The xx star Oliver Sim reveals he’s been living with HIV since he was 17

Oliver Sim of The xx performs on his bass guitar

The xx singer Oliver Sim has revealed he has been living with HIV since he was 17 – and refuses to feel ashamed of it.

Sim, bass guitarist and singer for the moody British indie rock band, said in a lengthy Instagram post on Monday afternoon (23 May) that he has long grappled with shame because of the diagnosis.

“I’ve been living with HIV since I was 17 and it’s played with how I’ve felt towards myself, and how I’ve assumed others have felt towards me, from that age and into my adult life,” he wrote.

While working on his new solo album, Hideous Bastard, Sim noticed that many of the tracks dealt with themes of “fear and shame” and his HIV status was seemingly the root cause of it all.

“I realised I’d been circling around one of the things that have probably caused me the most fear and shame,” the 32-year-old said. “My HIV status.”

The opening song deals with this head-on. “Hideous”, a – of course – moody pop song, includes the verse: “Been living with HIV since age 17, am I hideous?” according to The New York Times.

Sim added that “Hideous” became a way for him to overcome the stigma of HIV by owning his truth – and it started by playing it to his mother.

“Being the protective and wise mum that she is, she gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received,” he recalled. “She suggested that I spend some time having conversations with people in my life first.”

“Since writing ‘Hideous’, I’ve spent the past two years having those conversations, which was difficult and uncomfortable to start with, but has allowed me to feel a lot freer and has only strengthened my relationship with myself and with people in my life.”

HIV stigma made a teenage Oliver Sim see sex as ‘destructive or dangerous’

Forty years since the first diagnosis of HIV-related illnesses, HIV stigma shows no signs of ceasing. Only a third of Britons would express sympathy for people living with HIV, according to 2021 research from National AIDS Trust.

HIV stigma can take a great toll on people living with the virus, health experts say, often holding people back from getting tested and treated for HIV. Many fear discrimination from healthcare providers and their loved ones.

This makes Oliver Sim sharing his diagnosis all the more powerful, CEO of sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, Ian Green, said in a statement.

“As Oliver’s song shows, stigma remains a huge issue for people living with HIV and has a significant negative impact on wellbeing, sex and relationships,” he said.

Oliver Sim sharing his HIV diagnosis will help chip away HIV shame, a sexual health charity said. (Paul R. Giunta/Getty Images)

“It also stops others from coming forward to get tested and access life-changing treatment.

“That’s why it’s so important we’re all working towards a world free of HIV stigma – because only then will we also be able to end new HIV transmissions.”

Sim told The New York Times he was diagnosed with HIV as he was exploring his identity as a gay man. “It happened at a time when I was just starting to be open with my sexuality,” Sim said.

“I was just opening the doors and it shut the doors again a bit.”

The shame Sims suffered slowly eroded him, “as if sex itself was something that was destructive or dangerous or shameful”, he said, “and I think I wanted to pull that apart, to separate those two.”

But HIV isn’t the only thing to Oliver Sim or his music, he stressed. It’s a lot more than that.

“This record isn’t about HIV,” he said.

“I’m not naïve, I know it’s going to be talked about and it will be a defining part of it, but that’s not how I see this record. It’s about shame, it’’ about fear and it’s celebratory.”