A year ago I was still afraid.
Terrified of showing my face. Of getting anywhere near the dreaded three letters; H.I.V. I didn’t attend my own exhibitions. I asked for my voice to be distorted on radio interviews. To what effect?
This fear I lived ended up endorsing the Stigmas that HIV carries. In hindsight my hiding seems so fucking ridiculous now. I know it was necessary – I needed this process, this reflection, this time and this experience.
But fear is always a choice. And I allowed it to dominate my life – until I noticed that my writing and art was a process that would liberate and heal me. My work started having an effect – on me and my surroundings. I received incredible feedback. Admiration, positive reviews, an award and even a love letter. It made me meet the most fascinating and inspiring people. It boosted confidence and became a source of energy.
Of course I also received lots of hate and death wishes. Ignorance on the web is abundant – at first shocking, then actually quite amusing and, ironically, I took pride in it. I find it almost honorable when misinformed and angry people take the time to send me hate-mail, or become aggravated because of one of my articles. I thought I must be doing something right.
And while at first, HIV transformed my life into a horrific fear-based experience, I managed to turn the tables, finding new strengths because of it. I decided to turn HIV into an ugly little superpower. To live in a strange symbiotic relationship with this deadly entity inside of me.
Without medication I would have most likely died of an AIDS-related illness in 2019. This is the most beautiful knowledge I possess, for it fills me with a sense humility and gratitude I would never otherwise have experienced.
Today I travel, I fuck, I love, I live, I dance and I enjoy in ways I never have before. My confrontation with HIV, my own death and the restrictions it has forced upon me has opened up an endless chasm of joy and pleasure.
I have chosen to conquer fear and to embrace life to its fullest – Proud, Authentic, Defiant. Because what else is there to do? Pity myself? Victimise? Whine? That’s simply not an option.
So why the other name, you coward?
Despite all of this, I prefer working under my artists name. My real name can be found every now and again in my articles. But I am still a photographer with clients in completely different lines of work. I want to separate these entities. When my clients research me as a photographer, I don’t really need them to see my penis, know of my sex-life or find out all these intimate details. My photography work should be judged on its own.
And eventually there will come a day when I’m sick of this topic. When I don’t want to talk about HIV, when I want my peace. I want the privilege of retreat. The ability to say “fuck off and leave me alone for a while”. Because despite showing my HIV fuelled challenges very openly, I also deserve some privacy. As everyone does.
My real name is Christopher Philipp Klettermayer. But I go by the name of Philipp Spiegel.