Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Two halves make a whole

Regan Hofmann, the international HIV/AIDS activist and editor in chief of 'POZ' magazine, is in Taipei with her boyfriend Sean Foster to raise publicawareness of the disease

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Regan Hofmann, left, and Sean Foster take a break during an HIV/AIDS summit held at the Grand Hyatt hotel.

PHOTO: NOAH BUCHAN, TAIPEI TIMES

They are smart, sexy and committed to each other. She is an activist and editor in chief of a respected New York-based magazine; he is an ex-paratrooper and works for a sports team. She speaks in snappy sentences, a testament to her years on the lecture circuit; he ponders his every utterance, unaccustomed to being in the limelight and hounded with questions. They've been dating for more than a year and have received requests to go on talk shows to discuss their story. But they (or more specifically he) have refused to speak publicly about their relationship - until now.

She is Regan Hofmann, the face of HIV/AIDS in the 21st century and he is Sean Foster, the part of her life that keeps her grounded outside the maelstrom of activism. Together they come across as a typical American couple, a reality they are keen to impress on others in the hope of changing people's perception of the disease.

"Regan is my girlfriend - that's the primary thing," Foster said on Wednesday after attending a press conference at the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation (龍應台文化基金會). "And what comes along with that is HIV/AIDS and I'm going to be with her and involved in this or I'm not going to be with her."

Foster believes AIDS is a disease much like any other, such as cancer or lung disease. There is no judgment, no shame. Just the knowledge that the woman he loves has a health problem that could potentially be fatal.

"It is a calculated risk. It's not just, 'she has HIV and I'm going to do this for humanity.' It's not like that," Foster said. "It's about personal decisions. I do believe in supporting Regan in the fight that she's in and anything I can do to help, I will."

Hofmann contracted HIV through a heterosexual relationship eleven years ago. Contrary to the commonly held perception that HIV is a virus contracted by homosexuals or intravenous drug users, Hofmann makes it clear that anyone having unprotected sex is at risk.

"It's a sexually transmitted virus," she said. "It comes in through the bloodstream [and] that's nature's choice. If it were airborne there would be no stigma surrounding HIV," she said. Part of Hofmann's mission is altering people's perceptions of HIV by challenging the stigma associated with the disease.

After learning that she had the disease, Hofmann began reading POZ (www.poz.com), a monthly magazine about living with HIV/AIDS. It quickly became her lifeline to information about the virus and the community affected by it.

Six years later she wrote to the magazine stating that she wanted to write an anonymous column about the side effects of the drugs she was taking three times a day, which had the potential to cause a perceptible change in her body's physique, thereby revealing her HIV status.

What started as an occasional article soon blossomed into her own column, still anonymous, about her experiences disclosing her HIV-positive status to family, friends and acquaintances.

"I found that there's no way to predict how someone will react," she once wrote. "If they're calm, they'll freak out later; if they get upset, they'll often show up at your door with a gift and a mouthful of 'sorries' a couple of days down the line."

And how did Foster react when she first told him?

"It made my heart drop. Honestly, I got a sick feeling because I had met a great person," he said. Clearly, however, this did not prove to be an obstacle to their burgeoning relationship.

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