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How HIV Became This Writer’s Lifelong Inspiration

How HIV Became This Writer’s Lifelong Inspiration

As a part of Plus’ editorial series withOUT Limits, writer and performer Charles Sanchez shares how HIV has impacted his work and how he breaks stigma.

For writer and performer Charles Sanchez, having HIV has had a profound effect on his work. As a contributing editor for TheBody, as well as having written for and HuffPost’s Queer Voices, Charles finds a way to incorporate HIV into his work, even when he isn’t asked to. A lot of why Charles utilizes HIV in everything that he does can be summed up in the synopsis for his award-winning musical comedy web series, Merce:

Merce is a hilarious, award-winning musical comedy series about a middle-aged, HIV-positive man living in New York City. He is unashamedly and flamboyantly gay, a Pollyanna who sees some events in his life through an MGM lens. Merce is bawdy, outrageous and fun, proving that...Life can be positive when you're positive!”

Charles knows the impact having an HIV-positive character who isn’t sad, sick, or dying has for representation in his community, battling stigma and misconceptions that plague people thriving with HIV. Some of the topics Charles covers in his work include dating while living with HIV, slut-shaming, taking PrEP, and the significance of U=U. But even covering these aspects of life with HIV, Charles admits that stigma still exists and affects everyone living with HIV.

“You have to develop a soft heart and a thick skin when dealing with stigma,” Charles starts. “I’m still surprised by the negative reactions I get when I share my status with people. There’s a fine balance you have to walk where you’re meeting people halfway to help them understand HIV without getting your heart trampled on,” Charles shares.

But Charles continues to fight against stigma, understanding that boundaries have to be pushed to get the message across. When it comes to the role of sex and living with HIV, Charles doesn’t shy away from the importance of pleasure for people who have HIV.

“In my work, it’s taken a lifetime to feel no shame with my sexuality, and then having HIV and body image issues on top of that. But it’s important for people to feel able to enjoy the pleasures of sex regardless of their status, and for people to truly explore themselves and get to know themselves. That’s one way that has helped me,” Charles says.

Sex is impacted greatly by stigma, so Charles understands just how vital breaking that stigma is when it comes to helping people live their best lives. And Charles also realizes that there’s a lot more our society can do to support people living with HIV that could combat stigma.

“There are laws that are being pushed across the country that are based out of fear, not science or facts, but fear. If people are able to listen to the science of the issues instead of what they’re afraid of, that would help not only people living with HIV but the entire LGBTQ+ community,” Charles states.

And Charles also knows that having a variety of treatment options is also another thing that helps the HIV community live their lives free of stigma and without limits.

“I’ve been on a variety of treatment regimens and now I only take one pill a day, but I love the idea of long-term medication treatments like injectables, and I’m looking forward to getting my 6-month injectable at my next check-up, so it’s not a drag if I miss a dose,” Charles shares.

It’s having those options that help Charles live without limits to continue his work fighting HIV stigma and making sure everyone living with HIV is living their lives without fear or shame. When looking ahead, Charles has a lot of goals for when it comes to his work.

“I’m looking forward to the small moments in life. It’s important to focus on those moments and to really engage with learning more about who I am and leaning into that authenticity of being me,” Charles says.

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