By Ruaidhri O’Baoill | @RuaidhriOB

In the beginning, the very idea that the term HIV-positive and I would be included in the same sentence was a bit of a mind-fuck. 

It took me a good few months before I was at ease with saying it out loud not only to my family and friends but also to myself. Thankfully I have reached a point where now it has pretty much become second nature and I have welcomed the addition to my vocabulary. However the same does not apply to the term ‘poz’. 

When I hear anyone saying it or see it online in any form I get offended and truly pissed off!  Although hate is a strong word it isn’t anywhere near enough for how much I feel about being referred to, or anyone else for that matter, as being ‘poz’.

From my experience, the majority of times I came across the term was on Grindr or Scruff. These soulless apps allow us to hide behind a screen and pretty much say anything we want. Over the past few years, it has somehow become an acceptable term we use to communicate with each other so I can understand why most of those who use the word don’t see it as offensive, but I do. 

For me it undermines those who live with HIV as well as highlighting the naivety of those who use it. Being HIV-positive comes with a lot more than the term ‘poz’ exhibits. Being HIV-positive demands that we have a full-on life revaluation and the confidence to fight back against the virus as well as the stigma that is unfairly offloaded on to us. When I hear someone saying the word ‘poz’ all I hear is stigma shouting back at me. It feels dismissive as it allows some guys to use it as a barrier to keep a distance between HIV and themselves.

In my opinion it allows and encourages those living with HIV to be more resigned as ‘diseased’ and/or ‘not clean’. Even the word doesn’t sound nice when you say it. It sounds dirty and vulgar and it makes me squirm. I was telling my friend that I was writing this article and every time I mentioned ‘poz’ I needed to take a pause beforehand just to get it out. I felt I was betraying myself by even saying it. You definitely know that something makes you angry because your hand clenches into a fist without you controlling it. 

With increased visibility of HIV in our community and the public domain I know that this will, over a period of time, reduce fear and stigma, but I am not behind ‘poz’ being included in this. It is an abbreviation or slang term and I’m not a fan of that. I don’t understand why many consider the word HIV-positive ‘too long’ to write.  Through the social dating apps, we have become a community that wants it now and wants it quick. Shortening words can help us achieve that, but it comes across as incredibly lazy. ‘Masc Btm 4 fun now’: these shortened terms make us sound like objects. Honestly we are much more than this.   

We are human beings who are far more complex and diverse than these labels will ever show. Speaking of social dating apps, the term ‘poz’ has also found itself sharing the company with our other gay sub-groups.

Amongst bear, twink and jock you will also find ‘poz’. I can understand that its original purpose was to connect those living with HIV to share their experiences but the lines between this and sexualising HIV are becoming increasingly blurred. The longer we, the HIV-positive gay community allows ‘poz’ to be associated with the other groups increases the risk of it becoming subconsciously seen as a group to be attracted to and lusted after. 

If I’m honest, there is a part of me that is actually quite scared of the term itself. I understand that this will probably divide opinion and that it is perhaps more of a personal opinion than anything, but I worry that if others see me using the term, it can portray a certain image. An image that would suggest I don’t realise or appreciate the possible health implications of having HIV or that I have been reck-less with my life.    

Although I am all for owning my status and encouraging others to as well, I think there are better terms that we can use to reflect this. This brings me on to what we say instead? How should we refer to each other and those living with HIV?

I suppose I can’t answer that as everyone has their own personal way of expressing themselves but I do feel that we shouldn’t shy away from saying “I’m HIV-positive”. At the end of the day, that term says it exactly how it is and the more we own it the more we can change the world! There is no shame in being HIV-positive.

Ruaidhri was diagnosed HIV-positive in August 2014. He’s an HIV activist with a keen interest around stopping stigma within the gay community. In his spare time he likes to stalk Victoria Beckham and run after plastic bags on a windy day.