Posted September 8, 2014 by

Blog#45 Mo-Monday

"Hey, where did everybody go I am wondering to myself? I didn't do anything wrong! So, why am I being blinded by megawattage of lightsglaring me in the face?" I felt like a deer in headlights with nowhere to run......

This is my first time speaking at Mo -Mondays. Apparently this is a regular occurrenceat this bar. A chance for individuals to get up and motivate people by sharing their stories of survival whether it is cancer, abuse, trauma, overcoming adversity or, like myself, surviving and thriving with HIV. Everyone is welcome here. The host and audience are very supportive and non-judgmental.

So on this night I am patiently waiting with my sis Beth and my best bud (who have come for moral support) for my cue to get on stage. I have seen the previous speakers struggling and commenting on the intense stage lights and my fears have escalated ten- fold. No podium- I am not comfortable having to jostle my notes, water, and microphone as well, "Oh dear!"

Palms are sweaty, knees are knocking, heart is pounding, "Please, please don't let me trip on the way up the couple of steps to the stage!" I would be mortified!

Okay I have counted down the speakers, made a few nervous trips to the bathroom, tweaked my hair several times, checked for spinach in my teeth, then remembered I never had spinach after all! I see the hosts lips are moving and I vaguely remember hearing my name. Cautiously I make my way up onto the stage, set my notes on the bar stool provided and I turn to face the audience ......and it happens! They're nowhere to be found!!!! "Now what?" I try to look up and over the glaring lights, I try to look under, "Oh no!" How do I talk to an audience that seems to have disappeared into thin air? I know they're there because I can hear a slight murmuring.

Deep I reminded myself why I am here. I had been asked by the AIDS Committee of Guelph to address the issue of stigma as a part of AIDS Awareness week 2013. I have been given a unique opportunity to share my experiences about this ever present affliction called stigma.

Sharing a bit about myself, who I am and who I have become since HIV entered my life. I then launched into stories of how I experienced stigma, discrimination and even rejection. So when I heard th einvisible crowd chuckle in the appropriate spots and gentle laughter at my cocky attitude I felt my whole body suddenly relax. So much so that Beth said you could literallyhear it in my voice. I shared with my people have made assumptions about who infected who in my relationship, when I don't even know the answer myself! When I had an ulcer in my mouth and went to the emergency and tried to convince the Dr. that I was positive and in excruciating pain, he in turn thought that I was a drug addict because of my extreme weight loss- weighing only 89 lbs.

I explained having lost friendships on disclosing our status, about discrimination and ignorance, about how a HIV positive friend and I were confronted at a Conference in Toronto. As we are returning to our room in the elevator we came upon an elderly couple. The woman, on noticing our badges and red ribbons, commented, "You’re not with those people, are you?"

“What people?” my friend asks.

"Those AIDS people!",the woman blurts out. 

"Well yes we are” my friend says with no shame! 

"And they put you up in here?", asks the woman. She iso bviously shocked! OMG! Did she actually think we were contagious?

I went on to enlighten my audience on dating dilemmas. For example, how one time after leaving a bar from a blind date I noticed a placard in the back window of his truck that read...."Beware my pit bull has AIDS!”. Looks like I dodged a bullet on that one. So after all is said and done I descend the steps to open arms of support. My heart is over- joyed. All I kept thinking was, "Wow what anincredible experience!” in this setting much like Yuk Yuks or the comedy club. After many hugs I am finally able to take a deep breath and relax. Even though there are many stories of stigma and adversity, I hope that I have been able to at least shed a little light on this hindering issue that is still rampant in 2013.Thanks to the folks at Mo Mondays and A.C.G. for letting me vent, share and shine.CM