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Let me prefix this opinion piece by saying this topic is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, but I’ve never really been able to express it properly – so I’m just going for it.

HIV is a bitch. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s a cruel, opportunistic virus that (left untreated) ravages your body and the stigma from others, and even yourself, can ruin lives.

One of the ways that we as humans, and me in particular, cope with adversity is to make light of the situation. Either through simply shrugging off what’s worrying us (whilst fretting inside) or by cracking jokes. ┬áBut is it appropriate to joke about HIV, and if so are there rules about who can make them and to whom?

When I was first diagnosed back in mid-2011 I used to frequent a website known as ‘fitlads’, it was essentially a hook-up site with a very thin veneer of socialising for face saving sakes. I lost count the number of times I saw HIV/AIDS jokes on the forums -they upset me deeply at a time I was still trying to cope with my diagnosis. I ended up leaving the website for that very reason.

Two years on and I’m a different person, I’ve learnt so much about myself, I’m stronger and I’m much more thick skinned. But things still get to me – a shitty message on Grindr for example – it’s times like those where the sometimes quite self-deprecating jokes come out of the bag. It’s a coping mechanism, using humour to overcome the pain.

What about about jokes about HIV/AIDS as a form of entertainment? I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of them. Yes I’ve been known to refer to my work phone (that I use for media, writing, beyondpositive work) as my “AIDS Phone” – but that’s just me, and usually talking to myself. ┬áThen there’s the whole feeling like I’m making a pun every-time I use the word “positive”… I must get my thesaurus out.

Location and method of broadcast have a big role to play. There is a “comedienne” on twitter, who shall remain nameless, who once posted that her cold was “worse than AIDS” – this is a woman with tens of thousands of twitter followers, of which a good number will be HIV-Positive. If I’d seen that back around the time of my diagnosis, or heaven forbid if someone I knew had just died of an AIDS related illness I’d have been mortified.

At the same time we must remember that it’s healthy to be able to make fun of ourselves. We are, after all, British and self deprecation is our national past-time. A sense of humour can help you over come many things and including dealing with your HIV diagnosis.

The jokes themselves in themselves aren’t necessarily a problem, it’s the impact they may have depending on who hears them. So please, think before you joke.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I think people with no experience of HIV joking about it is like white people using the n-word in jokes. You’re treading some very finely nuanced ground. I could joke with you, for example, about eating so much pizza in hospital because it was all they could get under the door – a joke I’d probably leave at home in mixed company even though it points up the prejudice of others. You’ve suffered some of my humour: even with my brand of dreadful puns and insults, I’m always aware that there are lines some can cross with impunity but not others…

    • my friend made some jokes and it really insulted me. I’ve got aids you see. lets shoot for on like on this comment dramaalert nation now over 1,469,000 subscribers!

  2. Well done on this blog I have used “Fitlads” and I have seen post on there about HIV and some of the vile comments people make – I think its a vile site I did some blogs for the LGBT group I run and one was about social dating and about how peoples attitudes are to HIV! Keep up the good work look forward to reading more.

  3. I think it depends on the circumstance and the person making the joke. For instance, if I were joking about my HIV+ status, it would be a coping mechanisim, however, to a newly diagnosed person, stuggling to cope with their emotions, it would be inappropriate for me (or anyone else) to joke in this scenario when you are probably needing the most support in your life to that point. I joke about being gay too, purely because if I can laugh at myself, then I know noone else can laugh AT me.

  4. I do make light of my HIV status but only in the company of those who know me well enough to understand the context in which the quip was made! I agree I wouldn’t use it in front of a newbie but to make fun of myself in front of others who are aware of my sense of humour, I think its OK. I certainly appreciate it from other people living with HIV. Laughter, giggling and chattering lightens the mood of an otherwise often somber room of people sat waiting for the grim reaper! It’s like Alan Carr making fun of the gay community or Chris Rock making jokes at the expense of the black communities! Why should we be any different?

