Today I'm sharing with you the story of one of the people I'm lucky enough to have in my life, the aim being to show that being HIV-positive inevitably has an impact on those around you. Camille tells her story and I think that her testimony sums up quite well the reasons that push me to express myself.
Thank you for this beautiful declaration of love.
Camille, 31 years old, Paris
I met Remi in autumn 2010. I was a saleswoman in a fashion boutique, Remi was a Visual Merchandiser there. We weren't particularly close, our different missions and our sometimes staggered schedules didn't allow us to develop such a bond, but we got along well and I felt confident with him: professional, passionate, but above all gentle, kind, funny... He left this job overnight, a few months after I arrived, and I remember being a little sad that he left without saying goodbye.
A few weeks after he left, Remi published a post on Facebook that he called "coming out" and in which he explained that he had been HIV positive for a few years. And then I kind of fell out of my chair. Because for me, being HIV positive meant being super sick, and I didn't remember Remi "looking sick". I made the distinction between HIV and AIDS, but I thought that one necessarily led to the other, and therefore that once the "process" started, it had to be physically visible. So I was one of those people, like the vast majority of people on this earth unfortunately. I was particularly touched by this "coming out", I found the process incredibly courageous and humble, so I wrote a message to Remi, just to tell him that it had touched me. He wrote me back, we sent a few messages, and then we said we had to have a drink.
We met at a café in the Rue de Bretagne, and he explained to me what it meant, medically speaking, to be HIV positive today: the treatment, the side effects, the undetectable viral load... I understood that day that the treatments made it possible to contain the virus, as if it was trapped in a tiny box to prevent it from harming the body of the carrier and that of his partners. I realised that these magic drugs were also very heavy, and that at that time Remi had a treatment that made him sick, gave him a stomach ache, exhausted him.
Remi also told me about the social consequences: judgement of some people around him, potential sexual partners/lovers running away... I understood how difficult it was for him to know when and how to announce it, and sometimes even if he should do it or not: Is it better to explain to your employer that you are HIV-positive and that the treatment makes you sick very often, and thus risk facing possible discrimination, or is it better to say nothing and let them believe that you are an unreliable employee who regularly goes off work without giving a valid reason? These questions seemed to haunt Remi: who should I tell, when, how? I think he tried a bit of everything at the time, he varied the techniques, and unfortunately one didn't necessarily work better than the other: when people are not educated on this issue, there is a big chance they will react badly. And each time, Remi's morale and maybe even his confidence took an extra hit.
That coffee surely opened a new page in my life: a life where I understand what it means to be HIV positive today, a life where I can now educate the people around me ("I assure you that you don't risk getting AIDS by kissing your boyfriend who brushed his teeth with his HIV positive aunt's brush"... true...), a life where I realise how lame or even dangerous it can be to make jokes about it... A life where I now know that if I fell in love with an HIV positive person I wouldn't be afraid (and clearly I could never have said that ten years ago). And above all a life with Remi, because after that coffee we never left each other.
We've been friends for almost ten years now, and this conversation about HIV has never stopped: the changes in treatment, the ups and downs, the relief when his doctor made him test a new drug that didn't make him sick anymore, the satisfaction every year when he learns that his tests are all good, the big assholes who hurt him, the great loves that light up his heart...
And then, almost three years ago, Remi decided to tell a few friends, including me, how he had caught the virus. We knew the story, but there was one "detail" that he had never told us: with this guy, he had not consented. I remember understanding that evening how hard Remi must have judged himself, to the point of being afraid that even his closest friends might judge him. Anyway, Remi had decided at that moment that he couldn't function like that anymore, that these taboos were making him too unhappy, and that he had to get it all out. That's why he wanted to talk to us about it, it might seem late, but it's never too late.
A year later, there was one disappointment in love too many, another jerk who had a shitty reaction when Remi told him about his HIV status. And that drop of water finally broke the huge vase that Remi had been carrying for years. And Remi decided to write this blog. And by pouring all the water from this vase on the Internet, he freed himself from a huge weight, but I also think that he quenched the thirst of many people who needed to read this, to understand that they are not alone, but also to understand what it is to be HIV-positive.
So bravo, and thank you Remi. You can be proud of yourself, at least I am!