Tonight, I had a lengthy online chat with a man who couldn't understand why the terms "clean" and "disease-free" hurt my feelings and the feelings of many persons with HIV/AIDS.
I tried explaining how those terms were created in response to ignorance about AIDS and safer sex. "If you're disease-free, does that make me disease-ridden?" I asked him. "If someone who is HIV-negative is considered clean, does that make someone who is HIV-positive dirty?"
I told him the medical terms are HIV-negative and HIV-positive. I tried to get him to understand that avoiding poz people isn't the best way to stay HIV-negative, rather the best way is practicing safe sex with everyone, regardless of HIV status. I broke the news to him that poz people can have neg babies now and I love my AIDS-infected life. Still, he seemed focused on AIDS = sorry and his pledge to stay away from non-disease-free poz people.
But here was a man who was willing to have a meaningful discussion about the subject, which meant that somewhere inside him was a man who was thoughtful, as well as thoughtful about HIV/AIDS. Yet by conversation's end, he just didn't seem to get it, or at least wasn't ready to change his mentality about terms like "clean" and "disease-free." He had his standards and vocabulary and that was that.
So I decided to try putting it another way. I asked him:
Would you say "disease-free" in front of Ryan White, were he alive today? Ryan would be in his thirties now, were he not the deceased poster boy for compassion for those with AIDS. Would you say "disease-free" to his face? Would you call yourself "clean" in his presence?
Or would you use words that you knew represented you at your best, words that didn't have as much potential to hurt people's feelings, words like HIV-negative and HIV-positive?
Why should the rest of us be any different?
I never heard back from the neg guy after that. Still I gotta hope he'll be a little more thoughtful going forward. There must be hope.
Read Would You Say That to Ryan White?, now on my author blog.