  5. I think that there is a difference between laughing at HIV/AIDS, and laughing about people’s suffering from HIV/AIDS. Sometimes there is a fine line, and those on the receiving end of the joke might take more offense than was intended. I do believe however, that it should be okay to tell a joke about any subject so long as the joke is funny and not intended to be hurtful.

    One good example I can think of, from South Park, the episode where Cartman becomes HIV+ from a blood transfusion. Kyle asks Cartman if he’s sure about something (I forget what the something was), and Cartman’s reply is “Oh, I’m not just sure… I’m HIV positive”. It’s a silly little joke, but it’s funny, it made me laugh before I was HIV+ and after being diagnosed HIV+ myself I still think it’s a clever and funny joke.

  6. I make jokes quite often with my housemate (steve whos mentioned in my September blog update I sent tom recently) but thats only because we both know we can joke about it and I joked first… I find it the easiest way to relate to the situation but I agree if a stranger joked to me about it or someone who hadn’t asked how I was reacting to it first then I’d be offended… if someone asks how im coping and I reply oh im fine and i crack a joke about it, id think it acceptable for them to crack a joke from that point on.

  7. Being a HIV- person joking about something like this is something I wouldn’t generally do however as Chris mentioned above it is something that we do do between the two of us on a day to day basis, as he mentioned it partly is to do with the fact he started it (I never would have joked back about it otherwise) and partly its due to the kind of friendship we have between the two of us, we have been friends now for many years and always taken the piss out of one another, however that said we have also been there for one another at times when no one else has, its what has made us the friends that we are, certainly if we didn’t have the relationship that we do its not something that would even cross my mind as normally I would feel it insensitive, hurtful and crass.

  8. Joking about being HIV+ is such a grey area for so many people iI myself joke all the time about it, and how I contracted it. Like other people who have replied I never do it in front of newly diagnosed people but I don’t go all serious with them either.

    I think the other thing to remember is that a knife thrown by once person can be a feather from another, meaning call me a stupid poof from a friend makes me laugh so hard but from a stranger who doesn’t know me its a knife to the heart.

    Last thing I will say is I have now been positive for just over 11 years and find that south park and team america jokes about HIV and aids do nothing but make me laugh they are more jokes to dig at peoples beliefs about the transmission of the virus rather than at the people who have it.

  9. Depends how you believe you got it – how you deal with that has a big impact on how you adjust – blame is a very bitter thing.

  10. Hey thanks for writing this piece. Having been positive for two years now I seem not to be fazed by most of the stuff I hear. My work place like most is filled with a ton of different types of people. The other day a guy actually said to me are there any coloured people there (meaning on a website) I was taken a back and did say we can use other words now. I hear “thats gay” in nearly every conversation I hear and even when my fiends are talking to me. Its the same with AIDS and HIV comments, I take them with jest unless I feel the person is being malicious and that I would report it, but really if they knew I was poz they would probably be mortified by some of the stuff they have said but I take no harm from it and they are all still my friends. I believe its all about intention. Cheers Mikey

  11. Okay, an example of what I thought was acceptable HIV humour. Picture it, the upstairs room of a pub in Sicily 1936, dammit, Swansea 2012 (too much Golden Girls!). A new member to the support group asks how each of us got the virus. Several gay men look at the floor and mutter “gay sex”, a woman says “needlestick injury”. My turn: “I got my legs in the air at the wrong time” Hysterical laughter all round and the atmosphere lifted…

  12. I was in the office just now and someone said something about a blood test, as a joke (like a cooties joke?) and then a known homophobe said “HIV!?” and then another person added “POSITIVE HAHA”. I looked over and they all realized what they just said, and left for lunch. I’m not sure how appropriate it all was, and what I should do… bring it to HR? Kind missed the opportunity to say out loud that it was not cool, but I was in a bit of shock that I was hearing that from “adults”, at work.

  13. HIV Aids is nothing to joke about. I live in an area that is 8th highest in the country. Not the state not city but just the area. People are constantly dying from this shit where I am. It’s not anything to joke about because you don’t know who has it. Yes there is a new more agressive strain.

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