Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with the most deadly virus to appear in my lifetime. No, I’m not talking about swine flu; I’m referring to HIV. I wrote about HIV and AIDS as early as 1984, when I was a high school kid and as recently as 2007, when I wrote about teaching kids about AIDS from the perspective of a parent.
That’s why this week, it is my distinct honor to be featuring a blogger who is HIV positive on the Blog of the Week segment on WCAV CBS-19. Shawn Decker was diagnosed HIV positive when he was just eleven years old. He’s used his “pet virus” to spread a message of sexual health and wellness with humor and frankness that I admire. Shawn and his wife, Gwenn, use their blog to raise awareness about what it’s like to live as a person who is HIV positive, to educate others about the virus and to reduce discrimination against those living with HIV.
I only get about three minutes on TV to share a bit about the featured blogger, so this week I’m sharing a bit of my online conversation with Shawn, in addition to the video below, because I think you’ll find it interesting, too.
MJ: When did you start blogging?
Shawn: I started blogging in 1996, shortly after posting my first web site. Back then, we called it “online journaling”.
MJ: Is the blog also to promote the book, or is it more about creating an online community of people who are HIV-positive?
Shawn: The blog has been around so much longer than the book and, really, I have to credit blogging for helping me develop as a writer. I didn’t even know I enjoyed writing until I decided to open up about HIV, and the quickest way to disclose was to splash it on the internet.
MJ: How has AIDS awareness changed since you were a kid, and first diagnosed?
Shawn: AIDS awareness has changed so vastly. When I was diagnosed in 1987, the word was out: it was everywhere. But there was no hope in the prevention message for those already living with the virus, which is one of the reasons for my light-hearted way in how I present myself as a person living with HIV. I never want someone who is HIV positive to be bummed out after reading my blog, and I think the humorous way that I write gets people who wouldn’t normally be receptive to AIDS awareness interested in the topic.
MJ: What do you hope to achieve with blogging?
Shawn: I think it helps me stay sharp, mentally. Of course, I love showing what it is like living with HIV and a sense of humor. At this point, I’ve lived two-thirds of my life with the virus. The best is when those who are newly diagnosed send me a message of praise- I used to worry that the humor might be too much for people to deal with. Now I’m completely comfortable just being myself on the blog.
MJ: What do you think blogging can do to help fight discrimination?
Shawn: Sharing past experiences with discrimination, and the little things that still happen from time to time, makes people aware that there is a reason why some people choose not to disclose their status in this day and age. The great thing about a blog is that anyone with a computer can access your story. It’s a great opportunity to open eyes and change opinions about those living with HIV.
MJ: Who is reading your blog, and who do you hope to reach?
Shawn: A community of friends, strangers and people who I have spoken to via my educational speaking at colleges keep tabs on the blog, as well as readers of my column in Poz magazine and those who have enjoyed My Pet Virus. Also, people with a twisted sense of humor seem to love the blog, and that has nothing to do with my virus- I really enjoy that.
And now . . . for this week’s video segment. Enjoy!