Randy Boyd: "Stigma is alive and well…"

Randy Boyd on the similarities between HIV and racism

Randy Boyd: "Stigma is alive and well…"

I caught up with author Randy Boyd to talk about life as a writer.

When did you start to explore your passion for writing?

I’ve been writing seemingly forever. Starting with short stories in childhood, then journalism in high school - where I eventually served as editor-in-chief of the school paper.

Then, I wrote and produced television promos in college and in my twenties. My passion for storytelling, however, really ignited in college after working at a bookstore one summer. For a time, instead of reading my college assignments, I read novel after novel and developed an unwavering desire to write my own stories, and tell my own tales featuring people like me.

Through your writing, you’ve been documenting your experience of living with HIV. What sort of response have you had to the writing that you’ve shared on this subject?

The response from the HIV/AIDS community has been great. I’ve received a lot of support and appreciation for my honesty and my bearing witness, especially from other long-term survivors and newbies.

In the gay community, generally speaking, the reaction has also been one of support. That is, support from those who have read my writing and considered my point of view. Beyond that, I’m still not sure anybody else is listening.

Are we living in a post-HIV world?

Of course, the narrative has changed from — “Oh, my God, how and why is this killing us?” — to — “It’s now a manageable disease in most cases…” But I don’t think we’re living in a post-HIV world, anymore than we’re living in a post-racial world.

Like racism, HIV is still here. Like racism, it’s still a systemic threat to people’s health, and there’s still a lot of stigma. Like racism, HIV disproportionately affects communities of colour. Not coincidentally, I would add.

Moreover, were we living in a post-HIV world, gay dating apps wouldn’t ask people to specify their HIV status, which is a way of segregating people with HIV from the general population of gay men.

Additionally, gay man wouldn’t be touting their HIV-negative status and test-result dates on those same dating apps. As if testing HIV-negative on a certain date is a freaking badge of honour, or something that makes you more desirable.

With the increased effectiveness of treatment, and the neutralising of the virus so that men with HIV are ‘undetectable’ and can’t transmit the virus, are you seeing a diminishing of the stigma that men with HIV have had to endure?

I would say the diminishing of stigma is what’s barely detectable.

The stigma exists from a general lack of sex education and a specific lack of HIV/AIDS education. That fundamentally hasn’t changed for a couple of decades now.

If there were a substantial diminishing of stigma surrounding people with HIV, there would be no need to have a PR campaign that informs people “undetectable equals untransmittable.”

The campaign exists for a reason, and that reason is to combat ignorance and fear. Plenty of stigma still exists. Rarely a day goes by that someone on a gay dating app doesn’t reject me because of my HIV status. Oftentimes, that rejection comes in the form of silence — no further responses — after telling someone I’m HIV-positive, even though it’s clearly in my profile. Stigma is alive and well for everyone with HIV, but particularly for women and people of colour.

Do you feel an obligation to share the history that gay men have with the HIV epidemic, to educate younger gay men about the history and context of HIV?

I don’t feel an obligation to share the history, but I do have a desire.

For example, plenty of people, especially gay men, use the words ‘clean’ and ‘disease-free’ when referring to their HIV-negative status. I think they do it because they don’t realise those phrases didn’t exist in that context before the AIDS epidemic.

Those words are one hell of an insensitive way to express yourself, in light of all the gay men who have died in the last 40 years — many of them fighting for the freedom to be gay that gays so enjoy today — as well as in light of all the people currently living with HIV/AIDS.

That insensitivity pisses me off to no end, and sometimes brings me to tears. But I feel best when my reaction is to educate others about those words, and how they fit into gay and AIDS history. Not everybody is going to become educated and sensitive, but I feel it’s important to give people a chance to grow by telling them what it’s like to face stigma — especially in the gay community, of all places.

I relay our history in the name of giving people a choice — a choice to be smart and sensitive, or ignorant and a dumb-ass.

Given your background in cheer-leading, I was wondering how you felt about the Los Angeles Rams becoming the first NFL team to include male cheerleaders in their squad?

One of the most frustrating things about being a male cheerleader is the fact that few people know anything about male cheerleaders. Contrary to the media’s recent headlines, the Rams are not the first NFL team to have male cheerleaders. In fact, the Rams had male cheerleaders during their first iteration in Los Angeles. Other NFL teams have also had male cheerleaders. The difference, however, is the fact that the Rams, to my knowledge, will be the first pro football team to have male dancers — not all cheerleaders dance and not all dancers cheer. Semantics aside, it’s a big step and a good step. Keep it up and generations from now, it won’t seem so unusual to see dancing male cheerleaders.

What are some of the things that are making you angry at the moment?

Trumpism. Black lives not mattering, as evidenced by excessive police brutality. HIV/AIDS lives not mattering in the gay community, as evidenced by the stigma. The homophobic, religious zealot of the Vice President and his proximity to the presidency.

Follow Randy Boyd on Twitter

Randy Boyd (image supplied)
Randy Boyd (image supplied)
Randy Boyd (image supplied)

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