Charity Kase was one of the star competitors on the most recent series of Ru Paul's Drag Race.
They will be remembered for their alternative drag costumes and makeup, but there was another standout moment from their time on the BBC show.
Charity Kase, who's real name is Harry Whitfield, opened up to fellow Queen Kitty Scott-Claus on their HIV status in a heartfelt conversation – sparking a huge outpouring of love online.
Here, the 25 year old talks about their journey to get to a positive place in their life…
'The stigma around HIV is far worse than the disease itself. I take one tablet per day to stay healthy and completely undetectable so I can’t pass the disease on. I’m thriving in my life everyday, but that’s not the narrative that gets told when talking about HIV.
When I was first diagnosed it took me a good few months to be okay with it because I believed the untrue myths as well.
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I grew up in a small village where there wasn’t any other openly gay people. I found out I was gay by having people tell me that I was in schoolyard taunts. I never felt as if I belonged, and I wanted to find my place. When my London boyfriend asked me to live with him when I was 17 I didn’t think twice.
A year later, I was at a party and someone took advantage of me. That experience mentally and physically distraught.
I became very ill so I went to the hospital and they tested me for STIs. I was told that I had contracted HIV, and it felt like my whole world crumbled down around me. It was like a movie – I zoned out of the room and everything just went blurry and a ringing sound started in my ears.
All I knew about the disease was that it was dirty, which isn’t true. I’m quite a destructive person when I’m sad so things really spiralled out of control. It took me right back to the vulnerable feeling I had as a child whilst being bullied. I couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t see a way of moving forward. I broke up with my boyfriend. He was my best friend so it felt like I suddenly had nobody.
I slept in a prison cell after getting into a fight with him and then I was homeless. I didn’t want to go back to my family home as they were distraught about my diagnosis. When I told my mum over the phone we both just cried our eyes out, which was traumatising. Luckily an amazing friend Steven took me in and I still live with him to this day.
I decided to do a 365 day drag challenge to give me something positive to focus on. I’d only ever done it for fun before, but I started to really take it seriously and it got attention. I have drag to thank for giving me purpose again. I felt like I didn’t have to tell people that I felt like a monster because I looked like a monster anyway. I could paint my emotions.
The captions would challenge people to look at something that was scary and monstrous, but see that there was a deeper meaning and we should be sympathetic to them. That was my way of pushing across the message about HIV.
This led to me appearing on Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK and it was important for me to talk about my HIV status on TV. I wanted to connect with people who are going through the same thing, and show that you can live a normal and happy life.
Growing up I didn’t know any people on British TV who were open about it, and now I can only think of Gareth Thomas. The pool of people needs to be expanded majorly, and me coming out on TV was a way that I could make that happen.
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I wanted my story to be uplifting, make a positive change to the world and I wanted to feel in control telling it. It was almost a bit selfish too as when I meet someone I feel like I have to run them through my list of baggage. I haven’t had sex since the night of the assault, which has been seven years. Now I’ve put it all out there, and it doesn’t have to feel like a shameful secret and hopefully romantic love is something I’ll one day experience again.
I thought I would talk about it and carry on with my life, but that moment has become a massive part of me. I’m grateful to represent my community and for the thousands of messages of support from people living with it too. I just hope more people come forward and not just white gay men because this disease affects so many different people.
I was a person who had the same prejudices without even knowing it, and so did my friends. They thought that if they shared a drink with me that they’d catch the virus. I remember telling a family member about my diagnosis and they said, “I told you to be careful”. That is the stigma and people don’t realise it. Contracting a virus is nobody’s fault. The education system is so poor and we need to fix that so we can move forward.
I’m not angry anymore. I've come to a place now where I am proud of my experiences and there's a part of me that's grateful for what I've been through because it shaped me into who I am today.'
For support, advice and to ask any questions, you can contact Terrence Higgins Trust’s free helpline THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 or visit tht.org.uk/thtdirect.
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