Bow Ties and Butter Knives: Fighting Stigma Within Our Own Community

Speechless… That was my first reaction when I glanced down at my laptop screen and saw the following comment appear on my Twitter feed.

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It was in response to a photo I had posted in support of The Bow Tie Movement Campaign; a grassroots initiative seeking to raise awareness for heterosexual HIV positive men. The words that first caught my attention were knife and neck. Was this someone reaching out for help or yet another stigmatizing comment from someone looking to put others living with HIV down? Then I looked further and what I found shocked me.

This tweet was published not only by another heterosexual HIV advocate, but also one well-known to the public eye. Dick Donato also known as @EvelDick, a reality TV star that appeared on Big Brother and Couples Therapy, shared his two cents on what he thought of the campaign in a series of tweets.

 

I won’t sugar coat it, his responses upset me. But more than the anger was a feeling of disappointment. As advocates people who follow our lives look up to us. We are being watched constantly and our words have a profound impact, whether we know it or not. I’m a believer in the age-old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

If the man isn’t a fan of bow ties. Ok, I get it. But to put down a campaign that’s focus is to eliminate stigma by tweeting out stuff like this, makes me feel like we have taken ten steps back in the progress we’ve made to date.

To begin with, the idea of using a comparison of self harm to wearing a bow tie is just not right. Call me hyper-sensitive or say that I am overreacting but as someone who also advocates for mental health awareness, it’s just not appropriate. There is nothing humorous about it. I’ve written in detail about the mental health crisis we are in as seen in some of my previous blogs here and incidences like this don’t help the situation.

The conversation then began to shift…


I learned early on in advocacy that it’s important to stay focussed on one thing, why I wanted to share my story to begin with. Sure, it’s great to know that what I’m doing truly is accomplishing my mission by helping others. But it doesn’t mean that because I haven’t reached 133,000 people, that indicates what I am doing is worthless. What kind of message is that sending? That numbers are what are important? These are people’s lives we are talking about here.

Wether it’s one or one hundred thousand lives, a blog viewed by a couple hundred a month or a show viewed by millions, we all can play a part in this fight. Let’s not put each other down but rather build each other up. This isn’t a competition and the minute that it becomes one it is time we take a serious step back to analyze the situation.

A key component of being an advocate is being humble. While I commend Dick for the work he has done in HIV advocacy, I believe he dropped the ball on this one. Heterosexual men face an enormous amount of stigma and often stay in the closet due to this stigma. We expect it from the outside world that is uneducated and ignorant to our struggle but not from one of our very own.

If I was just starting into advocacy or thinking about speaking out about my status, this would have deterred me. A heterosexual male is going to look at this and say “Whoah, if that’s the reaction the HIV community, how will others react?”

The whole point of this campaign isn’t about bow ties. It’s about saving people’s lives! I am so thankful for the love and support I have received from fellow advocates, friends, and family. I truly do wish Dick the best and hope that this will serve as a learning experience that we can all grow from.

Advocacy isn’t about reality TV but rather real life. Lets put an end to the drama and focus on ending the trauma induced by the stigma that has followed this virus for decades. Wether you are straight or gay, like to wear bow ties or would never be caught in public wearing one. Let us never lose focus; reaching zero and a HIV/AID’s free generation.

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Bow Ties and Butter Knives: Fighting Stigma Within Our Own Community

  1. Josh Middleton i applaud you and your advocacy. The stigma among heterosexual men is overwhelming and the bow tie campaign was to help and show that HIV is not a “gay mans” disease! What EvelDick did was counter intuative to all heterosexual men. I really hope to keep the bow tie movement moving forward and not let this man’s insensitive remarks alter the mission. I totally support this movement.

    Sincerely, a heterosexual female living with hiv & knowing what silence can do to someone suffering from this disease. ~ JoGa Ga

  2. It’s taken me a while to respond to this and even now my thoughts are so jumbled that I might not make perfect sense. My lovely heterosexual non drug using son was diagnosed HIV positive late in 2009. It was a terrible blow to us all obviously more so to him. It was a late diagnosis with all the implications that that brings. It was only after multiple tests for stomach problems that it came to light . I will never forget his words. “Just waiting for the HIV result now Mum and there’s no way I’ve got that. He never really accepted that diagnosis and his mental health deteriorated rapidly. We loved him so much and he loved us but he withdrew into his own private hell sinking further and further into depression. At first he fell under the spell of the AIDS denialists but in the last few years he just didn’t care any more. He refused medication in 2012 and nothing we could do or say would change his mind. He died from AIDS in January . What a waste of a life through the shame and stigma attached to this horrible illness. If I can do anything useful with the rest of my life I would wish it to help others not to end up like our precious son and brother. But what can I do? Is there a support group ? If there is he didn’t find it.If anyone can let me know how I can help please do.

  3. It’s taken me a while to respond to this post . I tried to reply earlier but it seems to have got lost.Anyway my thoughts are so jumbled that I might not make sense but I’ll try. My lovely heterosexual non drug using son was diagnosed HIV positive late in 2009. It was a terrible blow to us all but obviously more so to him. It was a late diagnosis after multiple tests for stomach problems . I will never forget him saying to me “All the tests are clear I’m only waiting for the HIV to come back and there’s no way I’ve got that” He never accepted the diagnosis and all the social and medical implications and soon he went from being an outgoing confident person to someone completely different and within a couple of years he descended into his own private hell where we struggled to reach him. At first he fell under the spell of the AIDS denial ists but after a while I think he didn’t believe them either he just didn’t care any more and he gave up the struggle refusing medication in 2012. We loved him so much and he loved us but we couldn’t make him accept he would die without medication. He had become mentally ill and there didn’t seem to be anyone apart from us trying to help him. He died from AIDS in January . A totally senseless waste of a life. I do not want this to happen to any other person and I feel so strongly about the mental health issues around a heterosexual diagnosis. What can I do to help?

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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