Wednesday, December 2, 2009

world AIDS day - why I never wore a ribbon

CAVETE: contains discussions of and links to explicit sexual matters

Over on Platform 10, David Skelton commented on the lack of people wearing red ribbons for World AIDS Day. One of the two reasons I never wore a ribbon is that I've long finished with the phase when every item of clothing had to have messages appended to it; now, with a cross round my neck and a fish on my lapel, I'm sporting all the iconography I want to.

Ian Hislop - click to go to Have I got News for You webpageI suppose something to be thankful for is that the red ribbon is not now seen as compulsory; Ian Hislop famously refused to wear one on the current affairs panel show Have I Got News for You because he "disliked...the compulsory nature of the red ribbon at media events...There are other causes as important as deserving of media attention in this country." Instead, he cut a sheet of paper into an L-shape and pinned it to his jacket - one of his relatives had just died of leukemia.

click to go to the red and alive websiteAnother thing to be thankful for is that media outlets who know that prejudice sells papers have stopped ascribing the disease as one that almost exclusively affects homosexual communities, which perhaps gives campaigns like red and alive space to acknowledge that gay men are disproportionately affected (see detail from poster, left).

Other groups who are disproportionately affected are members of sub-Saharan African communities, originating from a part of the world that bears the brunt of two-thirds of the world's 33 million HIV/AIDS cases. Women from these communities, in particular if they belong to communities where it's traditional to breastfeed, can face difficult questions from their peers if they're bottle-feeding their babiJacob Zumaes.

But the responsibility for passing HIV to them often lies with certain types of African men who see women as property, and ignorantly accept the myth that having sex with a virgin cures AIDS. Jacob Zuma, who became President of South Africa this year, made an astoundingly stupid statement in 2006 that he had showered after having sex with an HIV-positive woman in the belief that tThabo Mbekihis would lessen his chances of catching the virus - but at least he accepts that HIV is the causative organism of AIDS and is allowing palliative anti-retroviral drugs to be given to his people, both of which his predecessor Thabo Mbeki actively fought against. The Focus on Gender feature in The Zimbabwean in August (on page 21 of a 24-page paper) carried a piece about a woman who was gang-raped because a male relative of hers belonged to the wrong political party - then was treated as an outcast by her peers.

Stephen FryNot that in Britain we can claim cultural superiority - the myth of having sex with a virgin to cure a sexually-transmitted diseases, prominently syphilis, has been traced to 16th-century England, and survived into Queen Victoria's time. A disgusting phenomenon of our own times is that called "getting a gift" in Britain and "chasing the bug" in the US, whereby a man who is HIV-negative will deliberately have sex with men who are positive, often in ways that I can't describe even in this post, in order to catch the bug and thereby - either in his eyes or those of others - assume an identity that matters in sectors of gay communities. I say "disgusting" advisedly: when gay lad o' pairts Stephen Fry found out about the practice in his documentary HIV & Me, he couldn't stop his jaw from hitting the floor.

It's no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced recently that HIV is the leading cause of death in women aged 15-44. However, the WHO is not without blood on its hanclick to go to the SPUC websiteds itself. John Smeaton, Director of SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children), points out that WHO's definition of "sexual and reproductive health" includes abortion on demand, which is more a matter of reducing the population of third-world countries on a eugenics basis than of eliminating acceptance of events like the gang-rape of Maidei Changamire in the article from The Zimbabwean I transcribed, who sees the product of that rape as a "gift God has chosen to bestow, despite all circumstances".

So, the other reason I didn't wear the ribbon is because, although a disease in its own right, HIV/AIDS is often also a symptom of ignorance, prejudice and stupidity, and the fight against these goes on 24/7, not just on 1/12.


  1. hhmmm.. you picked a hot topic. The death of a 'gay' friend, who died from aids, is what brought us to TX from AL. (while visiting T's home town for the funeral the week after his reception of teaching degree, he aquired a few interviews and was hired.. next thing I knew we were packing..) Anyway, that tag about the disproportionate number of cases bothers me in this topic. The message seems to imply that it "happens to them" more. That is the same thinking behind abortion-- that pregnancy is something that "happens to a person". (obviously, in the case of rape, both can "happen" to a woman)
    Aids is not something like swine flu that you can catch by being in the grocery store at the wrong time. It is a direct consequence of behavior- in most cases, ilicit behavior.
    I remember talking with our friend before he died. He was suffering from the affects of the disease, and I was quite candid with my opinion as he compared numbers to numbers, (along with research and funding), ie cancer, and other diseases. I looked him right in the eye and told him that HIS disease was a direct result of his chosen behavior; it was not something he 'caught' and not something that 'happened' to him, unlike breast cancer who attacks women without warning and without cause. I do not mean to imply that he deserved it, but that by participating in a behavior that was known to spread a deadly disease, he should not then turn to others and say, "fix this problem".

  2. Good topic, useful discussion. Nice blog, good video. I am agree with you. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Linda, I agree with what you're saying. The point I was trying to make was that now that more irresponsible sectors of the British press have stopped pushing the "gay plague" angle about HIV/AIDS, pressure-groups for gay people seem to have taken ownership of the common-sense notion that, as you said to your friend, the behaviour of gay people, predominantly gay men, is responsible for acquiring HIV. I'm in possession of a booklet from the Terrence Higgins Trust for gay people setting out the how and why of how homosexual sex puts gay men at risk of HIV, but it's so explicit I couldn't quote from it.

    I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I hope his sad death gave his peers cause to think.

    Baludec - welcom to the Draughty Old Fen. Thank you both for your comments!

  4. oh, it didn't bother me that you posted the tag, the words themselves on the tag are what stuck me.
    just to clear that up. I appreciate your point.


  5. I've been a bit thick - I've just realised what you meant - the phrase "'gay plague' tag". What I should have explained was that over here there was some real hysteria over here about HIV, and the words "gay plague" were used several times, and some media went so far as to present AIDS as an illness that couldn't be caught by heterosexuals. I'm not into excusing the behaviour of many gay people, but as you indicated in your comment, an amount of compassion is expected of us. What was also in my mind - although I decided not to refer to it - was that in the early 1980s there was an explosion of HIV in female sex-workers in Edinburgh (mostly intravenous drug-users), or at least a dramatic improvement in testing sex-workers for it. Again, I'm not excusing prostitution or drug-use, but if we can get some of these folk off drugs and into mainstream society, society has to bear the burdens of diseases they contract while living their "alternative" lifestyle.

    But I'm not into making my friends feel troubled - I've changed the wording slightly.


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