What Was the Stigma Around HIV/AIDS Back in the 1980s and Early 1990s?

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So there was this perception among gay men that this was an inevitability, I was going to get HIV and I was probably going to die and I think that frightened a lot of people to death, particularly when they saw celebrities die. [xx] died [xx] famous people were dying and they thought well if they can't find the right doctors and if they can't find a cure, what chance do I have? So I think a lot of gay men went through that period where they thought they were going to get HIV certainly but they were also going to die from it, and I think that brought on a lot of shame and a lot of stigma and you have to understand that stigma was based on the fact that you brought this on yourself, that HIV is a completely preventable disease, but you allowed yourself to get it, and I think that's what led a lot of gay men who suspected they had HIV not to go to their doctor or not to tell anybody because they were in fear and at that time, the gay cancer, that we refer to as kaposi sarcoma which were legions, dark brown legions that appear on the face and sometimes you couldn't hide those.

So now you are marred like the scarlet letter, and everybody knew that person has HIV, and when I first started practicing, I remember going in the local Chelsea neighborhood which is very gaycentric and I remember seeing men suffering lipoatrophy that was lose of fat in their face.

They are also getting fat redistribution like the buffalo hump, very skinny legs, and so these men look like they had HIV and that was completely stigmatizing. You couldn't leave your house now without anybody thinking that person is sick. A lot of men went through that period but they didn't want to lose weight.

Being skinny was perceived as being HIV positive. So that stigma carried on for many many years and not until 1996, when we had the advent of the prodieson inhibitor which is a class of drugs we use to treat HIV and that regiment is called HAART or Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy.

Once we had that, we started converting patients from dying into patients that were chronically ill, and we were just treating them with HAART that, but they're on HAART everyday. They have to take that for the unforeseeable future, and we do know now that was preventing people from dying imminently but still there were side effects and still they were taking many pills multiple times a day.

So again that added to the burden. Now you couldn't go away because you had to bring all this pills with you and you had you going to the airport and they are asking you why you had all this pills, or your find open your medicine cabinet, some of them had been refrigerated, and you don't want your mother to come over and look in your refrigerator.

So it was really embedded in the fabric of your life that you had HIV and you had to embrace it and a lot of men I think just couldn't do that, and they would rather die than have to face that stigma of being identified as HIV positive.