Last year I said something out loud for the first time. It was utterly terrifying. After 15 years of living in secret, I came out to the world as HIV+. It was a very public coming out. 

I made a theatre show about how I got HIV the first time I ever had sex aged 16 - over 400 people saw it. I commissioned outreach work with local artists and charities that culminated in a gallery exhibition - nearly 4000 people saw that.

And then the press picked up the story. Local press at first, then Gay Star News, Buzzfeed News, BBC News... before I knew it I was on the BBC Breakfast couch with Naga and Charlie... 

In total, 3.4 million people saw or read about my story in broadcast, digital and print. I received 100’s of messages of support on social media. It’s fair to say the week leading up to World AIDS Day 2018 is up there as one of the most eventful I’ve ever experienced.

Eight months have passed, the dust has settled and we’re about to embark on an ambitious tour, starting with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

So, what have I learned?

Well, in the same week I premiered First Time, MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle hit the headlines with his emotional HIV 'coming out' in parliament. He too found himself the centre of the press’ attention. That crazy week of press calls and shows taught me one thing - coming out publicy as HIV+ is still considered a radical act. 

But why? HIV is more manageable than diabetes these days. People living with HIV who are on medication CANNOT pass the virus on. AND there's even a preventative medicine that can stop you getting HIV in the first place.

But public knowledge lacks far behind. 

Feedback from audiences demonstrated that the show had not only brought them bang up to date with advances in modern HIV healthcare, but that it had also challenged the misconceptions about HIV that linger in the public consciousness.

Towards the latter part of my life in the HIV closet I was self medicating with drugs and alcohol and was on the cusp of developing serious long-term mental health issues.

I was living in shame, fearful of people finding out, fearful of being judged, fearful of being ostracised, fearful of being victimised and blamed... fearful of being rejected. And I'm not alone. There are thousands of people living with HIV across the country who live in fear, just like I used to. Today, HIV is an illness of stigma that forces people into lives of secrecy and shame.

Well, it’s time to say: no more. 

We're on the cusp of a huge shift in how people perceive HIV in the UK today.

Cities across the UK (including Edinburgh and my home in Manchester) are signing up to become HIV Fast Track Cities, meaning they are committed to reducing new HIV infections to zero by 2030. Last year, the UK also became the first western nation to meet the UN's targets on reducing infections. HIV Scotland (and I) believe that we now have the tools to end HIV in a generation. HIV healthcare has revolutionised the prospects of people living with the virus.

Now another revolution is on its way: a generation of people living confidently with HIV. No more shame, no more secrecy. My show, First Time, is part of that revolution, educating, destigmatising and empowering other people to live proudly with their HIV status. It’s a funny and frank take on MY journey with HIV. I’m reclaiming the narrative told about people like me... Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (great film, btw), just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. We’re taking the show on tour - first to Edinburgh, then across the U.K... who knows, maybe we’ll go international (if they’ll have us).

I’m hoping for a future where people like Lloyd and me don’t have to make public declarations.

I'm hoping for a future where saying you’re HIV+ is no longer a radical act.

I’m hoping you’ll join the revolution with us.

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First Time was originally commissioned by Waterside Arts and Creative Industry Trafford in association with Dibby Theatre.

It will be performed at Venue 26 (Summerhall, Edinburgh) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Jul 31 (Preview), Aug 2-11, 13-18, 20-25 at 16:15.

Tickets available for purchase on the Summerhall Website

Tickets: £14.50 (£12.50 concs.), preview £5

 

For more: www.nathanieljhall.co.uk/first-time