I now have a 3 inch high biohazard symbol tattooed on the back of my neck. It won’t be particularly visible in cold weather, but come hotter weather (or places) it will be on public view, just above the neckline of a vest – I’ve always thought the black vest to be the gay man’s equivalent of the “little black cocktail dress”. I always feel good wearing a vest instead of a t-shirt – to the extent that I buy them in bulk. the symbol pertains to all blood-borne viruses it’s particularly been adopted by some gay men with HIV. Why? It started out as simple recognition: an easy way of disclosing your status. In a hot sweaty club where you’ve given up and checked in your leather jacket you’ve got a visible symbol of your status (assuming you put the tattoo somewhere visible).

Yes, it’s got strong associations with barebacking now, but, frankly, if everyone present is positive (super-infection happens so rarely I feel the risk is as near to negligible as it’s possible to be), we’re just back to 1979 when condoms were a peculiar kink. The range of STIs is a little more dangerous because of our HIV infection, but by default we have regular check-ups and is it really so hard to ask for an STI workup?

I first came out into a world where the Gay Liberation Front was just about to fracture, but as it did so, I took its message of Pride in one’s gayness to heart. The defiance of the outlook showed in the badges we wore “How dare you presume I’m heterosexual”, “Avenge Oscar Wilde”, and my favourite “Fucking Queer”.

I saw “Bent” in the West End with Serena (Ian McKellan before he got his gong) starring and was asked in the bar in the interval by a rather posh lady “and are you a fucking queer?” “Damn right” I said. The badges were, in the main, confrontational and deliberately offensive to straight sensibilities, which would rather we stayed indoors and didn’t frighten the horses. And they let other queers know who we were.

So it is with the biohazard symbol. It speaks of what’s happening within us in a way the red ribbon doesn’t, or the gold, platinum or gunmetal (symbolising 5,10 and 15 years’ survival respectively) ribbons of Long Term Survivors – though I wear my metallic ribbons on my Bear magazine braces with pride. The biohazard symbol is honest and visceral. It says I have a potentially lethal blood borne disease and I’m living with it. And because it will, for me, only be seen at times when I’m enjoying the weather or the company it also says “I am living with it and fucking enjoying life”, it’s an “up yours” to all those who expect people with HIV to fall over and die.

It’s also a tribute to all the friends I’ve loved and lost through this virus. Guys who could never admit to others what was wrong, even as their death was days away. I’m strongly reminded of a photo on Facebook showing Princess Diana (I’m no royalist but we lost an incredible champion when she died) talking to a guy with KS all up his legs. Apparently his partner asked him afterwards “why did you wear shorts?” and his reply was “so everyone could see what this does”. By wearing the biohazard I feel I’m continuing that tradition of defiance, education, and activism.



  1. Ive contemplated getting the tattoo myself… however I’d have it just above my waistband so that it can only be seen when my top is off but I’ll think a bit more before I decide or not

  2. When my ex became HIV+ he got a biohazard tattoo and I used to call him a walking gay cliché. Now I am HIV+ I kind of get it. I’m not ashamed and I’m not a victim. I’m proud of who I am and the symbol (when I get it) and the disease is part of who I am.

  3. It’s one thing to be unashamed. It’s quite another thing to be proud. I’ve never seen Cancer tattoos, or Diabetes tattoos or Schizophrenia tattoos etc etc.

    I am long term HIV. I am getting on with my life. It is just a ‘part’ of my life. Why in gods name would I want to give it such prominence that I would want to advertise it in this way? For some people living ‘with’ HIV seems to have become living ‘AS’ HIV and becomes the focus of their entire lives. I go to work, I enjoy my leisure,I spend time with my family and friends. I am reminded of my HIV at my regular clinic appointments and every day when I take my little handful of pills. It doesn’t deserve more prominence in my life than that and I’m not about to pander to it. I choose to relegate it to the backbenches where it belongs so that I can get on with my life.

  4. Guys, please give long and hard thought to tattoos. They’re one of the few things you can’t take back to the shop! Some of mine are downright messy, but they are over twenty years old and carry strong memories for me. John (my late husband) was just as decorated as I am and he’s in so many of my tattoos…
    As for the biohazard, expect questions when it’s seen and be prepared for the usual anti-PwHIV crap. I’m afraid in this society it’s going to happen. But on the bright side, it also forces people into thinking about it and if s/he’s not ashamed, why should I be bothered?
    I admit one of my motives was to avoid those disclosure discussions, especially at sex parties.


  5. Getting mine done next weekend, going for biohazard on the lower abdomen, like in the link below. I crushed on guys who have the biohazard tattoo.

    I’m in a really good place with my HIV, the reason I’m poz is cos I jumped into bed with a sexy muscle guy, listened to my dick and not what he was saying. He told me he was recently diagnosed, I told him cool I can get pep later, I only bareback ever, so he gave me HIV a couple of times, it felt amazing in the moment. Before he left he reminded me to get pep. I forgot each morning to go to the hospital. The confusing thing for me was we did everything right, we talked about getting Pep for that evening and looking into Prep too. Anyway I forgot, I can’t change the past now. Recently I’ve really opened up with overs about my HIV, so now I wanna acknowledge it with my biohazard tattoo. I picked it cos the strong links with gay men, and I want it on the lower abdomen cos it looks good and easy for people to spot and happy to talk about it.


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