THE FEELING OF URGENCY
THE NECESSITY TO TALK ABOUT THE HIV VIRUS
I am Ramon Nunes Mello, 31, poet, writer and journalist. I am HIV positive. Reactive. That’s the word appearing on the results of a positive HIV test; a metaphor for the awakening of life. Reactive. The same blood that hosts the HIV virus carries (beyond many dreams) the sense of integrity and conviction that the great cure for AIDS is the fight against prejudice.
At first - the discovery - brings despair. Because, although it is no longer a synonym of death, the imaginary world around HIV is filled with shadows. Will I die? Will I love? How will I live? I had to face my fears and change the way I see the world. It wasn’t easy. I looked for friends, family and acquaintances to understand myself facing a new dynamic of life. For these people, I feel immense gratitude because they showed me solidarity and affection.
Aware of the diagnosis, I began to take care of my physical, mental and spiritual health. I chose life, positive. My close friends supported me and referred me to a great infectiologist and researcher - Dr. Estevão Portela Nunes – a fundamental encounter in the process of confronting my own prejudices. After a while, I plucked up my courage and talked to my beloved family. Following this path was crucial for me to start addressing the issue publicly and to base my life choices while considering human rights actions.
What’s changed? Countless things, but mostly self-esteem. This reconnection with myself strengthened me and deepened itself: the literary language became a new way of life: searching for answers in books and in my writing. I also started to practice of yoga, meditation and I gained a more profound appreciation of silence. I exercised my faith in communion with nature through ayahuasca - master plant, entheogenic, that teaches the golden values of the words and anchors the presence in the body. I accepted the call, tamed my fear, trusted in my change and thanked the arrival of brighter days, in search of love, freedom, humor, peace, joy and solidarity.
When fear gave way to understanding, I felt the need to talk about HIV. There was no guilt or shame: Only the importance to remember, although the prejudices cultivated in our societies lead us to think otherwise. I will continue to trust, to have sex, to date and love, with more awareness. Love has no end. Obviously, since the diagnosis in 2012, in addition to using condoms, I take daily antiretrovirals, which made my viral load undetectable - essential to avoid spreading the virus.
To tell or not to tell? This is the great dilemma of people living with HIV. Do I have the obligation to talk about my serology with all my possible partners? No. But I have the responsibility of my own health and the responsibility to care for people who are related to me. According to the Brazilian law, HIV positive people have the right to privacy and no one can expose the HIV status of a person. You probably have relatives living with HIV without knowing. The fear of rejection and prejudice leads to secrecy. The biggest problem of the epidemic is not who is HIV-positive and treated, but who’s "HIV-interrogative”. In other words, people that ignore their own serology.
I deeply respect those who are HIV positive and choose the silence against stigma and discrimination: Only those who deal with HIV daily really know how hard it is. But, it's part of my nature, today more than ever, to be political. Silence would only throw shadow; a certain way to die without fighting. This taboo must end. We must break away from the idea that HIV equals death and provide help for those who live with the virus. I publicly share my diagnosis because today, I am aware that the visibility regarding living with HIV can change my reality, and perhaps, provide guidance to those who go through the same experience
I went in search of references in books, blogs and sites (the Internet can be a great ally) dwelling on that issue to understand how I should position myself. I found brave people, many of which are anonymous, that form a network of information and knowledge. But it was the great sociologist and writer Herbert de Souza, o Betinho (1935 – 1997) ABIA’s founder (Associação Brasileira Interdisciplinar de AIDS) (Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association) who’s fundamental thought struck me: "I have the belief that AIDS, as well as everything in life, it is a political issue, and that the AIDS policy must be built based on hope and courage.” And faith in life, I would add to that.
I am part of the 734,000 people living with HIV in Brazil (worldwide : 37 million estimated) according to the Ministry of Health. This virus has spread around the world for three decades, infecting 60 million people and caused over 30 million deaths, including some "soul brothers" who I admire: Henfil - cartoonist/journalist (1944 -1988), Lauro Corona - actor (1957 -1989), Cazuza - singer/composer (1958 - 1990), Reinaldo Arenas - writer (1943 - 1990), Nestor Pérlongher - poet (1949 - 1992), Leonilson painter/sculptor (1957 - 1993), Caio Fernando Abreu - writer (1948 - 1996), Renato Russo - singer/composer (1960 - 1996) and Al Berto - poet (1948 - 1997).
There is notorious progress in fighting HIV/AIDS in Brazil and in the world, but this does not mean that the disease is under control. More than 150 000 Brazilians are infected with HIV and do not know about this because they won’t get tested. Moreover, some will get tested, but won’t seek the result by fear of facing reality. There's a global crisis, very close to all of us who have social, cultural, economic and moral implications. The infection rate grows daily between heterosexual and gay young people. Unfortunately, we live in a growing epidemic and everyone is equally vulnerable.
Today, treatment that greatly reduces mortality from AIDS (since its discovery in 1981) exists; that much is true. Beyond the side effects of drugs, the prejudice (of the infected himself) - and not the virus - destroys self-esteem, affection and sexuality. We have to always remember to avoid more suffering: HIV affects people from different social classes, genders or religions without distinction.
The world needs more solidarity; we need more love for the healing of the planet. With the force of change emerging in the World, I keep my gaze on the present and declare my total support to the citizens that fight for humans rights and that work for an egalitarian Brazil; for a future with more SOLIDARITY - “the great vaccine against AIDS”, as taught the writer and activist Herbert Daniel (1946-1992).
HIV no longer means a death sentence. People who live with HIV are not sick: they live with the virus. Words that set limits and profound changes - HIV / AIDS - we need to say them and to write them enough so that we can change the stigma associated with the epidemic and create a new perception of this reality. The end is the middle. Or it’s resumption.
I finish this letter with poetry (which I began to write the year that I found out my HIV- positive status), a necessary ingredient to repel death and all its ghosts:
dialogue with William S. Burroughs
I am another you
in lak'ech ala k’in
object in subject
Ramon Nunes Mello (02/14/1984), a native of Araruama / RJ, is a poet, writer, journalist and human rights activist.
[Translation Armando Babaioff]