Jimmy is living with HIV and right now he’s sharing his experience at events up and down the UK, as part of the Youth Stop AIDS Speaker Tour. In his own words, this is Jimmy’s story. Cover image credit: @theomcinnes
“Thought and consciousness create ideas, voice and passion create a movement, voices coming together as one is what creates change.”
It ain’t over, and it really isn’t.
My name is Jimmy and I was diagnosed with HIV on July 14th 2014.
It was a summer’s afternoon. I was walking down a road in South London on my day off with a friend. My phone rang and I took the call. I had gone in for routine testing the week before and was waiting for my results. The poor gentleman ringing me told me I needed to come in. I demanded to know what was wrong and after many awkward words from him he relented: “Your test results came back positive for HIV.”
A hot flush came over me as I walked, which turned icy cold.
By the time I reached the end of the road I came off the call having promised to go in three days later.
My friend turned to me and asked if everything was alright.
“Uh-huh” is all I managed.
When I reached my front door, I turned round to him and said: “Actually, no. No it’s not OK, and i need to tell you something. I’ve just found out I’m HIV positive.”
My friend stayed with me for two days and helped me to start coming to terms with my diagnosis. That support saved my life.
From early on I knew I wanted to speak out. I knew I wanted to use my diagnosis as an example to educate others. Having seen a friend diagnosed a few years before and how so called “friends” just abandoned him, I wanted to inspire others to be the change.
Educate and protect ourselves and others, fight stigma, create the change.
But how do you go about starting that change? Well I chose to go public, posting a message on social media.
And the response was astonishing, along with a lot of old friends getting in touch, I had both people I did and didn’t know, who were also HIV positive. In several cases they hadn’t told anyone else about their diagnosis but had seen my post and wanted to talk. They wanted to be strong, but were struggling to find their feet in a sea of stigma.
‘I own my HIV’
So what did my decision to disclose publicly mean for me? Why did I need to take such a public step with something considered so personal and most often taboo?
Well it was quite simple really. I could either choose to live in fear of the virus in my body, or stand up and take control. At its basic essence – I own it. I own my HIV.
Fear is what creates stigma, a fear of the unknown, a lack of education, a lack of knowledge and an abundance of dated opinion, based on what? No legitimate facts? Unfortunately this is the case more than you’d realise.
Going public with my diagnosis meant that I never had to live in fear of people spreading rumours, lying behind my back, avoiding me. It was out in the open and I was in control of the information, and that’s a powerful place to be. It gives you that upper hand often in the immediate shock factor when someone discovers you’re HIV positive and open, and that moment of shock is the moment I pounce on to educate. Because in that split moment you have the power and their attention to own it. To get across the facts in a calm place and to change perception. To change the tide. To save lives.
And yes to save lives. It may surprise you to know that at time of writing I’ve helped many people scared of testing and scared of a possible positive result go and get tested. Of those, seven men were diagnosed positive. In fact one of these men was actually found to have a CD4 count of less than 250 – that’s almost an AIDS diagnosis.
HIV can still kill and it ain’t over. But open dialogue, living without fear, and education is how we can take steps to making it over. It can be over.
From my experiences on the gay scene there is a phenomenal amount of stigma. And why? As a community we were hard hit when the AIDS pandemic hit in the 80s, and it’s been getting worse in many ways moving into the 90s, the 00s and 10s. As a community there are many of us who think if we don’t mention HIV it cannot exist. This is not the reality however. In fact AIDS is the 2nd biggest killer of young people in the world today. 17 years ago it wasn’t even in the top 10. Ignorance kills.
Talking openly, nationwide
The Youth Stop AIDS Speaker Tour is a chance to reach out and make a difference.
The Tour is a chance to hear a varied and beautiful pattern of stories threaded and weaving between and together into one narrative, and despite the warming nature of our stories by 2017 (they are ongoing, we all live with HIV on a daily basis), it ain’t over.
“Artists Are the architects of culture. But we as young people can be the architects of change”.
Find out more about the Youth Stop AIDS Speaker Tour and sign up to an event near you.