“I have lived with HIV since I was 17 years old”: Oliver Sim confronts stigmas with an album about being HIV positive | icon

Radical honesty could set me free / If living with HIV since 17 makes me disgusting / Am I disgusting?

Thus, with a question that swings between torment and self-acceptance, the ballad ends with an eighties spirit Hideous (Disgusting), the new single from singer Oliver Sim. The Londoner, known for his work as a bassist, vocalist and composer in the band The xx, has taken advantage of the latest single from the album that will mean the beginning of his solo career, hideous bastard, to reveal that he has lived with HIV since he was 17 years old. HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, which weakens the body’s immune system and can end up causing AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (but you can have HIV, or be seropositive, without developing the disease).

“Making the record I realized that I was writing a lot about fear and shame. I imagine it might seem like this is a dark record, a poor me, but in recent years I have become a firm believer that the best antidote to those feelings is to bring them to the surface and shed light on them, “explains the musician in a statement published on his Instagram account. A few days shy of his 33rd birthday, Sim acknowledges spending the last two days talking to himself and the people in his life about his condition before releasing the song. “It has allowed me to feel much freer,” adds the Briton, who thus stars in a new milestone in the prolific relationship between pop music and the fight against AIDS.

“It is important that public figures who reach a younger audience have the courage to step forward, because their messages resonate with many people. For this reason, what Oliver Sim has done is very laudable”, the musician Ramón Espacio explains to this magazine. Vice President of Cesida, a platform of associations that brings together 75 entities at the state level to fight for the representation, prevention, awareness and visibility of people with AIDS and HIV, Espacio considers that these types of steps are key to fighting the stigma associated with virus, still far from disappearing. “The world of pop is essential to reach the UN goal of zero discrimination in 2030. It is difficult to achieve, but it is important not to be silent, that famous people get involved,” he adds.

Although other areas of the public sphere have had protagonists with great impact when it comes to raising public awareness of the virus and the disease, such as actor Rock Hudson or basketball star Earvin Magic Johnson, pop has played a fundamental role in the fight against discrimination and respect for those who suffer from it. “It’s time for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I want everyone to join me, my doctors and everyone who suffers from this terrible disease to fight against it,” Freddie Mercury revealed in a statement. , leader of the band Queen, a few hours before dying of bronchopneumonia caused by AIDS. The death of the British rock star at the end of 1991, and the revelation of his condition after refusing to make his diagnosis public for years, marked a before and after in awareness of AIDS and in the awareness of some of the main music figures more or less close to Mercury.

Freddie Mercury during a Queen concert at Madison Square Garden in December 1977.Photo: Getty Images

Just a few months after the singer’s death, one of his closest friends, Elton John, created a foundation to fight the disease. Thirty years later, his organization has established itself as one of the most important worldwide, raising more than 600 million euros for its prevention and eradication with initiatives in more than fifty countries. “We have come a long way in terms of medical treatment in these 31 years, but the stigma has not changed that much. People continue to believe that it is a disease of shame. That it is a disease of homosexuals, prostitutes or people who take drugs intravenously. There are many people who are still very intolerant, ”said the artist in 2012 in an interview on US public radio.

Less than five months after Mercury’s death, when the halo of marginalization that surrounded the pathology began to dismember before the eyes of the general public, Elton John himself nurtured a lineup of stars made up of Metallica, David Bowie, George Michael or Guns N’ Roses to pay tribute to Mercury and raise funds at a massive concert held at Wembley. Aftershocks followed one another across the pond. Groups like Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Beastie Boys offered similar concerts in Hollywood, U2 donated all the royalties of your topic One to the investigation of the disease, the Red Hot organization produced up to 15 compilation albums with original songs and versions whose income was destined for charity and Madonna, who in 1989 had already included in her album Like A Prayer a note called The facts about AIDSdenounced the treatment received by those affected.

Madonna during an event in favor of the fight against AIDS in Los Angeles in 1998.
Madonna during an event in favor of the fight against AIDS in Los Angeles in 1998.Jim Smeal (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

“I’m not positive, but what if I was? I would be more afraid of how society would treat me for having the virus than of the virus itself,” she said in 1991 after being the subject of rumors that she, too, was infected. Marked by the deaths of friends such as Martin Burgoyne (Studio 54 bartender and former roommate), her dance teacher Christopher Flynn, and artist Keith Haring, on her album Erotica included the tribute song In this Lifelonging for the end of the virus to come “in this life.”

In the UK, Jimmy Sommerville, responsible for such hits as Smalltown Boy during his time in the trio synthpop Bronski Beat or Don’t Leave Me This Way with The Communards, he is one of the pioneers in the activist fight against HIV in recent decades. “He is my guardian angel”, Oliver Sim has said about him, who asked him to collaborate on his single Hideous both in production work and vocally. Before the recent confession of the British singer, the Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, has been another of the most recent music figures to come out of this closet, publicly admitting her HIV positive status in April 2018. The rapper Mykki Blanco o folk singer-songwriter John Grant are other recent examples of artists who have come clean in this regard. Andy Bell, singer of the band Erasure, did it in 2004. Everyone lives with the virus.

Tom Neuwirth, in his character of Conchita Wurst.
Tom Neuwirth, in his character of Conchita Wurst.JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (AFP)

“The role of pop and art in general has been very significant. The trigger was the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, which caused a very important reaction to provide funds and raise awareness. The pop industry understood that its community was being greatly affected and took advantage of its ability to transmit messages”, confirms Ramón Espacio, who warns about the cornering that this problem is experiencing today at the media level. “For the younger generation, HIV is a thing of the past, outdated, belonging to the time of their parents. As medical advances improved, AIDS slipped under the sheet.” The numbers belie this perception of anachronism: in Spain there are about 4,000 new diagnoses a year and one in every 300 citizens is HIV positive, according to data from Cesida. However, only a minimum percentage of the population says they know someone who lives with HIV.

In our country, the list of known people who have made public to be seropositive pales compared to that of other developed countries. Fear of singling out and discrimination continues to be predominant in both anonymous and famous people. The false legend spread in the early nineties that led Miguel Bosé to sit down in front of Mercedes Milá in the early nineties to deny the rumor that he was HIV-positive in a special program on the subject with figures like Pedro Almodóvar still resonates.

According to a recent study carried out by the platform on the beliefs and attitudes of the Spanish population towards people with HIV, 36.3% of the population would feel uncomfortable if a partner of their child had HIV, 8% continue to support measures of segregation and 21.3% believe that HIV can be transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. “In Cesida we know that there are public figures in our country who live with HIV and do not dare to say so,” confirms the association’s vice president. And he concludes: “We are a society with more fears, more Latin, and in HIV, those who suffer from it have always been blamed. They want to protect themselves, but public figures can normalize the situation, in addition to the liberation it represents for them on a personal level”.

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