Alon Madar, 35, is a sociology student, of Yemenite background, gay, father and HIV positive. He came back to Israel after spending 11 years in New York, where he discovered his HIV status. When he returned to Israel, he was struck by the difference in the societal perception of the disease between the two countries, so he established a new blog to bridge the gap and bring to Israeli society a better perception of the disease and of those with HIV.
“I have been living with HIV for over a decade,” Alon writes. “It is interesting that it’s the first detail I choose to reveal about myself, that I am HIV positive and what my status is. There is something empowering in this sentence, now that I think about it.”
“To say I’m HIV positive was never a problem for me and I never felt that I should be ashamed of myself or my medical status. Four years ago, when I started working in the field of HIV / AIDS in Israel, my status would not have come up in conversations with new people unless there was a good reason for it. After all, this is a particularly personal detail (admitting one has HIV is like to introducing you to one’s bedroom).
When the subject came up in conversation, I was interested to see how people reacted to me and this particular sharing. In most cases, it opened an interesting conversation that allowed me to talk about HIV / AIDS at eye level between two people-not between a man and a virus. The more I talked about my HIV status, the more I discovered that what they say all the time- – keep it to yourself, people will move away from you, you won’t have a relationship or you’ll get fired from work- – all of it is far from the reality that I have personally experienced. The more I talked and shared with people, the closer they’ve become with me. As if something in the openness and lack of fear of being who I am and how I present myself to the world appealed to those around me and brought them closer to me. That’s why I started working in the Israeli AIDS Task Force.
I started working at the social service center for the HIV+ community at the Israeli AIDS Task Force, and got to meet a wide range of Israelis, from all types and ways of life. I was exposed to other stories about living with HIV / AIDS, less optimistic stories than mine, and people who’ve had more difficult times. Stories of discrimination, alienation and pain. My message to the positive community has been and remains that our lives can be different, better, and with fewer barriers that result from living with the virus.
This message led me to make a move, and in collaboration with GSK, Department of Visual Communication at Shenkar Design School and the Israeli society for AIDS medicine, I curated the exhibition “State of the ART: a masterpiece.” The exhibition combines the work of Israelis living with HIV / AIDS who are opening a window into their intimate and painful world, at times dealing with a disease shrouded in stigma. On the other hand, the exhibition presents works by the students of the Visual Communication Department at Shenkar who are involved in HIV / AIDS as it “looks from the outside.”
I find that life with HIV / AIDS is similar no matter where you live. What is different is who lives this life. In other words, I am the one who decides how the virus will affect my life and not the opposite. I believe that every one of us can change the world we live in. With all the madness that surrounds us in the world and specifically in Israel – there are still people and communities that change the reality in which they live and make it better. How? You roll up your sleeves, fold your pants to the knee and wallowing in the shit called “our lives,” we clear out anything that prevents us from being the best version of us. I have nothing different from those around me, but I have a strong belief that I have the ability to influence the society in which I live. And you should too.”