Papamamanbebe

In 2008 the Swiss made public their statement about rules over when it is acceptable for a HIV positive person, who is successfully on medication, not to use a condom during sex with his or her partner. With the help of Google I searched for more news and in particular opinions. In so doing I came across a response to critics of the statement by Swiss co-author Hirschel. Snappy and at times hilariously funny. Website: www.papamamanbebe.net. French, and considering the name, very straight.

 

I didn't linger on it for too long. As there are so many in France, it's just a site of a small HIV group. But at the same time, this brilliant name kept me intrigued. Later, I kept coming across Papamamanbebe more often. They were angry because the French were so lax in responding to the Swiss. Their motive was the desire to raise a family. Strangely this anger is as good as absent in the Netherlands.

What is Papamamanbebe? It turns out to be a website run by the ‘Comité des familles’. This is a group focussing on HIV positive people from the Maghreb, Africa and the suburbs in France. As foreign as they come, and yet radical enough to consistently keep on talking about the Swiss and the French points of view. Literally talking… in that radio broadcasts seem to be their main means of communication.

Papamamanbebe allows the chairperson of Warning (www.thewarning.info), a group of queers (seemingly more radical than Poz & Proud) to have his say. A serious but amusing conversation. The man from Warning looses his head for a moment when asked of his opinion on the Swiss statement in relation to the desire to raise a family. He's not really the type to have a desire to have children. He's never been asked such a question. But yes, if the desire to have children is important to you, he improvises, then the Swiss statement will have a profound effect. By the way, Papamamanbebe also discuss homophobia.

Fascinating. Papamamanbebe spiritedly discusses the issue. They also believe the discussion is meaningful for members. I am unable to judge how representative Papamamanbebe is. But the group does question a few assumed words of wisdom, or should I say, prejudices. In the Netherlands, we are inclined to think that foreigners see HIV differently from Dutch people. Stigma… remember? Not a problem for Dutch people, but a problem for foreigners. Or so it's said. Meanwhile, foreigners are all placed into the same category. 'The HIV positive foreigner does not want us to use the word HIV with too much pontification. Nor the word (homo) sexual — that only puts people off.'

It seems that Papamamanbebe approaches this in a different way. They organise 'soirées séromantiques' for HIV positive people and their lovers (male/female). You can even watch videos of these evenings. This does not mean that everyone is recognisable… but that is also not the case in videos of partying Dutch HIV people here. There is a speech given by a Warning member, and also IV drug use is discussed. After all the membership of the organisation includes drug-users and homosexuals. It seems to confirm my earlier suspicions. HIV positive foreigners are no different. This being different is for the most part maintained by their own bleeding hearts that are chiefly focussed on their own community (and their own prevention). Not on living with HIV. The patronisers fear stigmatisation. But what stigmatisation? Fear of the idea that HIV is a foreigner's disease? Foreigners are already forced to swallow a lot. It is strongly reminiscent of the senseless fight within the gay movement to stop the idea from taking root that HIV is a homosexual disease.

If this is true, then ultimately the patronisers stand right in the way of emancipation. With the best intentions — like a true bleeding heart. However, people themselves do not need to be protected like this. The patronised can free themselves from the good intentions of their patronisers when they have the opportunity to get themselves organised. This is possibly the case in the suburbs of Paris and environs. But not yet in the Netherlands.

Here, people who are patronised often talk patronisingly themselves. Self-stigmatisation perhaps.

I am not entirely sure about this. But if true, there are big consequences. Answering to the wishes of patronising busybodies (white prevention organisations and some HIV counsellors) by talking less about HIV and sex and trying to prevent stigma, will actually only perpetuate it.

Foreign and Dutch HIV positive people have more in common with each other than we think. Overemphasising differences only does harm. We can learn from and enjoy each other.

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