A man who was diagnosed with HIV after a one-night stand has praised EastEnders for highlighting the disease.
Jay Hawkridge thought the virus ‘was a thing of the past’ before he contracted it in September 2019, after having sex with a man he’d been chatting to.
Now, as EastEnders confirms that character, Zack Hudson, will receive a HIV diagnosis this month, Jay believes seeing it play out on screen will be ‘monumental’ in educating young people about the virus.
Zack, played by James Farrar, will find out he has the disease when a former acquaintance, Brett, turns up in Walford and reveals that he has been diagnosed with HIV, and urges Zack to get tested.
Speaking about the EastEnders storyline, Jay, 29, said: ‘I think it is a turning point in the discussion about HIV and erasing the stigma.
‘I think it is an honourable thing, people try and shy away from things that aren’t family-friendly.
‘It is important for people living with the condition to feel represented, but also in terms of educating people.
‘I think it is really nice when I have conversations with people that I meet and I don’t have to explain anymore.
‘I think the new age of media is doing an awful lot of good for representation.’
Jay, a content creator from Leeds, became seriously unwell a few days after having unprotected sex, and got a fever and felt nauseous.
He took himself to A&E where a blood test came back negative for HIV.
But around a month and a half later, he went for an STI test as he had a suspicion he contracted something.
When he was told he was HIV positive, he said he was ‘confused’ and didn’t know what his future would look like.
Jay said: ‘I barely had any knowledge of HIV before I was diagnosed.
‘I was diagnosed before It’s A Sin had been on TV, before I’d watched Pose, and before a few of the big cultural events that have happened in the last couple of years.
‘I come from a really rural upbringing, and I didn’t have many friends in the LGBTQ+ community.
‘I had no real reason to believe that HIV was something I needed to be thinking about or protecting myself from.
‘So, when I was diagnosed, it was a massive shock. I thought, “Wait, what, this is still around?”
‘I’d never heard anyone in my life mention it, so it was really hard for me to grasp at first.’
1) i didnt invent casual sex 2) i didnt do anything MOST of you dont 3) we dont get EDUCATED on this 4) he INTENTIONALLY lied to me and gave me this. Before you start the victim blaming 5) i wont feel shame for living with hiv, i doubt most of you could hack it. Especially PUBLICLY 🎤
Jay said his overwhelming emotion was confusion.
He explained: ‘It was more confusing than it was scary because I was so unequipped to what it was.
‘Through lockdown, I was able to take time for myself and research HIV to the point where I understood the facts and the reality of the situation.
‘It’s A Sin was monumental; it was an important show for me as it was a really nice resource to turn people to so I wouldn’t have to explain constantly about living with HIV.
‘I was able go back and tell the people in my life about this in the sense that I had lived through it, and I am able to tell the tale.
‘With the Covid pandemic, it was one of those things that became easier to talk about.’
Now Jay takes medication to manage his condition and he is unable to transmit the disease to anyone.
Few people realise that with medication, HIV can be reduced to an undetectable in the body.
He said: ‘In all honestly, it doesn’t impact my life. It is lovely to know there are no prohibitions to my life.
‘I take two pills a day to manage my condition and I am unable to transmit it to a partner for the rest of my life.’
Jay has also recently got into a new relationship.
He said: ‘It has been a slow, solidly building thing – it’s been really nice.
‘It’s my first relationship since becoming public with my status – my first foray into dating again, it’s nice to have that stability and love.’.
Now, Jay uses his platform and knowledge of the disease to educate others – after it took him months to start opening up to people.
He said: ‘Most of the groundwork that I do at the minute is one-to-one; talking to people online and signposting people to the places where they can get informed.
‘I didn’t feel like I was prepared with the knowledge myself, it was intimidating and to let people into an issue I didn’t have much confidence with was scary.
‘It took me a few months before I opened up to people, I was really vulnerable at the time and it was something new to me – it was daunting and scary.’
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