Thanks so much Nina Scott and all at Positively UK for this fantastic action-packed edition! Everyone check out the Shafted! Goes on Tour 2013 – A Celebration of ACT UP’s Anniversary article for some of the key activist tools and ideas behind Shafted?!, why we are fighting the cuts to HIV services aswell as information on the upcoming Shafted?! tour! The contact detail is firstname.lastname@example.org and websites are www. shaftedontour.wordpress.com and www.theglassishalffull.co.uk to find out about the upcoming tour! – thanks again!
Dan Glass, an HIV activist and performance artist about HIV activism and his group Shafted?! , who have created a performance which has set out to explode stigma, shatter isolation, demand social change and have a great time doing so.
Now, more than ever, we need HIV activism. The main reason why shafted has come about is because of the massive cuts to HIV services: 20% in London, even though the number of Londoners who have contracted HIV has more than doubled since 2001. The compounding effects of the cuts and the higher rates of transmission have caused people to call this time “The Second Silence” (the first silence being the 80s). HIV is still an epidemic and we need action! Because politicians are just not acting fast enough.
Shafted?! is deeply inspired by AIDS coalition to unleash power (ACT UP). ACT UP have just celebrated their 25th Anniversary and Shafted?! aims to stand on the shoulders of our activist ancestors. As seen in the recent documentaries How to Survive a Plague and We Were Here, we can learn so much from ACT UP and their strategy for activism. They had people on the inside (researchers, scientists and people in drug companies) as well as people on the outside (on the streets, organising actions and occupations). The critical thing was that they were in dialogue, and this reciprocal understanding meant that the protests were in line with the policies.
I have recently been to South Africa on a training programme with HIV activists and educators. I was inspired by the thinking behind the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and found it particularly relevant to HIV activism. Before we can expect to receive physical liberation from others, we have to have psychological liberation. Others may want you to dehumanise yourself and think of yourself as inferior (that’s what colonialism and white supremacy was based on: dehumanising whole sections of society). But we are only victims if we choose to be. If we accept, embrace and believe in ourselves, others will follow.
Shafted?! is participatory, celebratory and very raucous. The powers that be want us to be depressed, but we’re not going to let them do that! So it’s a very fun show, we have silly props, including a giant penis (currently in my mates garage, and his mum’s like, “when are you going to get rid of that, son?”) We’ve just got a van to take it on tour (as we feel it would be impractical to put it on the train…). In the show the giant penis is called “The HIV ‘victim’ Cannonball” and I catapult out of it in a cloud of glitter. The idea is that, through silliness, fun and open discussion about HIV, we are not perpetuating a victim mentality – because we are not victims. This sums up our celebratory stance and the idea that you can choose to internalise prejudice and stigma, or you can confront it and accept that it is societies problem, not yours. It’s being outspoken and saying: “It’s your fear, not mine, let’s talk about it”.
The name Shafted?! aims to ask the question: “Are you shafted?!” We’re shafted, but only if we don’t fight back! The euphemism also highlights our want to subvert the HIV stereotype of ill, pasty faced people who are made to feel desexualised.
Originally the show was just me telling my story, but that wasn’t representative enough. Now, each show is tailored around different people’s stories, so it becomes a cathartic and beautiful way to celebrate sharing, uniqueness and diversity. It also aims to acknowledge the people who have taken part in each individual’s journey. For me, living with HIV is totally interdependent on my support system, so it is an appreciation of that.
The show is split into 5 chapters with a performance between each chapter. It deals with issues of diagnosis, disclosing, health, intimacy, sexual relationships and sexuality. One chapter is a cheesy 70s HIV quiz show, where smiling, sequined game show hosts ask the audience questions about HIV. This puts to bed any false, negative presumptions they may have.
Part of the Shafted?! mentality is thinking: “what are the positives of being HIV positive?” For example, you may become closer to your friends and family and you may gain a deeper perspective on life and death. Importantly, once you are marginalised in society, you are able to gain a more critical understanding of the system, of power. The show celebrates appreciating life and creating change – whether it be through music, dance or cycling backwards!
Our slogan is “building the HIV army”. Initially I was like, “who are you trying to fool, Dan? This ‘army’ is just you and a few of your friends!” But now it is really beautiful to see what is happening. Over the next year we have shows, actions, trainings and even a dance troupe, there has been a great response, all in the name of outspoken grassroots confrontation.
Lots of people want to get involved in Shafted?! I’ve got emails from young people, grannies, people who are gay, straight, black, white, who want to tell their stories and discuss the reality of HIV in 2013. It’s brilliant and shows that HIV can and does affect everyone.
Now all of my mates and family are so informed, and HIV activists in their own right. They have become inspired and empowered by me talking about it so openly. It is now a collaborative journey that we are going through together
We can take a lot from HIV activism in the 80s. They didn’t take things lying down. Every day there was demonstrations and occupations and there was an overriding spirit of resistance and hope. The nurses in my clinic in Glasgow have told me stories about the upmost prejudice and stigma from those times… it was tough, but people just fought and fought, and that makes me have faith in humanity. When everybody is giving up on you, you’re not going to give up yourself. When power is failing you, you won’t fail yourself.
History proves that protest works. Where would we be without the civil rights movement or the suffragettes? These people separated morality from the law and humanised themselves. If we really want an HIV and AIDS free world, we’re going to have to take the necessary action. We need to define success, not by how many petitions are being signed but by if the right services are being provided and people not dying.
We need to be talking about this on every street corner. We need to be building spaces for dialogue, thinking and support. Get involved in Shafted!?, we need people with spaces to put on the show in their own communities, we need those with experience in protest, performance, writing, journalism and donations are always welcome! Look at our website at www.theglassishalffull.co.uk or email me at email@example.com for more information of tour dates and how to be a part of the HIV Army.
Shafted!? is a celebration of life. It is a celebration of where we’ve got to because of people fighting till the bitter end, patting ourselves on the back and then saying: “right, we still have more to do!”