Language Used When Discussing HIV…
So I recently came across a post on tumblr that used some rather intolerant and oppressive language when discussing HIV. Specifically, words and phrases that involved the word “clean” were used to describe someone with a negative status. Using that word in particular to describe someone as having a negative status implies that people living with HIV are somehow inherently dirty or unclean. Language like that only serves to further the stigma surrounding HIV and shames people who are living with HIV. As an already vulnerable and oppressed group, we need to be cognizant of the language we use when discussing HIV so as not to further oppress people living with HIV. Go ahead and be proud of your status. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, implying that a person living with HIV should be ashamed of their status is unacceptable.
I don’t think most people intend for their language to be oppressive, and I certainly don’t think the individual who made the post meant to. Which is why I wanted to right this post. I wanted bring some awareness to the fact that language really does have an immense impact on others. We need to remain aware of how our language can impact others, particularly when we’re discussing issues that are heavily stigmatized and relate to a vulnerable and oppressed community of people.
If you happened to have reached this far in a text post this long, thank you, I really appreciate it. Working with LGBTQ young people who are experiencing homelessness and/or street-based, I’ve met individuals who are living with HIV that feel horrible shame because of it. We as a community have a duty to support these young people, not to oppress them and shame them more than they already have been.
You’ll notice that throughout this post I’ve used the phrase “person living with HIV”. Yes it’s a longer and more cumbersome phrase. But it properly describes someone with a positive HIV status. It doesn’t imply that their is anything dirty or unclean about them, nor does it insinuate that a person’s HIV status is the most noteworthy thing about them, like the phrase “HIV positive person” does. It puts the person first and reminds us that their status does not define them. It says that they are survivors, that they are strong, and that they are resilient.