Staying Positive: Gay and HIV+ in Tunisia
Homosexuality and AIDS are both taboo in Tunisia, and to be both gay and HIV positive there is to live at risk of a double burden of bias. But as with any other place in the world, a positive mentality can be key to a fulfilled life.
In a profile about a Tunisian man identified only as "Karim," Reuters.com reported on being gay and living with HIV in the North African nation.
Karim’s key to life, the article said, lies with acceptance and living in the here and now. Reuters.com quoted Karim as saying, "Personally, I accept the illness."
Added Karim, "I consider the virus my little baby. Together, we make up the same person."
When he first learned of his HIV status, Karim’s outlook was not immediately so serene. In 2005, after returning from France where he was involved with a man for eight years, Karim thought he had the flu.
"But my health kept worsening and analysis showed I had AIDS," recounted Karim.
Added Karim, "A person who was so important to me had infected me."
Though he later learned acceptance, "At the beginning, I was furious," Karim said. "I hated everything."
Karim went on, "But afterwards, I thought that it’s better to be hopeful than crying."
Added Karim, who now lives with a new, Tunisian partner who is HIV-negative, "I have a principle in my life which says we must make the most of life while we still have its advantages. So, I still enjoy my life. I consider AIDS a flu."
For the moment, however, Karim enjoys good health and protects the health of his partner by engaging in safer sex. "I’m quite good. My health situation is stable."
As for his partner, Karim said, "I was sincere. I told him the truth and he accepted. His attitude really moved me."
Said Karim, "HIV-positives who can’t move, or even walk, are people who refuse the fact that they’re infected with HIV. They suffer because they’re in very low spirits, and not because of the virus."
But Karim does not delude himself. Knowing that the anti-retrovirals are doing their job for now doesn’t leave him feeling that he can ignore the possibility that the virus could end his life, perhaps sooner, perhaps later.
In the meantime, the Reuters article said, Karim concentrates on the present.
Said Karim, "I can’t do long-term projects. I can’t even plan for the summer holidays. I think just about what I can do in the next week and enjoy the moment."
Current estimates indicate that not quite 1,500 people in that country are living with HIV, with 70 people annually contracting the virus.
But fear of the disease is much more prevalent than the virus itself. Said Karim, "To live in Tunisia, people infected with HIV have to lie and never say they suffer from AIDS."
Said Karim, "I hate the Tunisian way of thinking... they still think they can be infected via the air."
That informs who Karim can be open with. "I told my boss, because he’s French," Karim said, adding, "If I told a Tunisian about that he’d have a cardiac arrest."