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Serodiscordant couples

Living and loving in a serodiscordant (positive/negative) relationship.
Read this transcript of journalism student Bradley Birnie’s major work.It features interviews from people in serodiscordant (positive/negative) relationships and interesting facts about relationships with people with HIV.

Listen to the audio file

Could you be in a relationship with a person who has HIV? We explore the lives of two individuals who look at life through positive eyes, and tell their story of love with a HIV negative partner. Bradley Birnie reporting:

Jay Rabee: “I went to the doctors and picked up my positive result, and the first thing I thought was oh my god Norus and ran out of the doctor’s office while he was still talking to me, he thought I just freaked out from the news, it actually didn’t scare me because I’m so knowledgeable about HIV. What I instantly thought was, Norus is at home I have to find out if he’s okay and I ran straight home, 6 blocks, grabbed him and said you have to come with me right now, I just found out that I’m HIV positive.” 22 seconds.

Voice over: More then 24 thousand people in Australia are living their everyday life, infected with HIV.

Deanna Blegg: “When I went to get my test results, I went in thinking that I must be. I’ve been really really sick, I’ve lost about 20 kilos of weight over 6 weeks and I was very very unwell, just skin and bones, I just radiated sickness. So went I went in I thought yes, I am HIV positive, so I was even prepared for the result. When the doctor told me “you are positive” I was just flabbergasted, that was it, I just felt there and then, and everything I ever dreamed of in life was finished at the very moment.” 31 seconds.

Voice over: For Deanna Blegg, Jay Rabee and nearly 60% of the people diagnosed with this illness, they share their life alongside a HIV negative partner, otherwise known as being in a serodiscordant relationship.

With 14 years of being together fast approaching, Jay Rabee, which is not his real name, met his negative partner, who he refers to as Norus, under flashing lights and loud music.

Jay Rabee: “I met him out socially, at a dance club, as so many of us do. Under mirror balls where everybody meets. And, we started dating about 2 weeks later, about 8 months later we moved in together, 3 months after that I flew to Australia with him to see his sister’s wedding and fell in love with Sydney practically the moment I got off the plane.” 19 seconds.

Voice over: In a similar situation of love, Deanna Blegg, who at the time was caught up living her day-to-day life, looking after two children and maintaining a healthy sporting career, decided to take on a new obstacle, internet dating.

Deanna Blegg: “I met my partner about two, two and half years ago on a dating sight, on RSVP. I found it kind of hard to, whilst I was mixing in my sporting arena, I sort of found it hard to mix socially, all I did was work, come home and had the kids.” 16 seconds.

Voice over: With a strong mindset and acceptance of her HIV status, Deanna decided that she’d be completely honest.

Deanna Blegg: “I actually disclosed my HIV status on our first meeting, I’m very open about being HIV positive. When I told him, you know, of course I came as a little bit of a shock, but he didn’t react in a bad way. We only met for drinks and we ended up having dinner and we spent like 6 hours together that day just chatting and getting to know each other.” 17 seconds.

Voice over: With little know about these couples and their existence something that most of us would have never thought about, Dr. Asha Persson from the University of NSW is conducting the first ever study in Australia.

This will span over 3 years, to better understand how these couples function.

Asha Persson: “I’m interviewing about 40 people, gay and straight, who are in serodiscordant relationships. So, I will be interviewing both positive partners and negative partners. Again, it’s the first study in Australia to specifically look at serodiscordant couples, it hasn’t been done before. So this is specifically look at what are the experiences of these couples, what are their prevention needs, what are their service needs.” 27 seconds.

Voice over: However, in a society where more research is being conducted to better understand people diagnosed with HIV and their partners, we hold a dark history in our understanding of this illness.

Grim Reaper: “At first only gays and IV drug users were being killed by aids. But now we know that everyone one of us could be devastated by it. The fact is over 50 thousand men, women and children now carry the AIDS virus, that in 3 years nearly 2 thousands of us will be dead. If not stopped, it could kill more Australians then world war 2.” 34 seconds.

Voice Over: The Grim Reaper ad, which aired in 1987, was extremely controversial and sparked fear across our nation.

It portrayed the image of death, a fate that Deanna Blegg was preparing for at the time of being diagnosed.

Deanna Blegg: “I was told if I lived 5 years I would be a long term survivor, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to have children and I remember discussing options of countries that allowed Euthanasia and that sort of stuff. So we were talking about death, we weren’t talking about living with the virus. We were talking about sort of surviving with it and then dying.”

