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+TALK: CAMERON CHASE

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Cameron Chase.

KARL

HIV and the church, next.

Welcome to “+Talk” on +Life, where we’re all about Turning Positive into a Plus. You know, a lot of the guests I’ve had on “+Talk” didn’t really know much about HIV until they got their diagnosis. Well, my guest today is pretty much the opposite of that. He’s an artist and an activist. His name’s Cameron Chase, he’s in Toronto. Hey!

CAMERON

Hi, nice to see you.

KARL

Nice to see you too, thanks for coming on. I read your story in POZ Magazine and we reached out to you because it really spoke to me and it was such a well written piece. You mentioned there kind of at the top and it was quoted a lot saying that “Being diagnosed HIV positive was the best and worst thing that ever happened” to you. I think a lot of us living with HIV can relate to that, but do you want to expand on it a bit for me.

CAMERON

For sure. Whenever people ask me about my story, I always do say that, you know, being diagnosed HIV positive was the best and the worst thing to ever happen to me. Obviously, you know, nobody wants to be sick. Nobody wants to live with stigma, and nobody wants to live with, you know, medical conditions. So, in that respect like, yeah, it’s terrible. But on the other hand, I know that before my diagnosis, I was, you know, a little bit of a party animal and I wasn’t really taking life that seriously. And I knew that I had a problem with alcohol beforehand, and I knew that I was partying too much. I knew that, you know, I needed to make changes and I kept pushing it off. And then getting that diagnosis literally like kicked my ass into gear and really got me to get my life to where I could thrive and live and be that best version of myself that I wasn’t for so many years. And now I just tell people, I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t know what life would be had I not gotten that diagnosis.”

KARL

Yeah, like I said, I think a lot of us living with HIV can agree with that. How have you dealt with things like internalized stigma? Have you come up against that since your diagnosis?

CAMERON

Yeah, that’s actually something that I have really tried to work through in the last couple years. You know, how do I say this, I feel like I was pretty educated on it. And when I got my diagnosis, I was like “Okay, there’s nothing I can do except get better. So I need to concentrate on that.” But then as you start to really dive in, I had the privilege of really being able to work with my therapist, especially when COVID hit. And I was able to really break down all these walls that I had up and these issues, these underlying issues that I hadn’t dealt with. And one of them was due to growing up in an extremely religious environment, you know, you grow up learning that you know, gay people get AIDS, they die, they’re sinners. That sort of really awful narrative that yes, has tapered off a little bit in the last few years, we do find the world is a lot more accepting of queer individuals, but that still is very much prevalent in society. And for me specifically, I didn’t realize how much underlying shame I had and it wasn’t even that I was ashamed to be HIV positive. It was that voice in the back of your head from when you’re young, hearing those words again. And even if you don’t necessarily believe them, it still really like knocks you down some days. And so for me I was able to work with a therapist and really help myself be that unapologetic, be that person that isn’t ashamed of what has happened or where they come from or where they’re going, like really just live your life. And that’s something that I’ve really tried to carry with me, and also give to other people. And hopefully people who, you know, are positive will really work on not feeling that underlying shame, especially upon first diagnosis. Even though we’ve come so far in medical advancements, it’s still like, hearing those words, it sucks. We all know.

KARL

Right. It totally sucks, but I think you make a good point there. And I think it sort of comes at that moment when we accept and actually learn to work with our HIV rather than work against it. And I guess that happens for everyone at different stages. But for me it was really three years ago when I thought for years I was in control of it and it wasn’t until I kinda let it all out there in the universe that I went, “Whoa, have I got some baggage and some walls.” You mentioned religion there.

CAMERON

Yeah.

KARL

And I know religion has been really important to you and in your upbringing. And I think, you know, people like Billy Porter recently who’ve come out as HIVpositive and have spoken quite strongly in regards to how important faith and religion has been to them and how they feel, I guess let down by the church and these organizations. Do you share that? And if so, how do you sort of overcome that so that you can still be spiritual and you can still have your religion without feeling like you’re the outsider?

CAMERON

Well, that’s actually something that I think is really interesting being now in my 30s. I’m very much able to look at things of like, okay, look through a lens of what was I taught when I was younger? What do I believe now that I’ve seen the world as I’m older. I consider myself a pretty like spiritual person. Organized religion is not for me. I understand that certain people do, it helps them, it keeps them grounded. For me, I really had to search for what my purpose was, my meaning was. I think there was a lot of, not just me, I think there is a lot of people who are let down by the church ultimately, and it does take a lot of work to get over the trauma that a lot of people do feel. It’s sad because something that is meant to be such a positive place for so many queer individuals or people who are considered, you know, other or different in society, it’s the opposite for them. And that’s really, really upsetting. So for me, I meditate a lot. I believe in a higher power in the universe. I think, you know, I’m blessed with a lot of different things. I was blessed with a second chance at life, like that I really do think the universe is working with me. But I do feel let down by the church, but I also can acknowledge that some people, you know, it keeps them grounded, it keeps them moving on just like how my work keeps me moving on and trying to change the world. They’re trying to be like everyone else, the people who are still in the church are trying to be like everyone else, which is be happy and live a good life. And that’s all we can really all attempt to do. So it’s not for me to judge how other people live their lives. But for me, I know that that was my experience. And if I can help other people break out of that, then you know, I’m here for a reason and that’s may be one of them.

