Ostracism

Legend has it that in Ancient Greece, the Elders of Athens would periodically get together and write the names of those they disliked onto small bones and rooftiles, tossing them into a pot in the middle of the agora to create a grab bag of hatred. If someone’s name turned up a few times too often, he or she would be banished from the city and society.

Modern day ostracism is not quite as obvious, but is unfortunately still a reality.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about chronic illness in regards to love and relationships. Particularly, we were talking about chronic illnesses which could potentially be passed on to other people. AIDS, for example, or some forms of Hepatitis. I was surprised by our conversation, because I think of this friend as being a compassionate and caring person, as well as someone who is unafraid of risks.

“Well, thanks to the internet,” this person said, “people like that can date people of their own kind.”

“Oh,” I replied, “kind of like how black people should date other black people?”

“Well, no, you’re twisting my words. I mean to say, being black isn’t, uh, it’s not the same.”

Well…no, it’s not. This is true. But there is an eerie similarity. Being black is not a choice, for example, although most people embrace their African American identity and love who they are. Black is beautiful. Black is also growing to be more socially accepted, thank God, because we should not live in a society where people are judged on the basis of their skin color. And I also don’t see anyone saying in seriousness that African Americans should date within their own community, go to separate schools, or live in black neighborhoods. That’s why there was a Civil Rights Movement, with capitals and all, because being while black is not a crime.

But apparently if you have, say, AIDS, you should only date other people with AIDS. You should not fall in love with someone based on who they are, but rather on their disease status.

I have encountered this attitude before and I have to say that it really upsets me. I know many, er, mixed couples, where one person has a chronic illness and the other one doesn’t. Do these couples take reasonable precautions to prevent transmission? Of course! No one would want to live with the feeling of passing on a potentially fatal illness to someone else. But I don’t think those couples ever considered not existing because of the varying disease status of the individuals involved.

At any rate, it’s not my business, either. Everyone needs to do what makes them happy, not what makes me happy. While I can exercise control over my own life and who I date, what other people do is not my affair. Indeed, it seems dangerous indeed for me to make sweeping generalizations about what other people should do.

With attitudes like that still prevalent, it is not surprising that many people are shy about revealing their disease status. Why tell people that you have a chronic illness when the reaction is hatred, misinformation, and fear? Why share an intimate part of your past when people are going to tell you to go be with your own kind? Why not conceal this part of yourself, to prevent yourself from being hurt?

Personally, I think that this breaks our ability to function as an open society. In an ideal world where unicorns gamboled the streets and there was gold at the end of the rainbow, people could be open about their disease status. I certainly do not think it is something that should be concealed from a potential partner, because it is a part of you. I also think that rational adults should be able to discuss and talk about these issues, rather than reacting by lashing out. In this ideal world, the conversation could go more like this:

“Hey, so, uh, I have AIDS.”

“Really? That totally sucks. I am really sorry to hear that. So I guess we should be extra careful with condoms, right?”

Alas, that is not how it goes.

It makes me really sad to think of people having love denied to them because they are ill. I remember during the AIDS scare when there was a lot of prejudice, our school had a poster in the window that said “People with AIDS needs hugs too. And you won’t get AIDS by hugging me.” It’s a cheesy way to put it, for sure, but I think it is something that needs to be said.

People with chronic illnesses do need love. They do need to know that someone cares about them, and it hurts people with chronic illnesses, a lot, when people shrink away from them in misunderstanding. It is painful to find out that people do not want to touch you, share glasses with you, or be in an environment where you live. Especially when this attitude is out of a lack of education and fear. Most people with a chronic illness would probably prefer to be asked about it, so that they could give out information on how the disease is transmitted and how people can avoid it.

It is certainly reasonable to take precautions to avoid getting a chronic illness, and I doubt anyone would fault someone for that. But to say that people with chronic illnesses should only date people who have that illness…is incredibly narrowminded. It shows no respect for mutual attraction and interests. Rather, it seems to make the assumption that two people with the same disease already have a lot in common. Well…maybe. But maybe not. People deal with chronic disease in very different ways, and the fact that I have asthma does not make me instantly accessible to all other people with asthma.

How tragic to think that love should be denied on such petty grounds.

[chronic illness]