Source: Yıldız Tar, “HIV+ Bir Eşcinselin Hikayesi: Önce Acıyor, Sonra Kaçıyorlar,” (“The Story of an HIV Positive Gay Man: At First They Show Compassion, Then They Flee,”) kaosGL.org, 24 February 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=15889
Hasan Atik: As someone living with HIV, you are exposed to discrimination everywhere. They do not even want to pull my teeth. At first, people show compassion, then they run away, treating me like I am a monster.
HIV is a virus that makes your immune system deficient. If a person develops a serious infection due to having HIV, or if the immune system’s cells, which can be measured by blood tests, are highly depleted, then this can be classified as AIDS.
We spoke with Hasan Atik who has been living with HIV, something we know very little about, but everyone often talks about a lot. He spoke about the the difficulties of being HIV positive and gay: “HIV is a disease wrongly attributed to only gay people. It makes me sad to be the person who confirms this (stereotype).”
His story is one of segregation in every place, be it the law, health or social relationships. “The goal is to protect the other person from us. This is “othering” us. The situation – where we are already a monster in the eyes of the public – becomes worse.
Let us begin with the fact that you are person living with HIV in Turkey. What type of difficulties are you facing?
You are exposed to every type of discrimination – even the simplest of things. For example, a few days ago I went to the dentist to get my wisdom teeth removed. They did not remove my teeth, telling me a bunch of lies. The doctors were constantly speaking about me with each other. They did not even want to take an X-ray. While I was waiting in the waiting room, I heard the nurses speak about me. They were speaking in loud voices so I would hear and leave. In terms of health services and personal communication, we are exposed to an inordinate amount of discrimination.
In public and with personal communication, what types of problems are you facing?
Generally, when I first explain my situation, people feel compassion for me, then they flee. My friends who are closest to me know about my disease, but when I meet new people and tell them about it, at first they feel sorry. They say, “get well soon.” This is the phrase I hate the most, because we are talking about something from which I cannot get well. Suddenly, work comes up and they go far away.
I guess, we can talk about double stigmatization since you are both gay and HIV positive…
HIV is a disease wrongly attributed to only gay people. I am sad to confirm this stereotype. Also, other gay people might say “I will not catch it. These things do not happen to me. You are sick, stay away from me.” There is a lack of awareness about how the disease spreads. In fact, when I explain that they may be HIV positive, that they need to be tested, or how the disease spreads, they blame me, insult me and run away.
I am saying this as a person who is HIV-positive. Even if I cannot destroy the disease, I am reducing the chances of spreading it by seeking treatment. Additionally, I am protecting myself, so I cannot spread it anyway. What is important is, there is a possibility of contracting HIV from someone who does not know whether or not they are a carrier. When I explain this, people treat me like I am a monster.
Actually, the possibility of transferring HIV to someone goes down a lot if you use a condom. As long as you use protection, you are not forced to tell someone you are in a sexual relationship with that you have HIV.
In terms of the law, I have to say something. I have to tell this to every person with whom I have a relationship. If someone contracts the disease from me accidentally, I will be tried for “fully attempting to murder a man.” In Turkey, because there is no HIV/AIDS law, there are harsh sanctions. I am forced to tell. In the Constitution, I have the guaranteed right to not share my medical information if I do not want to. On the other hand, the laws, by preventing me from using my constitutional rights, force me to tell my medical history. I feel like I have to tell that I have HIV, at least morally. Due to this, it cannot be said that I am forming too many social relationships.
We are coming across regulations prepared in the fields of health, law, etc, which have been made without considering HIV-positive people whose lives are affected. It seems like these regulations are prepared in order to “protect” others from HIV-positive people, not from HIV itself. What do you think about this?
It is absolutely like this. The way these laws are implemented are completely in line with discrimination. The simplest explanation is, when you apply to get married, they want a document from you that shows you are “healthy.” In order to get married, one is being forced to give health information. The goal is to protect people from us. This is also marginalizing us. We are already a monster in the eyes of the people, and this is adding to the problem.
Are you continuing your treatment under social security? Is this process not a big financial burden?
As long as you have insurance or social security, there is no financial burden from the tests, hospital stays or medication. However, if you do not have insurance, then you have to spend a lot of money on treatment. In Turkey, there are a great number of HIV positive people who do not have insurance and are not able to seek treatment.
Where are we in the fight against discrimination for people living with HIV?
As far as I know, there is only the Positive Life Association. They are doing really great work. For example, if you go to any infection clinic in Turkey they will know Positive Life. Do not be afraid of contacting Positive Life. They greet you incredibly warmly. They reply immediately, even to the smallest email.
Anything else you want to add…
I will repeat myself, but if you have an active sex life, and even if you use protection, you should have a simple blood test every six months, and having this test will protect both you and your partner. You are able to have these tests under the Social Security Administration (SGK) at state hospitals. There is no need to fear your identity being revealed. It is mandatory to report your medical status to the Health Ministry, however, they collect only statistical information, like your initials, year of birth and gender.