Thank you so much for you thoughtful and educational reply.
I’d like to respond to your message. I want to explain when and where I got the inspiration for this piece, I feel it adds more context. Actually there are a number of things I’d love to discuss about this piece with you, and about the work you do.
“As an HIV activist and educator, I work very hard to spread the word that with treatment, almost everyone can achieve full viral suppression.”
Wow that’s awesome! I think that’s an amazing thing to do. I’ve never met someone who is an HIV activist/educator before, is it hard? I noticed in your profile it said former, did you stop / how long did you do it for, what was it like? What was the hardest thing you found about talking to people who weren’t as aware of issues as yourself?
Sorry I have a lot of questions about that it’s an interesting subject! Looking back over my questions I realize I seem like a child asking a grown-up what the real world is like!
Where this writing came from.
I wrote this a long time ago, around eight years or nine years. I remember I actually was in the Malaysian guest house called Jim’s place. I really was on a comfortable but overly used tourist guest bed.
I’d been out drinking that evening whilst waiting for my six-month visa to come back from the Thai embassy so I could return to my (then) home in the south of Thailand (Koh Phangan, the infamous party island).
The trope of the angry, hostile “AIDS Victim” running around infecting people is exactly opposite reality and counter to the message that HIV educators are trying to spread:
Once a person knows they have HIV, then they’re on the way to not being infectious anymore. Testing=safe.
In fact, stage legislatures are being urged to revise or eliminate laws that single out HIV transmission for criminal penalty. California just did so last summer.
I’d been speaking to some fellow backpackers. One of them told me a story about an elderly German man who had been going around intentionally infecting young female schoolgirls with HIV.
I’d gone back to my room and started writing. The piece you read came from what I wrote that night.
I’d like to ask you something though, I completely understand and agree that it shouldn’t be illegal if someone unknowingly transmitted HIV but what is the position (in the US, because I’m sure it’d be different in the UK where I’m from) on someone intentionally spreading HIV? That will still remain illegal right? Seems like it should.
Something I’ve just thought about also; a weird irony of sorts: There’s a stigma/fear of people getting tested after they’ve had risky sex. They worry they’ll test positive and therefore choose not to get tested due to that fear. But the test is the very thing that would save their lives and allow them to become not infectious.
I’m afraid that sensationalizing an “HIV vampire” would be sending exactly the wrong message.
I wouldn’t call what I did as sensationalizing, although if by simply adding the word HIV after something draws people attention to it, then I suppose, perhaps it might be. But in that case I think that by the very act of sensationalizing something about HIV could be the perfect way of drawing people’s attention.
Hell, it might be the only way of doing it anymore after the way the media have done it. I feel like the media (I’m thinking like tabloid stuff from back in the UK, The Daily Mail, specifically) absolutely love to sensationalize stories involving HIV. It sells!
Unless handled very, very carefully, that sort of story would tend to increase rather than decrease stigmatization.
I believe (and this just personal opinion, which I’m open to change upon further discussion -I’m good like that) that in the right hands a story that does make use of the right type of strategy for intriguing readers about HIV could totally be used to decrease stigmatization.
I felt I could have expressed myself better in my dear reader part at the end about this point. It’s in finding the humanity in those we demonize or stigmatize that most needs to be communicated.
Am I the person to write a story like that?
Oh GOD NO. No. The idea terrifies me. I just wanted to post something a little bit riskier, hopefully raising discussions like this, sort of dipping my toes in the swimming pool of controversial creative story subjects.
What I will say though, as a final point about the piece:
Whilst my piece was related directly to my experience, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to read your input, and if I had of continued writing the story, who’s to say my character development might not have in some small way been influenced by stereotypes.
It’s always possible. So for this reason I’m glad I posted this risky piece.
Other considerations. Obscenity and Offense.
Certain art academics (throughout the ages) have argued that the responsibility of the artist is to explore difficult subjects. To walk the line between the decent and the obscene.
I remember one of my philosophy lecturers telling us ‘there’s nothing more dangerous than an idea’.
But does the obscene include the offensive? If art in any form victimizes or (as was nearly the case here) pushes stigmatization, not only would this be a clear violation of Mediums content guidelines, but in an ethical sense would be deemed wrong and irresponsible.
This makes me think of the Charle Hebdo shootings after they’d posted images of the prophet Mohammed. Offensive content can lead people to kill others.
But I’d argue the value of art is important. The level of a civilizations development can be determined and explored by the nature and freedom of it’s art.
The US is the only country I know in the world where freedom really does have no bounds in what people can say.
But just because people can say things doesn’t mean they should say them. There’s a decency aspect to consider here. I think this might relate to my piece also, and I agree:
Anyone writing about this subject would have to tread very delicately in order to not push errornous / outdated ideas on readers. I’m personally not trying to rock any boats, more just feeling around the edges of acceptibility. You’ve opened my eyes a little bit more, so I thank you for that.
This is the mural that Banksy painted in Clacton this week. The mural that local council officials painted over for…kenanmalik.wordpress.com
Hopefully, discussions like these help raise awareness and perhaps give us all cause for thought and reflection.
All the best,
P.S I’ve read your other articles; goodness me what a life! You’re writing style is lovely and well paced.
P.P.S Sorry this bloody reply took so long I’ve been up the computer shop all day long, faulty motherboard circuit, of all the mundane firstworldproblem things!