May #154 : Viral Vernacular - by Laura Whitehorn and Kellee Terrell

POZ - Health, Life and HIV
Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr MySpace
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join

Back to home » Archives » POZ Magazine issues

Table of Contents

Mission Impozsible

Infected & Affected

POZ’s (Abbreviated) Encyclopedia of AIDS

POZ at 15

Viral Vernacular

POZ & Effect

Your Brighter Future Starts Here

The Wish of All Wishes

Imagine a Brighter Future

Editor's Letter-May 2009

Your Feedback-May 2009

Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

Scroll down to comment on this story.

email print

May 2009

Viral Vernacular

by Laura Whitehorn and Kellee Terrell

Since the days when we didn’t have a vocabulary for discussing AIDS, POZ has advocated for a gentle turn of phrase for the virus and those living with it.

In the second issue of POZ in 1994, Sean Strub, the magazine’s founder, wrote, “Language influences how society, politicians and health care providers view people with AIDS. Most important, it influences how we view ourselves.” Words, Strub also wrote, affect health itself. “If a person is assaulted with constant death sentence messages, the immune system can’t function well.” Setting a positive tone when talking about HIV advances POZ’s goal: promoting the survival and dignity of people living with HIV.

Accurate, sensitive and empowering language has been desperately needed ever since the epidemic’s early days, when fear of the unknown ruled and medical treatment was nowhere in sight. Then, mainstream media and evangelical leaders used stigmatizing terms to describe us: GRID, AIDS victim, promiscuous, diseased and sinner, to name a few charmers. When POZ came on the scene in 1994, it joined an HIV community fighting for its rights and respect. The nation had had ample time to wrap its mind and heart around the epidemic. But oppressive labels such as AIDS-infected, AIDS-carrying, contagious and got the package were still used to refer to people living with HIV.

The name POZ didn’t emerge from a focus group or the political agenda du jour. According to Strub, it was accidental— a friend casually referred to people with HIV as “pozzies.” Instantly, Strub thought it was “colloquial and positive,” and the three-letter brand POZ was born.

POZ played a dual role as a member of both the HIV community and the media. Our title recognized the seriousness of HIV but added our own spin. At that time, the gay community heavily influenced AIDS activism. POZ sounded and felt very much like the in-your-face labels—queer, fag and dyke—that members of the gay community stole from the haters, remodeling them as tools of acceptance and pride in their own identity. (When POZ launched, a now-defunct satirical AIDS zine called Diseased Pariah News was still around.)

Beyond our brand name itself, POZ described our community in ways intended to counter negative perspectives and force others to rethink HIV—and what living with it meant. When folks said, “He’s HIV,” we corrected them: “A person is not a virus. You have a virus, but you are a person.” When countless media outlets wrote AIDS-infected, we taught them to use HIV positive and people living with the virus instead. Our content embraced this quest. With stories about HIV-positive artists, activists, mothers, teachers and politicians, we ushered in a shift in thinking: Positive people are not just patients. They are human beings with lives that reach far beyond any microorganism.

POZ understood that anyone living with HIV is likely to be someone’s patient. And while we appreciated our doctors, nurses and researchers, we kicked them off their pedestals, placing them on the same plane as those living with HIV. That’s why POZ lists a degree after the first mention of a doc, then identifies him or her as we do anyone else—last name only, please.

In the early days, this was part of our effort to encourage self-empowerment on the part of those living with HIV. We refused to accept death as the only option, to listen passively as experts insisted that because there were no treatments, there was little hope. When treatment did become available, we refused to allow doctors to push pills or doses we thought to be dangerous. We became activists by necessity—stripping off our hospital gowns, strapping up our combat boots and sharpening our journalistic pencils.

Pages: 1 | 2

Search: Virus, AIDS, words HIV

Scroll down to comment on this story.


(will display; 2-50 characters)


(will NOT display)


(will display; optional)

Comment (500 characters left):

(Note: The POZ team reviews all comments before they are posted. Please do not include either ":" or "@" in your comment. The opinions expressed by people providing comments are theirs alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart + Strong, which is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by people providing comments.)

Comments require captcha.
Please enter this number for verification:

| Posting Rules

Show comments (0 total)

[Go to top]

Facebook Twitter Google+ MySpace YouTube Tumblr Flickr Instagram
Quick Links
Current Issue

HIV Testing
Safer Sex
Find a Date
Newly Diagnosed
HIV 101
Disclosing Your Status
Starting Treatment
Help Paying for Meds
Search for the Cure
POZ Stories
POZ Opinion
POZ Exclusives
Read the Blogs
Visit the Forums
Job Listings
Events Calendar
POZ on Twitter

Ask POZ Pharmacist

Talk to Us
Did you participate in an event for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2016?


more surveys
Contact Us
We welcome your comments!
[ about Smart + Strong | about POZ | POZ advisory board | partner links | advertising policy | advertise/contact us | site map]
© 2016 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy.
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.