I have a least favorite question when it comes to HIV. It annoys me. It didn't always, but over time due to folks' reactions and overheard statements, it gets on my damn nerves.
"May I ask you something?"
I answer it because I know it has value and I know on some levels it DOES matter. I also temper my response and control my Scorpio side-eye of death while answering. Make no mistake, it's not out of shame. I'm just annoyed. It's like asking a woman her age. If she doesn't volunteer, don't ask.
"How did you get it?"
It's innocuous enough as questions go. Most of the time, even with all the available information, they would still rather ask than look something up. When people don't know my status, or don't know what I do as an advocate, sometimes they speak a little freer than they should. When I was nursing at the AIDS Service Organization/FQHC (federally qualified healthcare center) I worked for, I would occasionally get calls from people who would choose a random primary care provider from an insurance directory, not knowing that they saw patients at our clinic. Some of these people didn't want to come to our clinic for regular primary care because AIDS was in the name or "sinners, gays, and whores went there". (That's a direct quote BTW, you can't make this shit up.)
"Ok, but how did you get it? Was it a blood transfusion?" ( a freaking doctor asked me that once... Seriously??)
Innocuous enough because most people don't mean any harm. People are conditioned to think it can't happen to them. Or they are just
nosey curious. That it would never be them, or their turn. They ask to reassure and prove to themselves that they don't do/exhibit the "behaviors" that would put them at "risk". I have actually- in real life -heard people say they have more sympathy for children born with HIV or survivors of rape who contracted it that way than for gay men. That they feel sorry for women who got it unknowingly from a husband but not for a sex-worker trying to survive or a drug user or "crack head".
"Can I get it from kissing? From eating off the same plate?"
* scorpio side-eye of death goes here*
"Was it drug use? Were you able to get clean?"
There is no hierarchy of shame juxtaposed by sympathy when it comes to HIV. At least there shouldn't be. I can guarantee you, once inside the body the virus binds itself to a t-cell, reverses the DNA to RNA, replicates and starts the whole thing over in cell after cell whether it got in the bloodstream from sex, a mucus membrane or a needle. It changes lives and impacts future happiness regardless of addiction or conduct. "Risky" behaviors -* side-eye*- didn't create the virus to pick and choose who to affect. I despise the term risky behavior. It breeds a false sense of immunity and protection. It only takes once, I'm a witness. It's not a punishment. The virus is not some harbinger of the wrath of GOD. I assure you God and the Universe saw me have sex that one fateful time I did to acquire HIV, just like God and the Universe saw the people who molested me as a child do it me. I have HIV they don't. The universe saw you cheat on that test, or cheat on your wife. God heard you lie. Sin is sin and bad luck is bad luck. It's not a punishment.
In the face of education, it's a valuable question. I get that. Most often HIV advocates will share their story of contracting HIV so people KNOW it can happen to them. If anything, it sheds light on the vulnerability of humans and the things we take for granted. If you're negative- we want you to stay that way. If you're negative, educate yourself. If you're negative, let people live. Judge less. Support more. How a person acquired HIV is much less important than the life they choose to live with it.