My first experience with HIV was when i was in a long term relationship with a man who was a drug addict. While he didnt inject drugs, HIV and other STIs were constantly on my mind. When i asked to be tested for HIV as a precaution my doctor was surprised and asked why i wanted to be tested because ‘no risk events’ had occurred. Now after coming (its been 2 years) Its not been on my mind as much but i do notice that most of the awareness campaigns for HIV testing are aimed at men, and gay men at that. The one time i’ve seen a woman in a campaign, it was implied that the woman was in a heterosexual relationship. I dont see lesbians in HIV awareness campaigns and i feel like maybe this contributes to the idea that lesbians ‘can’t get HIV’. There are too many groups of people who ‘can’t get HIV’, straight women, non injecting drug users, children, straight men, the list goes on. Sometimes i feel silly when i insist on my yearly HIV test because even as a lesbian i’m still regarding as a person that ‘can’t’ get HIV even though we all know diseases don’t discriminate.
I’m planning on going on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) – a pill you can take to reduce your risk of contracting HIV. I’m a HIV negative, sexually active queer woman who is in an open relationship with a man. I had heard of PrEP as something that cis gay men could take, but have been reading more about it as I explore sex-positive non-monogamy. I was pretty excited when I discovered that PrEP was for people with vulvas and any a/gender as well. The fact that there’s a pill that I can take daily, that decreases my chance of getting HIV by 99% is great.
The only experience I remember of engaging with, or even thinking about HIV in my daily life was when I was 16 as part of training for a volunteer program in Darlinghurst where us volunteers (students from my school who had signed up) would interact with street people at Rough Edges cafe. A lovely gay man living with HIV came to our school and spoke to us about his life in a classroom one evening after school had ended. I’d say what he taught us about HIV made up near 100% of my knowledge of it at that point in my life. Other people had come to talk to us in a similar manner over several weeks who had stories of their lives as drug addicts, sex workers, and things like that. I don’t remember much about them compared to this man, even though I have forgotten most of what he told us too. The most pressing thing that I still remember from meeting this guy was that he thought the person he had contracted it from had given it to him on purpose, as a punishment for his sexuality. I knew I was gay too at this point but wasn’t nearly comfortable with that yet, and felt especially connected to him and his story because of that. I was more scared of the hate crime in general than any fear of ever contracting HIV myself. Which was especially confronting as a teenager trying to understand their sexuality, which was hard enough. I remember that talking to him made a big impact on me and that I talked/thought about him for days. I even, mid-writing this, found a ‘note’ in my old icloud archive that was a draft recounting of the evening to someone. I would guess it was to my close friend, also a lesbian, and the only person who knew I was gay at this point. Apparently the man’s name was [name].
This was in the late 80’s. I worked in Haematology in a pathology laboratory. We ran blood through analysers for testing. At that time it was the practice for blood from known positive HIV patients to have a warning label. The practice has now ceased in favour of “universal precautions”. Seeing the warning label was scary because you knew for sure that the tube you were opening (I needed to make blood smears for the microscope)contained HIV. It was just a psychological thing because you should always be careful but knowing for sure really made you think about it.
HIV was barely explained during highschool, and I don’t know if it’s the private school that refused to provide sexual education other than on a biology level in the senior years, or if that’s the normal way of things. My first informative experience of HIV was sitting in the waiting room for Taylor Square Private clinic when I was 19, waiting to see the doctor who helped me find resources for transition as I didn’t know where to begin. I was incredibly anxious and picked up a brochure to read and pass the time, it happened to be about HIV and raising awareness for how useful it was to know your status as a gay man.