He called me an evangelist. I didn’t know if that was an insult or a compliment. Either way- it stuck. Followed me around and crept up when I was thinking, when I was talking, when I was listening. I wanted to understand what he meant. I wanted to know if he understood. Or if this box he had put me in was how he was forever going to relate. Never going to actually listen, but instead focus on labelling me and building this box that in the end I felt caged me in.
When you start talking about sexuality- sexual and reproductive health rights, sexual orientation, survival sex, sex work, women and sex, anything to do with sex a box starts to build around you. A label is bandied across and latches itself onto you. A label that stings, a label much worse than ‘evangelist.’ In cultures where women and girls should not talk about sex, talking about sex becomes shaky ground to walk on. Breaking the silence to talk about taboo issues, well, you might become taboo yourself.
When it comes to HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers are climbing, and march along a gendered path that is impossible to ignore. Women and girls account for 60% of HIV infections and young women are there times more likely to be infected with HIV than men.
But because the most common form of transmission is sexual, because it involves the s word, no one wants to frankly discuss it. While some progress is made, condoms are dished out and the billboards go up that say get tested, stay safe. No one wants to say that the ABC approach is not enough. It needs to go deeper than that. No one wants to bring up why the female condom still costs much more and is less available than the male condom. No one wants to address the haunting stigma that comes when a woman wants to take control of her sexuality. Because bringing this up is hard. Because of labels like: promiscuous, wild, untamed, sinful. Throw in religion and culture and you have a pot of politics that works hard to silence discussion, to tame the ‘wild’, to cleanse the ‘sinful’.
But you see Pulsewire lets you beat your own drum, lets you unwrap the labels foisted on you and speak from the depths. It this drumming that I choose to respond to.
Last week I read a blogging series on sexuality and stigma. Women came out and told their stories. Stories that involved sex, vulnerability, oppression - the ability to rise and survive. This is the spirit of online communities and Pulsewire that let women tell their story, pen their pain and challenge the labels. I am inspired by the resilient women courageously and unabashedly talking about sex and all that comes with it; working tirelessly to fight the HIV crisis to take control, assert and negotiate - without a label, without the box.