March 1, 2012

This chronicle I wrote was published February 28, 2012 by Aftenposten (one of the biggest newspapers in Norway).

HIV-positive, investigated and stated.
By Louis Gay (/loi:/ /gi:/)

Not everyone have the courage to tell they are HIV-positive at first, unfortunately (but with good reasons). What I’ve experienced implies that I wouldn’t have chosen to be open about it, again. After I was diagnosed with HIV, I experienced to be reported to the police by a former partner and threatened with the same thing by another. It has been a shock to go from an otherwise law-abiding life, to get a status as a suspect in a police investigation. Both times, the goal has been to hold me back in relationships I no longer wanted to be part of.

The Norwegian penal Code §155 *, is very controversial. Something the appointed "Syse-committee", who will study the issue of criminalization of the transmission of serious communicable diseases, tells us.

I’ve tried to inform my partners of me being contagious. Often I’m getting the same answers: "I’m an adult and can take responsibility for myself". "You don’t need to worry; I know what I’m doing". "It's not your responsibility anymore, as you’ve disclosed your status". Answer, which all of them should be enough to make me feel secure. So why am I not happy? The reason is that even though most people actually believe what they say, then and there, it’s sufficient that only one of them repents and press charges against me and my life becomes a hell of fear and shame, again. A vindictive or remorseful partner with the law on their side, through accusations can put my life "out of play".

So, what does that fear and shame consists of? Words can be withdrawn and changed. I have to prove to the society that I’ve acted correctly and not done anything wrong as an HIV-positive. My fear consists in not being able to convince others of this. How to prove something that was said and done between two adults, with no witnesses present? People I thought had confidence in me, who went skeptical and turned their back on me or pulled away, are examples of behaviors that support the feeling of shame. Worst of all is the feeling that there are no guarantees that it will not happen again. I believed that individual freedom and responsibility were virtues we cherished? My experience is that unfortunately it doesn’t apply equally to those of us with HIV.

We are subjects to a law which is of so-called general preventive nature, a law that are there to protect you healthy people from us sick. Regardless of what a healthy person wants to do sexually with an HIV-positive, we must still carry the full responsibility if something should go wrong. A potential risk of infection is in principle sufficient to prosecute us, even if the healthy one has gone into it with eyes open. Police have compared my HIV-virus to the one from the complainant. They are different. In other words I didn’t infect the complainant. Nevertheless, I can still be prosecuted and convicted.

After the charges against me, I’ve tried to live with an HIV-negative partner. Together we went to get supervision by a doctor and specialist, to be on the "safe side". We followed the advice's we got on protection and responsibility, like the healthcare-sector describes "safer sex" and sexuality on the terms from the HIV-negative partner. Still, I became a weekly criminal according to the strict interpretation of the law by the criminal justice system, where not even "safer sex" (as the term is usually defined in information material) exempt from criminal liability. I’m therefore at the mercy of my partners, in the past and the future, that they never change their personal views on shared responsibility for our sexual practices together. If it happens, it could mean more accusations and threats against me. This means that I’m no longer able to live with the confidence I should have to my partners. Instead, I'm always worried and suspicious towards people who really just want me well.

Most HIV-positive people, whatever sexual orientation, often want the same as people in general: Being able to live without fear, prejudice and ignorance, being able to choose partners and spouses without feeling like second-class citizens when it comes to public law and ignorant prejudice. You healthy people have to learn enough about HIV, so you understand that most of us don’t want to or ever can infect you. I belong to an increasing group that is successfully on medical treatment. People with HIV would pose a negligible risk of infection if the rest of you would help taking more responsibility for your own and others' sexual safety.

It is those HIV-positive who don’t know their own status yet, which accounts for most cases of infection. A lot of people are afraid to find out if they are infected or they think it’s unnecessary to be tested. Please join us to make it safer to live with HIV, so that more people dare to test more often and chooses to be open. In this way we can together push the numbers of newly infected, downwards. No one in their right mind can argue that it wouldn’t be to everyone's advantage? And to the families, friends, colleagues and partners: If we accept that society and individuals continue to put all the responsibility upon people with HIV, then we also say yes to a larger number of infected people who will choose to live in uncertainty and hide their own status, in the future. Like everything else that is unknown and frightening, it is only through knowledge we can break down prejudice and to take back the control. Politicians must do their part through a better legal system, but the rest of you must also contribute.

So far I belong to a small circle of people with HIV who choose to stick their neck out in the public, and I do so with fear of what may come. I don’t think it's going to be easy. But like other minority groups which also have women and men speaking up for them, I hope that it's not pointless to fight?

I consider myself to be a privileged man, because I can feel love for others, both emotionally and physically. This ability, I don’t want to lose. Therefore, I believe that maybe in the future I can say: "Just to let you know: I'm HIV-positive", without feeling insecure or afraid of the reaction from individuals and the society. The world is going to be full of prejudice and ignorance for a long time to come, perhaps forever? I will continue with others to fight, to my last breath.

* "He who with reasonable grounds to believe he is infected with a serious communicable disease, wilfully or negligently infects or expose another to a risk of being infected, shall be punished with imprisonment up to 6 years in cases of wilful violation and imprisonment for up to 3 years at negligent violation. " (My translation).


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