Thursday, February 19, 2009

the stigma, a la edwin cameron

If you ever have the chance to share a space with Edwin Cameron, grab it. A recently appointed constitutional court judge and awardwinning author (Witness to Aids, 2006 co-winner of the Sunday Times Alan Paton award for non-fiction, he was the main guest speaker of the Drama for Life 2009 launch at Wits University this evening.

And he gave me a wake-up call. Last night I was privately moaning about how humiliated I would feel walking around with no hair (hat or no hat), and then I heard Cameron speak tonight.

Tall, dignified in a black suit with sparklingly polished black shoes, thin and with the bony face of someone on anti-retrovirals, he provided the best drama of the night. Do you know anyone who had died of Aids? If so, put up your hand and let's salute them. Do you know anyone living with Aids now?" Once again almost everyone present raised their hand. "Let's salute them," he said.

Then he spoke about the biggest problem of Aids in South Africa being the stigma - the revulsion and self-hate that people feel about Aids. He spoke about how he too felt it, for years, working in human rights law and with other such lefties (he never used that word). Yet he never dared tell them of his status because of the stigma. He spoke about how he nearly died and then he went onto anti-retrovirals and for the past 11 years has been fine. He spoke about how Aids is a manageable disease once you get the dose right, more manageable than diabetes and high blood pressure which have to be constantly checked and the dose adjusted. And as he spoke I felt as if he were talking directly to me, me with the cap 'cos of the increasing yet slow hair loss who had spent the night before upset 'cos of how embarrassed I would be walking around obviously with no hair, how humiliated I would feel, how people would stare and pity me and I felt revitalised.

To use Cameron's words as he addressed the Drama for Life students from 10 African countries, saying how many of those places persecuted gays. Tell them to "get over it" he said.

Like I too must "get over it", get over this self-pitying phobia about my temporary hair loss.

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