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How To Silence The HIV Stigma In Your Head


We all have that voice in our head telling us we’re not good enough — I say, tell them to F***  off.

Before I begin explaining how HIV is not a character flaw, I must say that I have yet to master the art of silencing my inner bully. Sure, I don’t have any issues with my status anymore, but we all have that inner voice trying to tear us down. In my own personal journey, I am not so sure I will ever be able to silence mine. She is, after all, one relentless bitch.

Still, I have found a way to separate her voice from the noise: First, name it. Then kindly tell her to shut the fuck up. RuPaul calls that little voice his “inner-saboteur,” but I just call her Brenda.

You may know her by a different name, but she’s the one who whispers in your ear every time you get turned down or rejected. She pokes and prods at your deepest insecurities — be it your weight, age, abilities, or your HIV status. Most likely, no one else in your life has ever been as mean to you as Brenda is, and she’s the one that lives between your ears.

Recently, a young and handsome man reached out to me because his inner voice was getting the best of him and his HIV-positive status. He said he didn’t feel like there was a place in the world for him, and that he felt like he would never be loved if he couldn’t love himself first.

Of course I knew none of these things were true, but I also knew that me telling this young man he is worthy of love just the way he is would do little to quell his inner voice the next time she has something to say.

While I had already stopped believing Brenda when she would tell me the same thing a long time ago, I still related to this man. I’ve struggled with body image issues for years. I have moments when I tell myself I am disgusting and make myself believe no one would ever want to touch me again. I even have fleeting moments where I get the urge to take knives to parts of my body that repulse me. It is not something I would ever do, but it is a testament to how loud and powerful Brenda can be.

I realize I shouldn’t have body issues now, but this is Tyler Curry-McGrath speaking. When I am the voice in my own head, I am thankful for my healthy body. Brenda starts to chime in when my insecurities get the best of me. This is why I gave her a name. Even though she is still around, today I have the ability to address her, thank her for her opinions, and then send her packing.

It might seem like a silly tactic to take, but we need every tool in the toolbox when it comes to defeating our inner voices that try to reduce our worth at all costs. If you give that voice a name, then you have the power to address them when they start magnifying your insecurities. You have the ability to separate their voice from your own and recognize the difference. It might not absolve you from your insecurities — in fact, it almost certainly won’t — but it will give you a way to practice silencing your inner bully when it seems like it’s too much to take.

The young man that feels unworthy is perfectly loveable just the way he is. My body is beautiful just the way it is. You are worthy of love just the way you are. Then again, we already know that. Just make sure you tell whoever your Brenda is, because she has it coming.


Editor at large Tyler Curry-McGrath is also a contributing editor at The Advocate magazine and the author of A Peacock Among Pigeons. He also helps to foster and rehabilitate dogs. (@IamTylerCurry)

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