I have been discussing with some of my HIV positive friends and fellow activists: how do you become an activist? What motivates you, what inspires you?
One of the answers was: you are self appointed, you make yourself one. And maybe it is partly true.
Sometimes I feel I am doing what I am doing, because nobody else (or just a few others) want or are able to do it. Who wants to be known for having a sexually transmitted disease? What will be the consequences of being so open about my status? I do fear sometimes that some enraged old lover may find this blog and come looking for me with a machete, but I hope that my cat Caspar will defend me fearlessly.
I would like to know more about the moment, or the process that pushes you and makes you step up. What sparkles that? For me personally it was seeing so much unnecessary suffering in the women I supported. Witnessing women being beaten and abandoned by husbands, young women thrown out of their homes by their parents, gifted and talented girls gripped and paralyzed by the shame and low self esteem caused by internalized stigma. I felt that if I didn’t do something to stop this, if I didn’t try to act on the cause of such violence, I was almost an accomplice, how could I not do something?However, I also soon realized that you can not talk about HIV without talking about power, how it is distributed in our society, and how those who have less, or none, are so much more vulnerable to this small bug called HIV. You can not talk about HIV without talking of gender, poverty, the educational system, the relationship between rich and poor countries, homophobia, racism and a lot more. HIV and social justice are tightly interconnected. It is not just a limited struggle about this virus that affects me. It is about something much bigger: it is about justice.
Also I would have never taken this big step with all the risks involved if it wasn’t for the inspiration I had from other women living with HIV who had already started. We follow on the steps of those who walked before us and we hope that others will follow on our steps. A West African proverb states: we stand on shoulders of our ancestors.
My ancestors are many: people who dared in face of incredible difficulties to do something to change the minds and hearts of those around them and thus initiate a much bigger change.
One of the ancestors on whose shoulders I stand is Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement leader, and this is how she commented on her decision not to give up her bus seat to a white person, and thus initiate the historical bus boycott:
The only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.