As Europe sets targets to eradicate AIDS by 2030 and communities all over the world continue to raise awareness about HIV, Malta still lacks infrastructure to properly support HIV positive people. Lovin Malta spoke to Christian Vincent, an HIV positive gay man, about coming to terms with living with the virus, getting informed and living life to the fullest anyway.
Two days before Christian Vincent was about to graduate from acting academy, he tested positive for HIV.
At what he thought was just another routine STD test, the sudden look on the nurse’s face told him something was seriously up.
“She stopped the conversation, looked at me, and said: ‘Yeah, that’s positive’, and it just went silent,” Christian said. “She interrupted the silence and said,’You know what? It could be a false positive, take another test.’ And for the duration of the test I was just staring at this little piece of paper… and it went positive again.”
He asked her if it could be mistaken twice – she shook her head.
“I remember denying it,” he says. “This is not true, this is not happening – I wanted everything to be undone, I regretted every single thing I had done up to this moment, and I felt alienated from my own body in an instant. Everything I knew about myself, every bit of confidence I had, was ripped out of my body; I just felt like I was in this vessel, transporting me through time. It was really… uncomfortable.”
Coming out as a gay man had been liberating, but the instant he was diagnosed with HIV, he was “shoved back into a dark place”
This experience, of losing himself, losing his identity and freedom, and overcoming it all to live a happy life, has pushed Christian to attempt to publicly dispel the stigma around HIV; a stigma that continues to make HIV one of the most feared, and misunderstood, viruses out there.
“I’m 31 and I’ve been living in Denmark for most of my life, when not travelling the world. I’m an actor by profession, but I also translate and do cartoons and all kinds of weird things to get by in life,” he smiles. “I have an Italian mother, Danish father and a Maltese boyfriend, which is amazing for so many different reasons. I’m not sure I would have had a connection with Malta if it wasn’t for him. I’m happy to be here, it’s a beautiful island, and I’m fascinated by it, from the sites to the architecture especially, I’m very fond of it.”
Pictured above: Christian Vincent
Photo by Linelle Deunk for Hello Gorgeous
As beautiful as Malta is, Christian was shocked to find out there is no infrastructure to support HIV positive people in Malta
In his eyes, getting treatment as soon as possible after becoming infected is paramount. State-supported anonymous testing points are central to that.
“If someone is tested positive for HIV, make sure you get treatment as fast as possible,” he says. “I was informed that the gap between getting a result in Malta to the point of getting more information is about six weeks. I am no doctor, but as a human being left with little information, six weeks is a long time to wonder about yourself,” he says.
“If you get tested positive, call your local AIDS Foundation… wait, you do have an AIDS Foundation here right?” he turns to a friend from the Allied Rainbow Communities. “No?! OK – get an AIDS Foundation! Get that first of all!”
He looks lost for a moment
“This is interesting… ” he says. “I know there’s an LGBT organisation here and you can call them to be guided. If you get HIV, read up on it… sorry,” he stops, “but I’m actually a bit surprised that you don’t have any means of contacting information about HIV if you get it, I’m a bit off-track now…”
“This is a problem, this is a problem you should look into, because you will have people living in fear for no reason,” he says pointedly
When asked about what European countries do in response to a positive case over the first week, he laughs: “I can tell you what they do in the first 24 hours.”
In Denmark, immediately after being tested positive, Christian was given two options
He could get up and leave, or he could be taken to hospital for a more precise test to confirm the virus – and begin treatment immediately.
“From the moment I tested positive, to the moment I had my first treatment, not more than 24 hours had passed,” he says.
“Two days later, it was my graduation, which was supposed to be a very happy day, but it was very weird. There’s my family and friends and classmates, and we are getting diplomas and I’m crying, because I don’t really know if I am happy or not, because you’re so conflicted.”
“The nurse had asked me if I have any questions. Of course I have questions, I have thousands… but none will come out. Will I ever get a boyfriend? Will I be able to get a job now? All these questions. You doubt your own identity and purpose of existence – it was devastating for me, and it led me into a cycle of devastation.”
“By 2016, two years later, I hit such a low that I said to myself: ‘I need to change my life, or I need to end it'”
It was at this time that Christian moved to Amsterdam on a gut feeling – a decision he calls “the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Christian found an accepting community in Amsterdam
“I was embraced by a community – nobody knew me there, so I could create myself again from base up, and at the same time, all this information was offered,” he said. “In some circles, people would be talking very openly about their HIV – they weren’t shouting it off of the rooftops, but it’s part of their lives, and I saw the normalisation there and started feeling normal again, basically.”
“I have to say, of course neither Amsterdam nor Denmark are utopias, of course there is stigma there as well, but they are on the right track in those countries,” he said.
Some things will come as a surprise to people who don’t know much about HIV
Modern medicine is able to repress HIV to such a point that it is undetectable in one’s blood. An HIV positive person whose levels have become undetectable can not pass the virus on to someone else.
Indeed, Christian says it is riskier to have sex with an untested person who’s status is unknown than an HIV positive person who is confirmed to be undetectable.
And for anyone who thinks that HIV is something that makes everyday life more difficult, Vincent is clear – he deals with his asthma on a day-to-day basis way more than his HIV.
Christian calls for a paradigm shift in how Malta sees HIV
“To not make it sound too bleak, we are moving forward,” he says. “There is a European agreement to eradicate AIDS by 2030, but specifically for Malta, you should work on having more accessible information. If there is not anonymous free testing available, get anonymous free testing available, however it’s done. Make sure the medication is up to date, and that it’s not just one way of treating people, but an individual way of treating people depending on how they are as individuals.”
He also had advice for members of the LGBT community
“As an LGBTQ+ person, talk to someone you know who is HIV positive – we have anonymity on apps now, so don’t just block people, but talk to them,” he says. “Read up on it. I find it is your duty as part of the community to be informed.”
If you would like to find out more about HIV Prevention and Treatment in Malta, you can contact Allied Rainbow Communities by following this link.