andy Kelly and Christian Wilkins’ podcast, Radical Fashionism on PodcastOne.

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