White. Privilege. If you didn’t think it could seep into health care and health care outcomes…think again. Yes, I am aware of it. Yes, I try to use my role to combat it and call it out when I see it. Yes, healthcare is a flawed system despite the best intentions of service providers and administrators. It’s out there, and we cannot deny it or simply look the other way. I think my presentation as a white, well-educated, middle class woman over the age of 30 actually delayed my diagnosis because I was perceived as a “low risk” group because statistically, those newly contracting HIV don’t look like me. They are predominantly young men who have sex with men and those of trans-experience. The risks are even higher for these two groups if they are people of color (Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino). So, to start with, it is important to point out that it’s not because these communities are doing anything that a White or Asian heterosexual person hasn’t also done; it’s simply because the presence of HIV is so much higher in these communities that an exposure (and subsequent infection) is much more likely to happen.
However, despite a delayed diagnosis, I have had the privilege of being someone that service providers could identify with—I look like them, I speak like them, and for some, we even went to the same schools. I know medical terminology, I have the “lingo” that politicians, administrators, and government employees speak, and because I look like most of them (Yes, the majority of people in power are still white despite what the Conservative media may be telling you), I am relatable. I have always had access to high quality health care, and even when I was uninsured, I knew how to navigate the complicated systems to secure health insurance. That isn’t to say that I haven’t had awful problems accessing my medication—there have been tears, fears, and anger over it—but that’s an entirely different post for a different month. It’s that I have the skill set to raise hell in a way that people understand. There is power in knowing the system and the system cutting you a little more slack because they can empathize and identify with you. That is because I was infected because my partner was having an affair, and not because I was gay or a sex worker or a drug user, I am somewhere a little higher on the acceptable hierarchy of HIV infection. What does all this mean in the long run? How do I promote change and align myself with those who are experts in their own community without putting my experience and expectations on others? What do I do when my privilege comes up and there isn’t an easy solution to change power structures and financial realities? I don’t have the answer to all of these questions, but I’m going to try. And while I’m doing it, I’m going to continue to be a force to be reckoned with on behalf of my entire community of people living with HIV.