Voice over: More then 20 years on, people still often associate HIV and Aids with the image of the grim reaper in this advertisement. Although, it may have been successful in creating awareness around this issue, at the same time it painted a picture for the Australia public.

This lead to a minority being scrutinised and branded.

However, Dr. Persson believes that her research can help create awareness around these couples and hopefully influence the public to be more accepting.

Asha Persson: “For me personally one of the things that I feel passionate about with this research is, just to tell their story, just to make it known to the Australian community that these relationships exist, these couples exist, that people with HIV aren’t different to any other person, you know? They have partners, they have families, they have children and they live ordinary lives.” 29 seconds.

Voice over: However, Jay believes that medication has been the turning point in the increase of serodiscordant couples.

Jay Rabee: “People who are positive and negative in a relationship happened less often in the past because people were more afraid and more stigmatising of people who were positive, so positive guys tends to stick together, they would find another guy who would understand what they were going through. As medication and the virus became weaker in the community and the medication became stronger, it was hard to tell that people had it. Or that people who had it were living healthier lives so people were less fearful of them and the stigma has gone down in the way that people are treated or the way their choices are taken away from when their looking for sexual partners, is much less then it use to be.” 30 seconds.

Voice over: Jay considers himself to be lucky. After finding out he was HIV positive, he was subscripted medication that made the HIV virus in his blood basically invisible.

Jay Rabee: “I went on the medication for 6 months, all my bloods levels with the virus went undetectable, my CD4’s went back to normal actually, 800 which is really high, really good. So I went off the medication and thought I would go six months and see what happens and I maintained without taking any medication for 10 years, I didn’t need to, my CD4’s stayed high, the virus never came back detectable. I’m one of those rare people if once you get it down to a certain level my body can keep up with it and keep it from being a problem.” 28 seconds.

Voice over: But, for Deanna, her future after being diagnosed didn’t seem so positive. As if the news of being told to expect death wasn’t enough. She was also given the heartbreaking news that she could never be a mother.

Deanna Blegg: “When I was originally told I couldn’t have children, it just felt to me another thing that this virus done. It fills you with shame, it fills you with guilt, it fills you with disgust. It’s a very ugly sounding virus, so to take children and a life out of you as well, it really really hurt. For months afterwards I would see little kids and just be so sad, knowing that wouldn’t be able to have children. That was one of the hardest things to cope with.” 28 seconds.

Voice over: Deanna’s competitive nature took over and she did not let the bad news get the best of her. Instead, she decided to get fit and healthy, and is the proud mum of two loving children. She attributes the birth of her first child as giving her a new lease to life.

Deanna Blegg: “What really made me change the way I am is when I gave birth to my little girl, and I held her for the first time in my arms and I just thought, oh I’ve got to stay alive for a long time and as long as I can now because I’m not living for myself anymore, I’m living for my child.” 14 seconds.

Voice over: For Jay, he was fearful that his diagnosis would have a large affect on the intimacy in his relationship.

Jay Rabee: “When I started having wearing condoms again with everybody, I felt like I lost some intimacy with Norus and he took great pains to assure me that it’s not the case. The sex is good when there’s no condom, of course, because it was less natural, but he didn’t find any loss of intimacy and he didn’t care for me any less, and he promised he would always take care of me.” 18 seconds

Voice over: With a greater understanding of this illness in our current society, people with HIV are still forced to build a barrier between themselves and people they care about, in fear of how others may react.

Asha Persson: “I think it would be really demoralising and scaring, you know, if it happens to you again and again. But, from the people I have spoken to, some of them are kind of steeling themselves for that. They know there is a chance that there is a chance that could happen. So, they go into that situation with that awareness that it could go either way. It’s not a huge shock to them if someone reacts badly, but of course it would still have an emotional impact on them.” 31 seconds.

Voice over: Deanna’s decision to reveal her positive status is what allowed her to take control of her infection.

Deanna Blegg: “I imagine that if people aren’t able to feel comfortable to disclose to family and friends, that it would impact them in a huge way. I remember the first couple of years when I didn’t really tell anyone, it was tough and it’s sort of always there and once you disclose and let it out, it not there anymore. HIV is in my body, but it’s not ruling my body or my mind, it’s just there.” 21 seconds.

 

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