Walking through the door can be the hardest thing in the world for some. You don’t know what or who you’re going to face inside. But you’re here now. You’ve made the decision to come – you want to meet similar people, you want to make new friends, you want support that your other friends may struggle to give as much as they try. So, bravely, you take that last step through the door. You’ve entered a room of others like you. People with varied stories, people of all different ages, genders, sexualities. Finally, a safe and welcoming place where you can meet other HIV positive people.
On Friday night I attended the event Planet Positive in Brisbane, run by Queensland Positive People. It’s advertised as ‘a social evening for HIV positive people and their friends’. And this is what I found. It truly was a social evening. There were those who had obviously been before who were welcomed as they walked in with a sense of camaraderie and then those who were new who were welcomed as if they had been personally invited. I don’t think I saw a single person enter without being welcomed personally by the organiser. No doubt this makes being both a new person and a returning one less of an anxiety-inducing experience.
The event is a simple affair, with attendees forming groups and having a chat – many making sure to engage with people they hadn’t seen in a while or those they hadn’t seen at the event before. Even though it was simple it didn’t need to be anything more. The point of the evening was creating a safe, welcoming place for people who are HIV positive to meet others who are HIV Positive, or for friends and family of those who are HIV positive to meet others.
Discussions I had throughout the evening were about all sorts of things – from my status to my work, hobbies and the like. I’m often asked, as an HIV positive person, how I got HIV. I’ve always been puzzled by this question. Is it asked out of general curiosity? Is it asked to confirm a suspicion (read: judgment) of the reason I got it? I’ve never been asked this when I’ve had Chlamydia or when I’ve had the Flu. Then, I’m usually asked if I know who gave it to me. This also puzzles me. It’s unlikely most people can say for sure. Is this asked because they assume I must have had sex with someone who I knew was HIV positive? Is this another suspicion to confirm? But, I wasn’t asked any of these questions last night. They weren’t asked because the evening was about creating a safe place for HIV positive people to meet others like them. And because these questions don’t serve to help the positive person they weren’t asked. However, I was asked when I was diagnosed as HIV positive. Now that’s an important question. Where am I in my journey of incorporating being HIV positive into my identity? This is one of the reasons why I encourage anyone who is HIV positive to attend events like these (or, for those with anxieties about meeting in person, social media groups) – you will have the opportunity to talk to people at different points in their journey and people who have taken different approaches to you. You’ll meet the activist, the struggling, the proud, the nervous, the advocate, the new, the old. And, hopefully, you can learn from all these people different ways you could be approaching your own journey.
They say Community can cure all. Well, it may not be able to cure HIV but it can definitely make being HIV positive that much more positive an experience. Pun intended.
For more information on Planet Positive, including when and where the next event is, contact Queensland Positive People.