During the past many years, I have traveled to various parts of the globe and have seen firsthand the devastating effects HIV and HIV-related stigma have had on many different kinds of people in many diverse communities.
Understanding the implications of my serostatus has been a profound learning experience. HIV pushed my buttons and helped me appreciate the power of vulnerability, specifically my own and that of those less privileged. Living in New York City and experiencing personally how terribly demoralized living with HIV can make one feel and how disproportionally the disease impacts people of color and homeless youth, I found it deeply sobering.
Being connected to a global experience of stigma and marginalization has been a challenge; yet it serves to connect me to a shared reality that goes beyond national boundary, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, class, gender, race and creed.
For a few years I helped administer a program focusing on human rights in Cape Town, South Africa, to explore issues, one of them being HIV and human rights. It was during this time that I discovered I was HIV positive. It was surreal to go from running my academic program in one part of the city to my HIV support group across town. As you can imagine, I was the only American in my support group and it was not easy.
I was not taking medication at that time, so a sense of being limited by HIV laws for travelers was not at the peak of my awareness. Now that I do take meds, I am painfully aware of my potential vulnerability to border guards and immigration officials. I have wondered what these meds, and unfair laws, might do to block my aspirations of being a global nomad. It is an ongoing process of education as rights keep shifting.
The modern face of HIV is like mine: ready, willing and able to serve internationally with few accommodation needs. In fact, my unique situation, if leveraged correctly, could potentially make me more relevant as a volunteer working with others affected by HIV.