Darien Taylor, a long-time community activist, spoke to us at the HIV Endgame conference about opportunities to push the boundaries of messaging related to HIV.
The HIV Endgame logo appears on screen. Text reads: Darien Taylor answers questions on HIV activism. Darien Taylor sits in front of a wood-paneled wall, answering questions from off-camera interviewers. The text of each question appears on screen in between clips.
Darien Taylor: My name is Darien Taylor, and I am a community member. That is to say that I’m a woman who’s been living with HIV for close to 30 years now.
Q: How has HIV activism changed in the past 30 years?
Taylor: The activism that I was involved in through AIDS Action Now and other work that I did, you know, through my 30s and into my 40s, it’s really almost a historical relic. Like, it — you can’t — even though we talk about you know the heady days of HIV activism, it’s gone. Like, it’s — and not because the issues aren’t there.
It’s because, you know, the work I did existed in a world with no social media. Where we barely had email. The world is, you know, brought to our doorstep and mediated in such a different way now that I think activism has to — and has — evolved along with those changes. And I would say I would focus particularly on the way that people access information through social media.
Q: What opportunities do you see to spread messages now?
Taylor: I wrote for The Positive Side, which is CATIE’s magazine for people with HIV — I wrote an article on art and HIV, and I talked about the role of the poster, right? Which has always had such a — I mean, the poster, in terms of activism and art, has such a history. And a lot of social and political and, sort of, popular movements, right?
And the poster is so great because it’s so, you know, printing is so cheap. It’s so ephemeral. So it kind of — you put it up and it goes away, right? I mean the rain takes it down over a… you know, or poster scrapers on the street or whatever take down the message. So the message can disappear. The message doesn’t have to be — you know, sometimes when we invest a lot of money in our brochures and our messages, right, you’re attached to them because of the money you put into them, rather than because the validity of the message is ongoing, right? You know? And I think, yeah.
And I think, you know, the posters are great, too, because they can be — they can be kind of inflammatory. They don’t have to have this — they don’t have to have a message that, I don’t know, a lot of the material that I see reads and looks — about HIV — reads and looks nice, you know? It’s like, we’re not talking about something that’s nice. You know? We’re not talking about fuzzy teddy bears and, you know, hearts and that. We’re talking about something that’s really, you know, primal, and dirty, and rough, and illegal, and loving, and spiritual. But it’s not fuzzy teddy bears, you know?
And too often, I think, that’s kind of — we kind of feel that we have to give a really sanitized — or we’re compelled, you know, by the powers-that-be, to give a more sanitized message than I think it’s really all about. And then that kind of misses the mark, right?
Q: Who should be pushing the boundaries in HIV messaging?
Taylor: Well, I mean, I would —I’ve encouraged organizations — and they do — to take risks. Right? I mean, there’s been a lot of risk-taking and a lot of, you know, negotiated risk-taking that has been very brave done, like, done by organizations like the AIDS Committee of Toronto with the information that they’ve produced around BDSM. Like, that’s — and, I mean, they danced with their, you know, government partners all through the development of that material. And, you know, I think it’s great. But I think organizations need to be encouraged to to keep pushing that boundary or to keep setting those boundaries — like, pushing them so that they can so that they can be reset. So, I mean, I think AIDS organizations absolutely, community AIDS organizations absolutely.
But, you know, I think sometimes, when we get together in, you know — and I say this from experience, when we get together and, you know, in meeting rooms, and we sit down with, you know, designers and some of that goes out the window, right? And it may be because you, the person in the AIDS organization, or you, the person with HIV, is feeling the discomfort, for example, of the people from the design firm, who aren’t, you know, dealing with this all the time.
And, I mean, too much, I think, everywhere in AIDS people with AIDS and people who are advocates for people with AIDS, we try to accommodate the rest of the world, right? So that we can fit in in some ways. And I think that’s always to our detriment, right? Because then you helped to create a world where you don’t see yourself really represented. Yeah.
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Note on content: Interview questions have been edited for brevity.