An HIV positive man himself, Zubair Sher Singh Kalsia, takes us through his journey of learning about the life-changing diagnosis and how he has worked towards accepting that part of his life. He also talks to FSOG about his efforts to create awareness about the disease and the people who have supported him on this journey.
1. Let’s get to know you better and understand how do you identify yourself.
I am Zubair Sher Singh Kalsia, I identify as a queer man proudly living with HIV. I often chuckle and say that if ever intersectionality needed a poster boy, it would be me.
1. I come from a mixed ethnic background- Dad coming from the Kalsia royal family and Mum being a proud Tamil Catholic woman.
2. Was given a predominantly Persian name which leads to people assuming my religious or spiritual beliefs
3. I was born prematurely and ended up with an irreversible visual impairment with 9% vision in one eye and about 55% vision in the other
2. Tell us about when you first learned you are HIV+ and how you came to terms with it,
I first got the news about two years ago when routinely getting tested. I had recently been seeing someone and thought it best to get my regular tests done. I have always been a “problem solver” so even with this, my first reaction was “okay, let’s get on treatment and we will figure the rest later”. However, that did come back to bite me in the butt as I completely ignored my emotional well-being. I remember waking up in the middle of the night in tears thinking to myself that there was some kind of poison in me to the extent that I refrained from self-pleasure for months. Eventually, I learned to come to terms with the diagnosis. I learned to change my perspective on HIV and actually treated it as a blessing in disguise. I know it sounds crazy, but HIV taught me to truly love myself and be honest with the relationships in my life. It also now energizes me to put good out in the world and stand up for myself.
3. Let’s come to your support system. Who is your biggest supporter today and why?
I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends that see beyond the diagnosis. They still call me out on my shit and love me unconditionally. That for me has been a big support and also a driver to do more when it comes to spreading awareness around HIV
4. Do your parents know of your diagnosis yet? If yes, what has been their reaction?
I told my parents a few days after I was diagnosed. I have been very open when it comes to my sexuality so this too was a no brainer for me. They try their best to understand things and care for me. I wish some of the misconceptions about the illness were inherently known to people vs having to educate oneself post an event or diagnosis. There is no handbook written on how to deal with such a diagnosis, which is why speaking about it is so important.
5. HIV comes with a lot of misinformation and taboos. What would you like people to know about being HIV+?
You may have HIV but HIV does not have you. It is no longer a death sentence and one can live a long-fulfilled life post-diagnosis given they take their medication Intimacy, relationships, careers, goals, etc. nothing changes. I would want people to pro-actively read about how far medicine has come and equip themselves so no one is ever left feeling as if they were “damaged goods”.
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6. In a country like ours, which isn’t often very accepting, what is it like living with the diagnosis?
I think there is so much more work to be done when it comes to awareness. The medical system needs a complete relook at when treating folks with HIV. Care may be available but the quality needs a look at especially for queer folks living with HIV. Things like confidentiality and discrimination are still key issues. Additionally, people in general are unaware making telling someone about being ‘pos’ is like a second coming out of sorts.
7. Tell us your best advice to people who also have HIV?
Live in your truth. It is not easy however; you are not alone. The journey you go on from here will be one that you will look back on fondly. Your goals, your aspirations and your wants do not need to change because of a diagnosis. Don’t let the virus get you down. Get on medication, go to therapy and live your best life.
8. What are your plans for the future? Is there a ‘5yrs plan’?
Ah the age-old question. To be honest I love what I do and I am very focused on my work. I think in the next five years I would have liked to make a positive impact in this space. Personally, maybe slow down and find someone to share parts of my life with.
9. Tell us the 3 biggest myths about being HIV+ that you have encountered in your lives.
1. It is a death sentence
2. It spreads through sharing crockery and glassware
3. One can’t be intimate with a person living with HIV
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10. Can you throw some light on the discrimination that people who have HIV face? The details of your experience will help so many others facing the same situation.
I have faced instances where people have refused to shake my hands or hug me because they think that it might spread. I have also been called names like “slut”, “whore”, etc. You know the funny things is, I use humor to battle all of this and when people actually call me names as stated above, I literally go “hah I wish that was even half true, sadly I am not a promiscuous as you think.”. People fail to understand that you don’t need to be intimate with many people to contract the virus. And yes, safety is key but you are not always in full control of your safety.
11. Coming to FSOG, what are your thoughts on platforms like ours? What kind of role do they play in today’s India?
I think it is brilliant that folks like FSOG and the communities that they have built learn, read and are having open chats about these things. It takes an army to rid society of stigma and allies like FOSG play a huge role in helping us achieve this