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. But 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. Then 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.