Public area - News, events, announcments - Topic started by Silvia Petretti - July 12 2012, 02:36 pm

Title: Language, identity and HIV in IJAS Journal
Post by: Silvia Petretti on July 12 2012, 02:36 pm
Language, identity and HIV: why do we keep talking about the responsible and responsive use of language? Language matters

Please see below a link to a letter written by a collective of women living with HIV from some of the main networks arournd the globe ( including yours...). The letter addresses the use of empowering  language. Personally I had a lot of struggles with the BHIVA committees on some of those terms.

 It would be good if other UK advocacy groups could endorse it and we all used the reccomanded  language in our work . (

Also I am happy to hear your comments and ideas about language...this is only the beginning of a conversation...I hope...



Title: Re: Language, identity and HIV in IJAS Journal
Post by: Robert James on July 12 2012, 06:50 pm
I find the use of language interesting so thanks for posting this.  HIV activists have been somewhat successful in changing medical terminology previously, whilst my HIV treatment has previously failed me according to HIV doctors, I always fail my HCV treatment according to other doctors. 

Some things in the article do cause me some concern and as you asked for discussion on it here is some.  I understand and support whole heartedly the desire to shift blame from mothers for verticle transmission but I have a concern about accessibility of the language. Verticle transmission is very clear in medical circles, and very specific, but it is not common outside of the medical sector.  I had to ask what it meant when I first heard it and so by changing the description this would make it a phrase less easily understood. This is a balance of blameworthy speach against a more inclusive phrase, i.e. one that is easily understood by non-specialists and those with limited English skills.  Why not look at genetics where 'verticle transmission' of conditions is rarely used, even if the blame is often still experienced by mothers.  Haemophilia, my condition, is inherited by men from their mothers the words that tend to be used are 'inherited' or 'passed on'. Inherited even focusses on the child not the mother, its my condition that I got not what she gave me.

The "people with..." and identity thing.  Somewhat aware that my thoughts as a straight, white man on identity may not be exactly filled with relevant experience for this article but this is not something I am that comfortable with.  Partly that is because I speak British English and so am less used to the phrases but also I am not convinced that by putting 'person' first it has a subconscious effect on listeners to make them think the person is not a single characteristic but a multi-facted human being.  This language construction can also be seen as the perspective of a dominant North American culture trying to push its ideas and views on others.  The "person..." before a description is much more common in North America, ('persons with disabilities', 'people of color', etc - I've even seen 'people of the Jewish faith'), whilst in the UK the phrases 'disabled people' and Black people are used by... err disabled people and Black people to describe themselves. 

"When we use language that puts people first, we acknowledge ourselves and others as fellow human beings" but the article uses the term "woman" and not a 'person with female genitalia' or perhaps 'persons of female identity'.  Now I know those descriptions sound flippant as though I am making fun of the argument but if the phrase "person with HIV" "acknowledges ourselves and others as fellow human beings" because it has 'person' first does the term 'woman' fail to acknowledge women as fellow human beings because there is no 'person' at the front.  And if it does why use the term 'woman' in the article. And what about other terms such as lesbian, British or trans.  Should they be reconstructed to have 'person...' at the front of them?

I hear 'women' and 'haemophiliacs' as strong collective terms that highlights an important difference from others, men and clotters (I just made that term up - haemophiliacs don't really call others clotters but I might start seeing if I can get them to) but I don't hear that in this 'person with...' line.  As this is getting too long I will finish by saying the only identity term I use about myself which is "person with..." is about HIV because there is no other term but I avoid it or I end up with having to list the 3 conditions I am 'living with'.

Title: Re: Language, identity and HIV in IJAS Journal
Post by: Silvia Petretti on July 13 2012, 10:11 am
Thank you Robert for taking the time to share your thoughts.


Title: Re: Language, identity and HIV in IJAS Journal
Post by: Zhana Books on July 18 2012, 10:33 am
You have made some very important points.  Thanks for posting this, Robert. 
People from excluded or disadvantaged groups often have an uneasy relationship with language.  Language is constantly evolving, and we need to be mindful about how we use it.