My name is Justin Anantawan (Instagram: @justin_anantawan) and I am a gay Asian photographer living with HIV. I recently completed a photo project called “Stories of Life with HIV: A Queer Asian Perspective” in collaboration with Where Love is Illegal, Asian Community AIDS Services and The Community One Foundation. The project took a year to complete and featured stories of 8 members of the ACAS community in Toronto.
I implemented this project because I felt that it was important to shed light on the diverse experiences of my peers and colleagues – participants included folks of Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Chinese descent. In Toronto, PHAs are a largely marginalized, stigmatized and underrepresented community. However, Queer Asian PHAs, especially newcomers, face the additional barriers such as lack of access to resources in their native language and social isolation. The aim of this project was to empower the participants to share their stories, raise awareness for challenges facing Queer HIV Positive Asians and show the community that our stories matter.
This project was valuable to me because it made me feel closer to my peers. As a Canadian-born person of Chinese and Thai descent, I have often felt like an imposter – I do not know the Thai or Chinese languages and I have still yet to visit my extended family in Thailand. Also, in my work as a photographer, I previously had done many stories on PHAs in Kenya and Gambia – however I had not photographed members of my own community. By interacting with the participants and listening to their stories I was able to gain a new perspective on what it means to be a Queer Asian PHA and draw parallels between their stories and mine. I also made a new group of friends who can relate to my experiences, love and support me.
I see this project as a time capsule. I hope that people, perhaps decades and perhaps centuries from now, will read these stories and use them to reflect on the achievements of Queer Asian PHAs from the past – and contemplate what will still need to be done to make life better for people living with HIV/AIDS.