Recently, as part of gay pride week, a man with HIV decided to raise awareness of the illness. He made signs stating he was HIV-positive and asked total strangers in a public park to touch him. He closed his eyes, stretched out his hands, and waited. The end result touched even him:
Now I must confess I am a softy and cry for movies, news, concerts etc, you catch my drift… This short video touched me and I shed a few tears for this man who braved all by deciding to bare his soul, publicly disclose his illness to strangers, ask them to touch him all while risking rejection. It must have taken some major guts to stand there and wait, eyes closed, will someone touch me or not? How will I feel if they don’t, and boy will I be glad if even one person touches me! I am just trying to think about what his thoughts were as he waited, eyes closed for a human touch…..
Now public disclosure such as this appears to be happening more and more and I have written some posts about it, the posts are accessible through these links Rapper Mykki Blanco, Reverend Young, Andrew Pulsipher, and two trained HIV-positive peer counselors Francis and Grace. I must commend him about his public disclosure because many HIV-positive persons do not disclose their illnesses to even close family and friends, and some self-stigmatize, self-isolate, or self-withdraw from social interactions with others. This is more so when newly diagnosed or when one has trouble accepting that he or she is infected. So to stand in a public place, place all on the line, and ask strangers to touch you must be an extremely difficult thing to do.
As you can see from the video, there was a lady who smiled cynically, shook her head, and walked off quickly. There were others who looked at him and had a body language that implied NO! Yet others didn’t pause and kept on their merry way. Some stopped and thought about it should I, should I not? There were some who looked confused, why would this individual do this? Then there were the ones who not only decided to touch him but also give him a hug and words of encouragement!
It seems that misconceptions about how the illness is acquired abound even today. Some people think that they can get infected by touching a HIV-positive person. But then there is the big elephant in the room – HIV STIGMA. Given that HIV isn’t a disease that is acquired by casually touching an infected person, what category of persons as described above do you fall into? What would you have done had you come across this person asking please touch me?
I am glad that he did get lots of touches in the form of hugs that he didn’t anticipate. The fact that he broke down and cried shows that he was surprised by the reactions he got from his sign and act of standing there daring people to ignore him. He got reinforcement that he mattered, he was not a person to be ignored, but to be appreciated if not for anything else, his bravery. His illness was just that, an illness, and he was a person who deserved appreciation like any other person. If you are HIV-positive and still worried about the perception of others about your illness, please be reassured that it might not be all bad.
I commend all those who continue to stand up and show us that being HIV-positive does not require one to be treated differently, or stigmatized, or discriminated against. Say he wrote a sign saying, I need you to shake my hand, I am having a bad day, it might have been easier to get a touch that way without a problem or much hesitation. We are completely unaware of how many people we touch on a daily basis who are HIV-positive. Some know about their illnesses and haven’t disclosed to us; and others don’t know of their illnesses because they haven’t been tested. For some reason, the act of knowing about a person’s illness, for some people changes all, and makes them act differently towards that HIV-positive person.
Why is this? My question remains, which category of person are you? Would you have touched him or not, even briefly?
Please read my other posts on HIV disclosure here on the blog by browsing the links to the right.
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