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Shaping a New Narrative: “My Diagnosis Doesn’t Define Me” or “ I Am Not My Diagnosis”

I heard she was nasty! Ain’t she that dirty girl.  Didn’t she get raped; she probably was doing something that she was not supposed to be doing.  I heard that she was out there and probably got caught up cheating! She must be living on or out there working them streets, you know only “those people” get that! Is that contagious! OMG! I can’t be seen with her, they’ll think I have it too.

How many times have you stood by and listened to one or more of these statements? Even more so, how many times have you thought and/ or said a comment or something like it yourself?

Decades into this fight, stigma and shame continue to  attempt to provide a designated face or description of those diagnosed with or are at risk of contracting HIV/ AIDS. The issue with this is that there are no particular signs or ways to tell from looking, whether or not someone has HIV/ AIDS, or any other chronic disease for that matter. HIV does not discriminate against someone’s age, religion, sexual orientation, race or gender. According to the Office of Women’s Health, HIV and AIDS are still widespread public health issues, and women remain vulnerable to infection, especially African-American and Hispanic women.  It does not matter what your profession is, whether you have ten degrees or prayed your way through secondary school. HIV/ AIDS is a diagnosis, like diabetes, high blood pressure, herpes, etc. that must be managed and until not too long ago, it was considered a death sentence.

Not anymore. Today is a new day. Those who are working in the field are making strides by continuing to shed light on, educate, empower and inform the world about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.

Black women are not only living with a diagnosis of HIV, they are thriving while maintaining happy, fulfilling and productive lives. They are declaring to the world, “My Diagnosis Does Not Define Me/ I Am Not My Diagnosis.”

What’s Changing

The organizations involved in On Our Own Terms and others are working with Black women and girls across ages and stages to be educated on their diagnosis, as well as how to protect themselves and others. Providers and support organizations are helping them to   take  back their lives and working to be the healthiest that they can be. Nothing compares to abstinence or condom use, but if one chooses to be sexually-active, the development of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), has shown to be helpful and protect the partners of those who are HIV positive, with consistent use. There are also studies, that have helped to bring awareness to Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U), along with findings to protect an HIV Positive woman’s unborn child, from being positive as well .

Whether a female is born HIV Positive, or  makes their living surviving by any means necessary or had an exciting and/ or weak moment that didn’t go quite as planned, or even if they were in a committed relationship, where the other person stepped out and brought the disease back, women and girls are using their powerful  voices to speak out and supporting others in finding their own . Black women are no longer waiting for permission to be ok and are constantly finding ways to empower themselves to share with others their stories and struggles to find their strength and come out.

Black women and girls  are writing a new script for themselves by  using their collective power to combat both the explicit and implicit biases that have been shown to them in various situations, not only from the communities where they live, work or go to school.

They have found  support  from  the various providers, caretakers and organizations that were initially created to support females who had been diagnosed as HIV positive.

Black women are using their collective insight and action to  stand up against blatant and institutionalized stigma and discrimination that perpetuates this public health issue. The walls of injustice and inequity  that for so long held onto myths shared with the world about HIV/ AIDS, are slowly being broken down. In turn, these myths increased the harmful cycle of silence and shame that had been passed down from one generation to another, for fear of how one would be treated if found out. Even with the strides made thus far, there is still a lot to do.

But proudly we are doing it together.