12 HIV-Positive Tattoos You Must See

From a simple plus to swallows festooning a red ribbon, 14 men and one woman tell share their thoughts on poz tattoos.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

June 17 2013 4:37 PM ET UPDATED: June 20 2013 8:51 AM ET

Nothing fires up a conversation like asking a group of HIV-positive people how they feel about poz tattoos. Bottom line, you either love 'em or hate 'em. Aaron Lamout, who is currently planning for his own tattoo, argues that "willingly branding yourself, I feel, takes away any power others have of causing harm. You wear your status proudly for all the world to see. It might, in it's own small way, help spread awareness. Once seen it cannot be unseen. By putting it in the public eye it forces people to talk about it."  
Others feel like the tattoo both communicates to their partners and the wider world, but also helps them feel safe. Hawaiian Sean Hannah says 
he got a tattoo on the one-year anniversary of learning he was HIV-positive. "It protects me well," he says, "and warns others." While some say that warning is stigmatizing, and these tattoos mark people who have HIV like biohazards or radioactive waste. Mikey Barnum posted on the HIV Plus Facebook page, "The very idea of a biohazard tattoo to differentiate poz people from those who are not is offensive. I am not a biohazard. In fact, I'm less of a biohazard than some random person coughing or sneezing without covering!"
So we asked our readers to send us their thoughts on — and their photos of — tattoos that symbolize their positive status. Here are a few of the favorites.
Joshua Middleton
"I got this tattoo on my right forearm a couple months after I was diagnosed in 2012," says Joshua. "It is two swallows carrying the HIV ribbon. I got this because swallows symbolize coming home from a journey. I wanted it to represent my daily struggle with HIV and one day hopefully the end of my journey, the day we all hope for — a cure. The ribbon represents all that did not make it through their journey and throughout the years have died from AIDS-related Illnesses. I had it purposely put on my right fore arm so it would be a visible tattoo that people can see. I see no shame in being HIV positive. I love my tattoo, the meaning behind it, and it has actually become a conversation starter many times already to give me a chance to educate people about HIV. HIV does not and will never define me. I am more than HIV, I am a person."
Tags: Activism