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Gay Times December 12 - Issue 413


Ji Wallace

Ji Wallace is an Australian gymnast and lives in Sydney. He won the silver medal for trampoline at the Olympic Games held there in 2000. In 2005 he came out as being gay, and in August 2012 he went public about being HIV-positive. Paul Thorn stayed up very late one night to call him and find out more about Ji, why he disclosed his HIV status, and what his plans are for the future


Wondering what kind of a name Ji is? “My Mum’s name is Jan and my Dad’s name is Ian. That is how I got my name. ‘J’ ‘I’, it’s their initials”. Ji is 35-years-old, and lives with his partner Shaun. “We live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney darling! I can see the beach from here!” Ji’s not originally from the big city. “I was an only child, born in a little country town in Western Victoria with only about 250 people. We then moved to Brisbane where I grew up on the southern outskirts of the city, in not the best area.” He has travelled and lived all over the world since. He sounds full of energy, and has already been to the gym by 9am. Personally I’m tired and it’s silly O’clock in the morning in the UK at the time of the call, and I’m wondering if I should prop open my eyelids with matchsticks. It doesn’t take me long to perk up speaking to Ji. He is full of infectious energy, and laughs often. He sounds incredibly focussed, kind of like you would expect an Olympic medallist to be, but at the same time I am struck by his humility. “I’m not an angel. I’m a bit of a cheeky guy. I’ve got myself into silly circumstances in the past. I have my dark moments like everyone, but I try to think that, ‘something worse has always happened to somebody better’ and pull myself out of them. The sun comes up, it goes down and I have to get out there and enjoy it.”
It’s that kind of thinking that has probably served him very well. About 12 months ago Ji was diagnosed HIV-positive. “When it first happened, all I wanted to do was to yell and scream at the world.” Ji tells me about an advert they used to have on Australian television in the late 1980s. It is commonly known as the ‘Grim Reaper’ advert, in the same way as we in the UK refer to the ‘Tombstone’ and ‘Iceberg’ adverts from the same era that was intended to alert the wider population to the threat of HIV. Ji explains; “the Grim Reaper is at a ten-pin bowling alley, bowling at families and knocking them down, there was a deathly voice-over saying; ‘It isn’t just gay men and intravenous drug-users. HIV is targeting families now’. When the advert came out in 1987, Ji was at primary school. “I remember waking up one morning and screaming out to my mother ‘I’ve got AIDS! I’ve got AIDS! I’m going to die, I’ve got AIDS!’ My mum walked in and she looked at me and she kind of giggled. Nothing really fazes her! She said ‘you don’t have AIDS, you’ve got Chicken Pox!’ This advert has been with me since I was 10 years old. It scared the shit out of the whole country. It was an awful, awful ad which although was brilliant from an advertising standpoint because it scared the ‘be-jesus’ out of everybody in the country, but on the flip side it caused such stigma and discrimination because the general public just picked up on the mention of gays and intravenous drug-users, and that’s who they blamed, and that stigma still exists today 25 years later.”
So how does Ji feel about being HIV-positive? “My main concern wasn’t that I was going to die, it was that people were going to treat me differently. I came to the conclusion that if I don’t treat it any different, then people won’t treat me any different. Things have changed today. Over the past 30 years there has been a lot of heartache and death. I’m very conscious of being respectful to the past. I can only imagine what it was like. As amazing as anti-retrovirals are, and as fantastic as they have been for the HIV community, it has actually caused quite a dilemma for people that did go through the eighties and early nineties with a death sentence hanging over their head, a lot of people sold all their assets, spent all of their money, lived life to the fullest because they were ‘out of here soon’, and then anti-retrovirals come along and now those people find themselves deep in debt and in trouble. A lot of people are living day by day and they are struggling because of it.”


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Words: Paul Thorn
Image: Photographed for GT by Pedro Virgil in Sydney, Australia. Assisted by Karan Mandhian. With thanks to Peter White and Costa, the crew of the Pericles. Thanks also to ES Collection, escollection.es

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