Right, first things first: I love Eurovision and I love, love, love Conchita Wurst.
As someone living with HIV, I’m thrilled to welcome her into the HIV community and have no doubt that she’ll do brilliant things to challenge the stigma that still surrounds this virus. In fact, she already bloody has.
But what I truly hate, despise and loathe is that her HIV status was used as a weapon against her and she was forced to reveal that she’s living with HIV by an ex. That shouldn’t happen to anyone, famous or not.
The last celebrity to ‘reveal’ they’re living with HIV was Charlie Sheen back in 2015 in very similar circumstances. In the years prior he had spent thousands trying to protect his privacy.
Both of these instances show just how far away we are from destigmatising HIV. For example, what other health condition could be used to extort money from someone?
The decision to open up about living with HIV is a complex one. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it isn’t. But it should be my decision (or Conchita’s or Charlie’s) and no-one else’s.
Before I continue – just to be 100% clear – I completely condemn the circumstances in which her HIV status become public.
However, what I also want to say, is how much good she’s done in the last few days. Her Instagram post busted myths left, right and centre. She’s not just living with HIV, she’s thriving.
And she’s so eloquent and so sensible.
If anyone who read the post or any of the international news coverage previously thought that an HIV diagnosis is still a death sentence, then they don’t anymore.
Like Conchita, when I tell someone, I want to cover certain things. I want them to know that I’m fine, I’m accessing treatment and I’m going to live as long as they are. So, if someone looks like they’re about to cry, I know they don’t have very up-to-date knowledge of HIV!
The next thing on my checklist is the fact that people – like me – who are HIV positive and on effective treatment can’t pass the virus on. So many people still doubt the science around that but it’s definitely true. I’m living proof of that and now so is Conchita.
Treatment works by shrinking the amount of virus to such low levels that it prevents damage to the immune system. This also means that HIV can’t be passed on to anyone else, with or without a condom (if we’re talking about sex).
Charities like Terrence Higgins Trust have done loads of work to promote this message, but someone like Conchita can reach audiences that charities can’t. Conchita put HIV in the headlines and made sure that the facts about HIV, and the fact that she’s thriving, were front and centre.
That has such an impact. It re-engages people around HIV. I volunteer regularly at Terrence Higgins Trust and they told me that their website had its third busiest day ever.
That’s the Conchita effect in action. Her Instagram made people want to find out more about HIV. Is she really stronger than ever? Yes, she is. Can she really not pass on the virus to partners? Yep, that’s true too.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she posted about this on social media, rather than talking to a magazine or newspaper. Ironically, as it’s Instagram, I think she did it because she wanted to be completely unfiltered – she wanted total control of the narrative and how she explained herself.
While it’s tempting, I’m not going to wrap this up by saying she’ll Rise Like A Phoenix (the name of her Eurovision-winning song). And that’s for two reasons: 1) it’s really cheesy and 2) I don’t think she needs to – I think she already has.