When I first went public with my HIV status, I knew that I would face stigma. I accepted the challenge of possibly being rejected by many people who would not be willing to understand. Willful ignorance was the only way I could understand their close-minded thinking. I had to consider my children, my mother, and grandmother, and I prepared myself for the possibility of losing their support and their love. I also knew that they would have to share the burden of the backlash from my public status. To my surprise, I was well received and supported. I was shown love that I had not recognized before.
My status went public in a local newspaper and then CNN. I didn’t get much backlash until I began reading the comments. Complete strangers stereotyped me as a young, irresponsible girl. When I started dating, there were a handful of individuals who did not understand HIV and immediately rejected me. Once they became more knowledgeable they began to come back, but I was focused on my personal goals and no longer interested. A few people stopped being my hair clients due to my diagnosis. So, I guess stigma has remained a constant.
Complete strangers stereotyped me.
I believe that if more people spoke up about living with HIV/AIDS its stigma would get better. If more people knew this silent epidemic was prevalent among their loved ones – like lupus, diabetes, and cancer – those living with the virus would be better able to fight it. And others would be less fearful, and therefore they’d be more sensitive about their reactions.
I face stigma head on and address it every opportunity that I can. Often times when I talk about HIV/AIDS, people assume that I’m only advocating or speaking on behalf of others. They rarely assume that I am actually a person living with HIV. I love being able to shut down stigma and challenge people to address HIV/AIDS with a different and more compassionate mindset. I help them consider who in their circle may have the virus, but don’t know. I don’t think that people realize that they are creating stigma through conversations, reactions, or even jokes.
We deserve love, respect, family, adventure, fun.
I get to remind people that those of us who are living with HIV/AIDS deserve a life, too. Meaning, we deserve love, respect, family, adventure, fun – we are not cursed nor punished. I realize that people become more empathetic and show even more compassion when they understand that this can happen to them, or may be happening to someone that they love. I want people to understand that HIV/AIDS stigma can take a life. It can cause anger, resentment, isolation, and suicide. It can cause people with the virus to give up on getting into care or getting “to undetectable”. This leads to more deaths; more babies born with HIV/AIDS; more infections.
Words carry so much power around this epidemic. Words influence our mindset. I believe that the more we speak of HIV/AIDS in a gentle way, the easier it will be to offer much needed support to those living with the virus. To me, successfully managing HIV/AIDS requires mental first, spiritual second, and physical last. It is hardest to come back from a broken spirit when fighting this virus. That’s why support is so vital. If you want us to care enough not to spread this virus, then stop the stigma and give us the love and support we need to care enough about ourselves.
B Stigma Free!
Masonia Traylor is a mother who is completing her undergraduate degree in Public Policy at Georgia State University. She is CEO of the non-profit organization, Lady BurgAndy Inc., and she was diagnosed with HIV in 2010. Recently featured on the cover of People magazine, and in Time and Essence magazines, Masonia is a campaign ambassador for She’s Positive, CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together, and Kaiser’s Greater Than AIDS, where she raises awareness about HIV and its impact on the lives of all Americans, and fights stigma by showing that persons with HIV are real people. She is also a global blogger for The Well Project #StopHIVTogether #StopHIVStigma #UntilTheLastOne #ShesPositive