featured gallery for June 2015

Proud to be Positive

I am proud to be HIV positive.

It is as if these two words—proud and positive—don’t belong in the same sentence. And yet there they are, perilously close together. Too close for comfort?

No one should be marked or shamed for living with HIV. But, should someone claim to be proud of being positive, there is a lingering, implicit threat to the statement, as if their pride is untrustworthy, or worse, that having the audacity to feel proud of living with the virus must mean they want to infect everyone else.

We must reject the stigma that labels people with HIV as predatory, irresponsible, and lacking in self-respect. Being proud of all that we are is hardly the same as wishing it on others.

Proud to be Positive explores the identity of those of us living with HIV and asks if we might feel pride about this fundamental trait.

The subject of Greg Mitchell’s Self-Enforced Disclosure has branded himself with his POZ status. It feels unlikely he did so to degrade himself. His in-your-face disclosure might be simple provocation… or it might be pride. Can we not only come to terms with our status but embody it fully, seeing our lives as worthy of admiration, deserving of dignity? Can we, as Alex Sparrowhawk’s You’re only as sick as your secrets suggests, unmask ourselves and find esteem in who we really are?

The subject of Nelson Rodriguez’ Untitled is searching for an answer to that question. Must he only see himself as others do, or might he indulge in something better, greater even? Veritee Reed Hall’s The Face of an HIV diagnosis presents multiple images of a woman’s face, each one soaked in defiantly cheerful hues. Her measured gaze is without disgrace.

There is joy to be found in our lives with HIV, as several artists have documented, and the whimsical nature of Jonathan Leiter’s AbPoz (Homage to JG) goes even further, reducing the weighty “+” symbol to a harmless watercolor design suitable for papering a child’s nursery.

So, joy is allowed us, as are labels like “courageous” and “heroic.” HIV positive activists have long been admired for our fortitude, or for just having survived. We have even been sexualized – the greatest social cache available to gay men. But feeling pride, not in our response to HIV but in our very being with HIV, crosses into threatening territory.

The reason is in the blood, of course, as Barton Lidice Benes’ quaint and horrific Holy Water makes clear. How can people with HIV, biohazards that we are, be trusted to keep it to ourselves? Thomas Somerville’s Boxed captures this emotional tension between the desire for unencumbered pride and the tug of deep shame and personal guilt.

The month of June is Pride Month, a time when the LGBT community will claim and honor a fundamental part of ourselves about which we once felt ashamed. It is worth considering whether or not people with HIV feel worthy, or are even allowed, to do the same.