We have seen all types of love – that is all types of couples. There are heterosexual couples, LGBTQI+ couples, and there are also serodiscordant couples. Serodiscordant couples are partners in which one is positive of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the other is negative.Our HIV status should not be an issue, and it will not be if people free themselves from the social stigma brought about by misinformation on HIV and AIDS.

But how come the person living with HIV is able to prevent the transmission of the virus to their seronegative partner? Are they not having sex? They are, and thanks to science because, aside from the couple protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections with correct and consistent condom use, the seronegative partner may also take Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which further lessens the chance of being infected.

It is also worthy to mention the effectiveness of the Anti-Retroviral Therapy of the seropositive partner, in the reduction of viral load until it becomes undetectable. This in turn makes the transmission of the virus through sexual contact less possible, since the sufficiency of the viral load in blood, breastmilk, seminal and vaginal fluid is important in the successful transmission of the virus.

However, some newly diagnosed persons living with HIV (PLHIV) still develop the feeling of impending doom in their studies, career, and/or romantic relationship, while others refuse to engage  sexually and/or romantically with a PLHIV.

If only we think as openly as Kevin Vistan, a community organizer, who wrote an open letter after being educated about the basic facts about HIV and AIDS. Here, he affirms that hate can never drive away hate, but love can.

He wrote:

Because this is what I’ve learned to be true;

That HIV is more than a virus – it’s a social stigma.

And what makes this sad is that not all who hear truly listen.
Not all who have read understood.
Not all who knew cared to know more.

For if they only listened well, their eyes will be opened too, and see that those who have HIV are still the people they have come to know; that their fear of them is more contagious than what they carry.

And if they tried to read the lines of the faces of those they only know as statistical numbers; they’d see that those lines are from them smiling against frowns and raised eyebrows when they say, “I can still live a normal life.”

And if only they were not content to simply know the facts and figures of HIV and AIDS, they’d realize that they should know more about the person rather than the infection. How HIV can no longer be, must no longer be treated as a dark night which covers people in permanent darkness but as a dim lit dawn, with a sunrise they can still look forward to.

Because this is what I’ve learned to be true;

That a kiss, a hug, a word and a food in a plate with them will harm no one.

And yet we avoid them in more ways than these. There are those who dare not even talk to them and far worse, would cringe at the thought of their skin grazing THEIR skin. Touch—that which is the most comforting of senses deemed like a criminal.  And to the extreme, there are those who wouldn’t even consider being in the same room as THEM. This act of shunning and shutting them off is far worse than “attacking” them.  

Worse than ghosts which are felt because THEY, after much rebuke and discrimination, loose the feeling —of being felt.

But what ways and of the things and of what truly counts? The ways in which we should be reminded that they are not their condition. They are the self-same sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and lovers we know. What truly counts is to help them build their confidence back, enrich in them the sense of belongingness and acceptance like the love of a parent to a child, a sibling to another, a friend to another friend, of a partner, a lover, to another. They still deserve love and are still very much capable of loving. HIV only becomes a wall we create to withhold that which they need to feel now more than ever if we do not even attempt to understand them and their situation.

And what of the things which may carry our efforts to look at them eye to eye, and see that they are no different from us. That they breathe the same air, wake up to the same mornings and are deserving of love as much as we are.

And that ultimately, what counts is how they persevere to become as productive members of society as us.

Because this is what I’ve learned to be true:

There are persons living with HIV and have partners who do not; mothers with HIV and their children who do not; people living with HIV who have been among us and have not infected anyone else.

But if we continue to keep ourselves under the veils of prejudice and blind fear which feeds this monster called stigma; then we become the ones who closed the door of someone who hasn’t gone out of the room for months for fear of ridicule; we become the coldness someone feels at night when they are alone in bed; we become the mouth who told someone that he or she “can no longer work here;” we become the feet of a person walking away from someone who loves truly and deeply.  

While I was writing this, I have asked people for information about HIV and AIDS. I could have taken this chance to talk at length about the terms, figures and graphs which they provided me with but I chose not to. A lot has been written with and about these.

Because this is what I’ve learned to be true.

What we need more is to feel and make people living with HIV feel us. Our support. Our acceptance. Our touch. Our love.

Loving comes in many shapes and forms. Accepting people for who they are is one of the many expressions of unconditional love, and accepting who you are is another. Knowing your status will open doors to understand yourself more, and to know how to better take care of yourself. Loving oneself is not selfish. It is an opportunity to make a better version of yourself whom you will offer to the one you love and to the world. Step up and be the first to love yourself truly and deeply.   

We understand your needs. We offer free HIV education, screening, testing and treatment. These services comes with free counseling and life coaching sessions. Also, feel free to sign up for LoveYourself Purple (HIV Counseling and Testing for Couples).   Visit us at our LoveYourself clinics located at Anglo and Uni, Wednesdays through Saturdays from 12pm-7pm and during Sundays from 9am-2pm, except holidays. Our friendly LoveYourself counselors will be happy to assist you.

Text by Reiner “Meow” Grospe & Kelvin Vistan
Featured image courtesy of Raffaele Bonora via Instagram