‘I’m a bit of a unicorn when it comes to HIV,’ laughs artist Philipp Spiegel on being a 30-something straight guy who’s open about his HIV status.
‘At first I was scared about consequences and what people would think. But when I started writing about my experience, a lot of people wrote to me and thanked me. And the more I wrote about it, the more I realised I didn’t need to hide away.
‘Yes, I receive a lot of hate filled comments. But I have turned my HIV diagnosis into something positive… so what do I care what some idiot on the internet thinks about me? I decided to take control of it.
‘I think toxic masculinity is why so many straight men don’t reveal their status as it’s still seen as a ‘gay disease’. That’s one of the things I want to fight to get out of this isolation and loneliness. To get to my current state where I’m proud and positive so to speak. But it’s been a long process.
‘Would I have taken PrEP if I’d known about it and it had been available? Probably not, because I didn’t see myself as in a risk group. I used condoms to prevent pregnancy and that was it. That’s what annoys me about mortality preachers, because everyone practices unsafe sex at some point.
‘I’m very pro-PrEP, because if it had been available in the 1980s and 90s, think how many people’s lives would have been saved.
‘I’ve always loved women – the adventuring photographer. But the thing about HIV is that in the end it served as a vehicle for me to examine my sexuality and take a hard look at myself. Who am I? What do I want? What don’t I want? And accept the sexual being that I am.
‘Sex was always an important source of happiness for me, but not in the way it is now. Now I have a different appreciation for it, that I didn’t have – I used to take it for granted.
‘How I deliver the message about my HIV status is important. If I’m on a date and I tell the girl ‘oh god, I have to tell you something horrible, I’m HIV positive and it’s a really negative thing’ then of course she’s going to think ‘that’s horrible’. But if I present it in the right way then I take away the fear.
‘After so many years of being positive and dating, I have a good feel for people and how they would react. I speak about it very openly to make myself more interesting.
‘Before I was diagnosed I knew very little. On the night I was diagnosed, as a journalist, I found the good sources quickly and acquired a lot of knowledge that night. Which on one hand helped a lot, but on the other hand it was so overwhelming and it would take years before I believed it all.
‘I knew it wasn’t a death sentence anymore – things you pick up from reading the news, that was my awareness of it. So the fact I can have children – that was big news for me. The fact treatment means I can’t pass on HIV – that’s huge.’
Picture by David Arnoldi