R U CLEAN?! (Spoken Word)

It’s a bright and sunny summer’s day
I’m home alone – the husband’s away
And I’m running a list
Of the things I could do
Maybe meet up with friends
Have a drink or two?

I reach for my phone

And there it is sitting so innocently on the screen
The root of all evil… a procrastinator’s dream
That familiar orange and black icon

Well, it’d be rude not to at least see who was online!

Thirty minutes later
And I’m still browsing through profiles

Then, all of a sudden, that familiar sound
My interest piqued – senses abound
Could it be I’d received something more than a ‘tap’
Like a well-written message from an interesting chap?

Deftly switching from profiles to inbox
…It was a message!

That’s what it said
That’s exactly how the message read

Disgusted to get something quite so absurd
Both the question itself and the poor choice of words
In anger, I’d started to message him back
To tear off a strip and to launch an attack

I paused, took a breath, and changed my reply…

Well, I do like to have a good wash before I meet…
Even the tricky bits!

Then it came…

Don’t be smart. You know what I mean.
Have you got HIV or are you still clean?

Of course, I already knew what he’d meant
And his arsy reply further marked the extent
Of his ignorant manner – so loaded with hate
The perfect example to demonstrate
That though times have changed and the risks aren’t the same
Some people still can’t get it into their brain
That the problem lies not within HIV
But with those who lack knowledge – unable to see
All the wonderful ways of protecting oneself
From onward transmission and to stay in good health
Yet only too often I’m left stunned and aghast
By these people whose minds are still stuck in the past

Would it matter either way? I ask, with a curious mind
Intrigued that his thinking was still so far behind

Ah, so that’s a yes then! – Comes this fella’s retort
Like he’s figured me out with no facts to support
His misguided deductions – an imperfect fit
So I leapt on the chance to school him a bit

Not necessarily…

But if I had HIV I’d most likely be treated
With a viral load that’s then so much depleted
That it’s deemed undetectable on results of a test
No longer infectious – protecting the rest
And if there are doubts that my words aren’t quite true
Then check the campaign labelled U=U

On the flip side though, if I made it quite clear
That I’ve no HIV and you’ve nothing to fear
Would that declaration then shape your behaviour
On trusting my word – oh, do me a favour!
With just how much faith could you rate my disclosure
Or then would you ask about recent exposure?
Surely it’s better to not be misled
And concern yourself more with your own health instead?

But there’s one or two things that that I want to advise
Like, first, to get tested – and then once you’re sure
Of your negative status right through to the core
Then start using condoms or utilise PrEP
But think a bit harder and do watch your step
As messaging people to ask if they’re clean
Is downright disgusting and frankly obscene

I’m sure your intentions were not to cause pain
But words can be hurtful and wound just the same
And the impact on others with what you’re suggesting
Could reinforce stigma and prevent them from testing
So, for those who are wondering how did it all end
Did he still want to play… did I make a new friend?

Well, the simple truth is… no, he blocked me!

But maybe one day he’ll take time to think back
To our message exchange and my gentle attack
He’ll finally get what I’m trying to say
Reflect on my words and alter his ways
But then, even if he continues to be
So blinded to knowledge about HIV
I’m proud that I tried to make him see sense
And take him to task without the pretence
I hope you would too, if ever you’re asked
Let’s make HIV stigma a thing of the past

Aiden Bex