We The Brave chatted to South African born Andy Holsden about his recent pilgrimage from New Zealand back to South Africa to volunteer at the AIDS Conference 2016 in Durban.
We The Brave – Today 11:35
Hey Andy, after a 6 year Facebook friendship it was great to meet you in the flesh in Durban during the AIDS Conference.You mentioned that you haven’t been in South Africa for over a decade.
Why is that and where do you call home now?
Andy Holsden – Today 11:36
It was really great, finally meeting you too. I now call Melbourne, Australia my home. However, originally I immigrated to New Zealand from South Africa. I went to South Africa on a personal exploration journey if you will. I needed to reconnect with my past, in order to try and connect with my future. For a good 8 years of the last 10 years I have felt completely disconnected to life. As a PLHIV (person living with HIV), which I contracted in South Africa back in 2006, I went back to South Africa to volunteer at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in order to finally accept that I am a PLHIV, and to bring closure to some of the issues and personal challenges I hadn’t as yet faced.
We The Brave – Today 11:37
That’s amazing Andy. How did the journey pan out? Did you find some closure? What were some of the highs and lows of your trip?
Andy Holsden – Today 11:39
It was just the most amazing experience. For my weekly therapist to say to me “This is the first time in a year I’ve not seen you bitter”, was a revelation. My journey was both of self-exploration and to gain a better understanding of HIV and all the various elements surrounding it.As a gay man, I realised I was completely insulated in what I call gay society HIV. I’m gay, I’m a PLHIV. Woe is me. It’s a gay disease.
There is stigma against me, discrimination against me. Woe is me.
And I spent a decade thinking that way. I lost my family due to my HIV status. I was disowned because my parents, who were prominent Christian pastors in Durban, disowned me due to my status. It’s what I call the ultimate rejection.
I spent 8-9 of those 10 years self-loathing, hating myself for being stupid enough to get HIV. I even tried to commit suicide because my parents abandoned me in South Africa and immigrated to New Zealand without telling me.
I was in this desperate destructive cycle of hate and I was a bitch to everyone I met due to my own hurt.
That was until I decided that I could either waste more precious years of my life in this vicious destructive cycle, or stand up and accept myself, accept that my parents had the issue, and begin loving myself again.
So, I decided to volunteer at the AIDS conference because I wanted to educate myself. I wanted to understand more. Knowledge is power and by gaining knowledge I could empower myself and love myself again.
I also wanted to give something back and try and make a difference in some way or another. This was the first step.
Andy Holsden – Today 11:40
It gave me strength to accept and own the fact that I’m a PLHIV. It gave me a voice to stand up and unashamedly tell people, I’m Andy. I have HIV. And whilst I was worried about the backlash, any stigma or discrimination from friends or the public; if anything, I’ve had such an outpouring of acceptance. It has been such an amazing experience.
We The Brave – Today 11:42
Is there anything you’d like to say to other people living with HIV to encourage them to come to a similar realisation?
Andy Holsden – Today 11:43
I would say to anyone out there living with HIV… accept yourself, love yourself. Find a community based organisation where you can socialise with others who are living with HIV, and be an advocate.
I’d like to finish with a quote from Bisi Alimi – Being gay doesn’t make you bad. Being HIV positive doesn’t make you bad. Stop being a victim. Be a champion.
We The Brave – Today 11:44
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Andy. I have no doubt that many others will benefit from the gift of your experience. We look forward to hearing from you in the future about the next leg of your amazing journey.