KARL

And another one of them was to appear in the 2019 documentary, “Positive” which was really looking at HIVpositive millennials. And I know that was 2019. You took part in the documentary, your family didn’t know your status at the time. So how did that all come out? Did you share the news with them before it was released or did they learn through the documentary?

CAMERON

So with that documentary, it was one of those things that a friend of mine who was the director reached out to me. I said, “No, no interest in being on camera, all good.” And he just kept asking and was really persistent and really helped me get out of my own way and be like, “You know what, if I’m gonna be stuck living with this, I might as well like try to help people.” So I ended up doing the documentary and when the documentary was about to come out, you know, I was doing a lot of press for it. And I knew that eventually I would have to have the conversation with my parents and my family, especially since I brought it up in the documentary that “They don’t know, but I’m sure they will once they see this.” And you know, it was a tough conversation. I called them after I saw the rough cut or the final cut, I should say, of the documentary a few days before it came out. I called them. I’d actually called my sisterinlaw first. She’s a nurse so I kind of wanted her to be there as the support system ’cause you know, your parents are older, they’re automatically gonna assume I’m dying, even though I’m saying I’m not. So she was a really big help there. And I ended up having a conversation with them. I think it took them a few days. But they researched and you know, it’s no longer that death sentence. But I very much do understand, like, you know, when you’re in your mid60s and you’ve lived through the 80s and the 90s and the AIDS crisis and everything that happened, like that is going to shape your perception of it. And so it was a really good conversation to have, and it’s probably brought my family a lot closer together because they know that I’m perfectly healthy. They know that I’m fine. Obviously they wish that like, you know, I didn’t have an underlying issue, but at the same time like, it really brought us together closer. And I think expanded their minds a lot and really got them researching and seeing, you know, the stigma behind it and what communities are trying to do to combat that stigma.

KARL

Do you find them now kind of like mini HIV activists themselves?

CAMERON

We’ll get them there to that point.

KARL

My dad’s got the “U=U” T-shirts, he’s telling everybody, he’s all about it. So hopefully they get to that.

CAMERON

I mean, I think they’re definitely trying. I mean, especially during COVID they were very like, “You’re sick, you do not have an immune system, stay home.” And I’m like, “I’m fine, I’m perfectly healthy mom. Like it’s all good.”

KARL

Well I like the fact that you said that you felt it brought you all closer together. And you know, I think for people out there who are living sort of quoteunquote closeted about their HIV status, scared more often than not a lot of the times, even if it’s not immediately, we hear that people seem to really come together. And I’m so glad that was the case for you. My last question in the few seconds I’ve got left with you. You describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist. I can’t even spell that word. Do you want to help explain to our viewers what exactly that means?

CAMERON

Yeah. So I consider myself a multidisciplinary artist because I literally just hop between industries. I’ve done everything from film and television, to producing large scale events. I do curation for programming now, a lot of it is based in diversity and inclusion, and I’ve thrown in some HIV programming in there as well. So I kind of balance between a lot of different things. I don’t think I should ever try to say like, “I am one thing,” because I love all aspects of art. Art is subjective. I love the different industries I get to balance between, it keeps life exciting, especially when like we’ve been locked up for 17 months. I’m very excited to get back out and like, thrive again.

KARL

Cameron, I lied. One more question for you. What would you say to the young person at home who is seeing this interview and going, “Gosh, I wish I could be as open and honest about my HIV status as they are.” Do you have any words of encouragement?

CAMERON

Yeah, I think everybody goes through their own journey. Everybody goes through their own ways of dealing with your status and maybe the diagnosis, if it is new. What I would say to that is, nobody is rushing you or telling you to come out. Like if you need to do that for yourself, like go do that. If you want to be private, you know, keep it private. There is no set way to do this. We are all just trying to learn. But I do think that people need to know that like once you get it or if you do get it, there is nothing you can do about it except be healthy and live your life. You know, there’s no sense in drowning in sorrows, you know, let yourself feel what you feel, but at the end of the day like, you’re still here. And it is your job to make the most of the life that you still have. And it’s not like you’re dying. So get better and be the healthiest you can be and just don’t let it hinder you ’cause it won’t hinder you. It is such a small, minuscule part of you that frankly at the end of the day, does not make you, you.

KARL

There you go, perfectly said. Cameron Chase, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure meeting you and good talking to you.

CAMERON

Thank you, you too.

KARL

Thanks, buddy.

Cameron Chase, definitely turning Positive into a Plus. That’s all the time we’ve got for this episode of “+Talk.” If you want more information, be sure to check out our website, pluslifemedia.com and you can follow us across social media platforms, @pluslifemedia. Until next time, stay safe, take care of each other. We’ll see you soon.

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