In 2006 my boyfriend of a few weeks told me he was HIV positive. This was the first and only person I knew with HIV. Despite being high-risk category (one in 12 gay men in London is living with HIV) I knew very little about the infection and, regardless of practicing safe sex, I was convinced I had it.
We stayed together but due to, what I now know were totally unfounded concerns, I wouldn't share everyday items like toothbrushes or razors. My lack of understanding about how HIV is actually transmitted nurtured unnecessary fear, a feeling of inevitability that I would, in time, also see my status change from negative to positive.
I remember my partner's fear too, different to mine but still very real. He feared being judged and outcast by the people around him. He felt he couldn't talk to his parents or his friends. I became the sole person that he could be honest with and his fear became my fear. Would my friends act differently if I told them? Would they think twice about eating his food, swigging from the same bottle, kissing him goodbye? The openness that I approached life with was no more. The handful of people I shared my boyfriend's HIV status with were supportive but scared. Fearful for me and what they (and I) saw as a death sentence waiting to happen.
Circumstances brought our relationship to an end and I made my way to Mexico to start a Latin American adventure. Once back in England I met a great guy on a night out. On our second date he disclosed that he was HIV positive. Not again. Not again! Something felt different though. This person wasn't ashamed. He was very matter of fact about the illness. His friends knew. His boss knew. His parents knew.
This person educated me. I learned the science behind HIV and this knowledge freed me from the fear that I'd harboured before. I could be comfortable that by practicing safer sex we were doing all we needed to, to ensure I remained negative. More importantly for me though was the openness: when it was relevant, he shared his status, and with his consent, I did the same. What began as cathartic became educational. It was amazing how little people knew!
Education is the key. It's how we fight transmission, treat those living with HIV and Aids, and how we change people's attitudes. That's why the NAT (National AIDS Trust)'s campaign for World's Aids Day on 1 December is so important. NAT want to share five facts that most people don't know about HIV:
Do you know?
1) Treatment can mean that people living with HIV are no longer infectious.
2) Men and women living with HIV can become parents of an HIV-free baby.
3) People living with HIV live a normal life span if diagnosed and treated in time.
4) Living with HIV is not a barrier to any job.
5) BUT people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination.
If you didn't know any of the above, or even if you did, share with others and help fight the discrimination that people living with HIV still face unnecessarily.
For more information about NAT's #FactUp campaign. Please visit www.HIVaware.org.uk