As a millennial gay man, I live in an era when HIV no longer seems to be as lethal as it first started plaguing this world. We learn about new ways to prevent the spread of the virus periodically, and we seem to be getting ever closer toward owning the cure that can perhaps eradicate the virus once and for all. However, absurd beliefs in protecting gay men from HIV still exist in many culture and some parts of the world. In some cases, including my own, they are suggestions from concerned parents who desperately want their kids to stay away from the virus. But their intense reaction often creates unnecessary misunderstandings and barriers between them and us.
In a previous op-ed written for The Advocate, I detailed my coming out process and how that creates tension between me and my parents. From then on, topics about my sexuality became a taboo at our household, at least between me and my parents. We respected each other enough that we didn’t mention a word about it for months until this March. On the eve before I joined the military, my dad invited me to sit down for a serious conversation. While I was wondering what the conversation might be about, I could tell from his serious manner that it had something to do with my sexuality. He proceeded by asking how had I been dealing with my own sexuality “issues,” and then he told me how much they were still bothered by simply trying to talk about it among themselves. He went on to tell me the last thing he and my mom wanted to see was me being in a romantic relationship with a guy because they believed that increases my possibility of contracting HIV. While he kept explaining how hard they knew it was for me, I couldn’t stop wondering how much had they fallen victim to the stigmatic ideology surrounding both homosexuality and HIV from their era.
To them, any romantic or sexual combination of two men will automatically increase the risk of them becoming HIV positive. Naturally, they believe that for me to remain single and to avoid being romantically engage with other gay men are the best protection against HIV. What they fail to do is trying to gain more direct understanding about the LGBT culture and the latest medical development about HIV. They choose to apply their decades-old understanding of the LGBT community and HIV to the current situation, which eventually becomes the barrier between them and me. As parents, their concerns are often stemmed from the nurturing nature, but that often prevents them from putting themselves in our shoes. Their concerns often limit their perspective to view things, and sometimes push them into an unbreakable deadlock.
While I know it is important to defend my right to love and be loved, I never give up the hope of changing my parents’ views about HIV and homosexuality. But just like the fight to end HIV stigma, this should be handled slowly and with extra care. Change never comes without a fight, and to bring them from one end of the spectrum to another requires lots of patience and dedication.