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Six Voices Part One - Red Ribbon

In 2015 we sometimes forget about the impact that living with HIV can still have on a person’s life. Here is part one of a six-part series, describing what it is like to live with HIV in Perth in 2015.


Silence filled the room. My brain heard it correctly, but my emotions stood still. My smile is frozen in time, not the most fitting expression or what I just heard. Instantly, I knew what it was and I was transported back in time when I laughed at the idea of contracting it…

It was a harmless psychological test that I took in my senior year of high school, 1996, the kind that one takes for the sole purpose of having fun. In the test were seemingly common shapes, but are drawn incomplete to be called as such. We were asked to complete the shapes and draw something from it, and give it a single adjective to describe what we created. The first four shapes were easy. The last, stuck in my memory as I have struggled to think of what to make out of it. It was time pressured, and all I could visualize for it was to draw a ribbon. What adjective can one think for a ribbon? Red – the first word that came to mind.

Each of those shapes was meant to represent a certain facet of our lives. How we see our family, ourselves, our career and our sex life respectively. The relevance of the pictures I have drawn in each shape were quite close to reality back then, but the last shape that described my sex life was incongruent with what I was back then, a red ribbon. It didn’t mean anything to me. Until my friend pointed out, “Isn’t the red ribbon the symbol for AIDS?” I was so certain back then of my thoughts and my plans.

I was brought up by hard-working parents and devout Catholic. They had instilled in me the values of being a good Christian and the value of helping others. Besides, I was not sexually aware nor exposed at that age. My hormones were not active back then, as my intellectual activities had overshadowed them.

The complexity of my sexuality and my religious upbringing made it easy for me to hide emotional upheavals that arise and bring forward in my thoughts what I wanted to achieve more. For 22 years, I did just that. I was a virgin for 22 years. I was a dog on the loose, that’s what I described myself as upon hearing that I had contracted it. I felt embarrassed and disappointed of myself, an intellectual ignorant about health and sexual matters. This could have been prevented had I known better or listened. I succeeded academically but I failed this life’s practicum. I smirked at the counsellor as I couldn’t put in words all those moments that ran in my head and the emotions that went with it. Then I realized there was a guy waiting outside the clinic for me. We are planning a life together. I had known him for just a month. His results came back negative, as we went for the test at the same time. Finally, swells of tears started to pour out of my eyes. Instantly, I stood up and headed out to the reception where an anxious face came to embrace me and led me outside the clinic.

He knew what it was. As soon as the door was shut behind us, my tears began to have sounds. “I am sorry”, was all I could utter. It summed up what I wanted to tell him if I might have transmitted the virus that was not detectable at the moment in his system. It’s also a hint of a bleak future ahead knowing that I am POZ and he is not, and of the future that we have envisioned that could fade away, and all the good things and memories we have shared in the month be put to none. I couldn’t look at the guy, who has been clutching me at the sidewalk the whole time I was sobbing. Passers-by would look but would not meddle. “I love you no matter what!” Then he started sobbing. He embraced me in a bearish hug that reassured me, nothing has changed – the plans that we made and how he knew me. That was the voice in the moment; a time in space that gave me wings. I have fully accepted who I am. We hugged, sobbed and kissed on the sidewalk for the public to see. We felt no shame, no qualms, and no indifference from the world.
It was a moment when I felt I was doing something right, and conformities from my old upbringing shed a clearer light. Love has no bounds. God will always lead you to the right one when you ask for it. I am POZ. There’s nothing that separates us. What was once a death sentence is buried in the past.

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To minimise the impact and further transmission of HIV, other blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. To reduce social, legal and policy barriers which prevent access to health information and effective support and prevention services.