Alden Boon

‘Follow the Science. A Person Living with HIV Who Stays Virally Suppressed Poses No Risk of Transmission.’: Calvin Tan



The Undetectable = Untransmittable Movement

That said, the law needs a new clause. ‘An HIV-positive person must disclose his or her status to a sexual partner of the risk of HIV transmission’ — the operative word here is ‘risk’. As someone whose viral load is suppressed, and as someone who undergoes testing every six months to ensure I stay that way, I pose no risk. So why do I have to disclose my status? Every time I’m made to do so, it reopens old wounds: I am made to relive my own trauma. It’s different from my advocacy works, where I willingly share about my experience; here I am forced to do so under penalty of incarceration. And what do you think my partner’s reaction would be — that he accepts me with open arms? No, (unnecessary) panic suffuses him. I am immediately shunned. ‘Let’s just be friends’ he would say, and then I’ll never hear from him again. It’s a flat-out rejection. I am not Calvin who adores the music of Adele and Lady Gaga, or Calvin with a soft spot for pigeons. I am simply HIV-positive Calvin, and I am no more than this disease.

Detractors will say that this is self-serving. But updating Section 23(1) of the IDA to stipulate that persons living with HIV who have proofs of suppressed viral loads need not disclose their statuses would be a giant step forward in changing the negative judgements society has towards us. I have been called ‘a sexual deviant’ by others. Mind you, even members of the gay community are not in my corner: they spin the narrative that I am an unfaithful person, a troublemaker who by way of not disclosing his status is intentionally causing harm to others. While yes, actions have consequences, and I’m living with mine, but I don’t deserve to have malicious lies spread about me, to have my name dragged through the mud by fearmongering gossipers. Living with HIV is not easy; it takes a lot out of a person. The gossiping only aggravates matters: it induces mental distress not just in me. I chose to divulge my HIV status to the world because my desire to make my community better is more important than my own interests and pursuits. There are thousands of others — heterosexual and homosexual males and females — in Singapore who are keeping their HIV statuses secret, for fear of losing their jobs or ostracisation. When they read the malicious comments hurled at me or other persons who are openly living with HIV, they become even more afraid their own lives would be upended. And many of us are good people, productive citizens who have contracted HIV. Not only will the update to Section 23(1) of the IDA help reduce the stigma, but it also gives even more persons with HIV a reason to choose and stay on treatment. And that is how we can effectively stem the transmission of HIV.

Today, I work as a Programme Coordinator at Action for AIDS Singapore (AfA), whose goal is to end HIV transmission and AIDS in Singapore by 2030. How do we get there? First, through destigmatising sex and STDs. We as a society have got to remove the lens with which we view sex and STDs. As long as sex is viewed as a taboo, so will all its associations. We need to remove this perception, because only then will regular testing be normalised. So many sexually active adults who experience symptoms eschew testing altogether out of fear and shame, and I say to them: ‘Isn’t it better to know what you have, so you can do something about it? And you won’t cause harm to others unwittingly?’ It is only when every individual is responsible that we can prevent STDs from becoming an epidemic. Contrary to popular beliefs, STD treatments are highly affordable: a penicillin shot for syphilis is about ten dollars, and treatments for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are priced about a third of that.

I may take my condition in stride, but it certainly wasn’t an easy road getting to this juncture. To other persons living with HIV who feel ashamed, or those who are reeling from the shock of receiving a diagnosis, know this: you existed before your diagnosis, and you will exist after it. You are not HIV. You are not alone. You made a choice — a choice and not a mistake — which led to repercussions you now have to bear. You have got to own that choice. That choice however does not define who you are as a person. Take the time you need to overcome any feelings of shame, and then move on and take the next step forward. Get treatment, take care of yourself. The way I see it is that I take my medications as a means of taking care of myself. My medications give me a chance to be healthier, to lead a fulfilling life. And you deserve this chance too.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.