Josh: “He was unwilling to give me a chance because of my status”

Josh please introduce yourself to our readers, where are you based? Where are you in life right now?

I live in Toronto, Canada. In life, that’s a tough question! I’m managing a full-time job, and after being diagnosed as positive two years ago, still coming to terms with that and what it means. It’s only recently that I’ve started to feel comfortable in my own skin again, so it’s been a long road but I think I’m better for it.

To some people two years can seem like a long time, although we can empathise with the fact that two years can also just seem like it was yesterday. Would you mind us asking what you knew about HIV before you were diagnosed?

No, not at all. To be quite honest, I knew very little about it and held a lot of views that were quite naive. I knew how it is transmitted, but I looked at it as a death sentence. It was only after my diagnosis that I learned more about it.

The term death sentence is unfortunately a term we still hear far too frequently in this generation. A lot of the time we hear that the views you’re referring to come from an uneducated place rather than a place of malice, would you agree that is a fair statement to make?

Definitely. I ran into that lack of education recently after going on a date that, I thought went relatively well. We had planned to meet again, so I was upfront and told him about my status. The response I got was that it wasn’t something he was willing to “put himself at risk” of contracting. Despite knowing that I am completely healthy, and the near impossibility of transmission, he was unwilling to give me a chance because of my status and I think that’s a great example of how much work still needs to be done to educate people about what it means when someone is on treatment, adhering to their medication and takes the necessary precautions.

I’m sure that there is a lot of HIV positive people out there that can relate to that as we still often here stories about people facing rejection due to their status. Aside from rejection in the dating world, do you have any other examples of how the stigma of HIV has effected you? Either in social circles or in the workplace?

Thankfully, I’ve been really lucky. I have a few close friends who know my status, and they have been nothing but supportive and caring. I’ve made the decision not to disclose at my workplace, and to be honest, I made that decision based on the stigma. While I work in the realm of healthcare, I think HIV is still misunderstood by the majority of people and I don’t want them to use that stigma to look at me as “weak” or “different” because I’m neither of those things.

We don’t think you’re any of those things either! You’ve very kindly offered to volunteer for us and blog for our site. You do however already have your own blog running right now called The Plus Side Of Life and we love it! It’s very raw and honest which is something we deeply admire. What do you hope your readers take from your blog?

Thank you! I do, yes. It’s something I started not long after I was diagnosed because I needed a way to get the jumble of feelings out of my head and out into the world in some way. It’s something I took a step away from after awhile, but go back to infrequently. I hope it’s something that resonates across the board – with people who are positive, people who are negative and with people who might have no real idea of what HIV and living with it is like. I hope it “humanizes” the experience, starts to breakdown the stigma and adds to the conversations that need to happen around HIV and the people living with it.

That’s exactly what we’re aiming to do as well and you worded that perfectly! Do you have any advice for the newly diagnosed?

Hmm… If I think back to when I was first diagnosed and the things I didn’t do, I would tell people to not be afraid to ask for help. Whether that’s from your doctor, your family and friends or reaching out to a therapist. I had a hard time even saying “I have HIV” out loud and I think that was to my detriment. Talk to people you love and trust, and just know that there are a lot of opportunities out there to get the support you need to get through this tough time.

Great advice Josh, is there anything else you would like to say about HIV stigma?

Tough question! There’s so much to say, I could write a whole essay! But in short, I would just encourage those who might not know someone who is HIV positive to try and learn more about our lives; we aren’t “scary” or “dangerous”, we just happen to have a chronic condition.

Again Josh, great advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to allow our readers to have an insight in to your life. You’ve blown us away! If you’d like to hear about more of Josh’s story please visit his blog here

Want to take part in our #STIGMAWARRIOR campaign? Have your say on HIV stigma and get in touch: stigmawarrior@destigmatizehiv.com