'I'm Positive' Takes On HIV Stigma

11.30.2012

By Michael Lambert

The message from MTV's new reality show is clear: Life doesn't end with a diagnosis.

Trapped behind a wall of stigma and misunderstanding, many Americans still believe that HIV equals death—pure and simple. MTV will help fight this misconception with the release of I'm Positive, a 60-minute reality special that follows three young Americans who are HIV-positive. Premiering this Saturday in honor of World AIDS Day, the special will spearhead the Get Yourself Tested campaign, a pan-media effort by MTV to raise awareness of sexual health.

I'm Positive tells the stories of Stephanie, Otis, and Kelly, all typical 20-somethings with one major difference—their status. Through their eyes, audiences will see just how much hope and opportunity remains even after being diagnosed with what has been a ravaging, terrible disease. It's their ability to have regular lives and regular problems that gives the special its weight. In fact, if it weren't for their status, the "reality" aspect of the production might come across a little bland. Under the shadow of HIV, small moments—from Kelly's boyfriend troubles to Stephanie's mother coming to visit—become especially profound and memorable, in a way that a Jersey Shore bar fight could never mimic.

Despite the value that these small moments have, "I'm Positive" is all about one thing—painting a real picture of life with HIV. The pills, the doctor visits, the "coming out" moment with the significant other—HIV may not be the death sentence it once was, but incorporating it into your identity is no picnic. Still, hope remains—a fact too often overlooked. "I'm lucky to have gotten it in this time in history," says Kelly at one point, which any gay viewer who knows his history will understand all too well.

If there's anyone who could melt a gay viewer's heart, it's Otis. A 25-year-old Dallas native, Otis is a triple threat of today's most visible minorities—black, gay, and HIV-positive. But the unwavering support of his family and his boyfriend Kanhje (who is HIV-negative) helps him to accept his status as a part of his life. When his mother admits frankly that "I will never turn my back on you," it's hard to resist the temptation to pinch yourself—just to make sure you're not dreaming.

All three struggle to get past their status in their personal lives, yet that doesn't stop them from engaging in their own activism. Stephanie almost bluntly presses her friends about the last time they were tested, while Otis and Kelly participate in billboard campaigns and documentaries, respectively. The takeaway is twofold: It's not enough that all three show how life goes on after HIV. They also provide examples of how someone can get involved in the fight, no matter their status.

I'm Positive airs Saturday at 7 p.m. EST. An after-show interview featuring executive producer Dr. Drew and the cast will stream exclusively on MTV.com after the special. Visit the show's cast bios page to watch videos about each cast member.

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