HIV/AIDS is synonymous with the gay male community. We are either infected, effected or affected by this illness and it is stitched into the very fabric of our sexual lives. For many of us, we don’t know of a world without HIV, condoms or stigma; this is the way it always has been. But for others, AIDS was and still is a defining part of their lives as lovers and friends died of this gay cancer while a nation ignored their cries for help. Of course, organizations like ACT-UP and Queer Nation rose from the darkness to battle the United States government and big pharmaceutical companies, to not only provide research into this new disease but also provide testing and medication for those most at risk. As a community, gay males, with the ever present assistance and tireless work of lesbians and other allies, were able to help make the progress we enjoy today. Unfortunately, it took the loss of many lives to gain these successes but we are much better off today than we were in the early 1980s. Then, our major enemies were straights that thought this was a plague upon our house for being gay and defying god. We battled this narrative and supported those with HIV/AIDS in life and even death. So, what the fuck happened to us?
HIV is not just a sexually transmitted illness, it has become a call of moral judgement. It is a marker of whether you are a good person or a bad one. If you have the “right type of sex” or “the wrong type”. If you follow hetero-normative values of monogamy or enjoy sex with multiple partners, without condoms (so called: BareBacking). Have you embraced the bogey man theories that those living with HIV want to share their illness and pain with everyone they have sex with, or that many guys are literally dying to contract this illness (Bug Chasers)?
HIV is the measure which decides if you are worthy of being cared for and/or loved. If you are HIV positive, many believe your life has little to no value, and it is all your fault! You are a “whore, meth addict, or stupid”. These are not the thoughts and actions of just straight people, rather ones which originate and flourish inside of our own communities. Somehow within the span of the AGE of AIDS to the AGE of HIV, gay males have become the chief progenitors of HIV stigma. We went from supporting our infected brothers to shaming and blaming them for making our community look bad. Even worse, we condemn them to a life of stigma, and criminalization. All the while forgetting, but for the grace of god go I. We have turned our backs on our brothers and are proud of it. Even our leaders embrace the side of fear over compassion. What took the CDC so long in joining the world chorus supporting treatment as prevention and undetectable equals uninfectious?
Once upon a time, AIDS was a death sentence. Within the span of a few years or even months, a diagnosis was certain death. The immune system would begin to shut down, as T-Cells dropped and even the most basic illnesses could become fatal. Without treatment, contagion and infection ran rampant through our communities as political leaders made knee jerk decisions about how to contain the spread of the virus. Bath houses were shut, condoms became compulsory and jerking off was the only acceptable method of sex gay males could have…if any. These moves were supported by many frightened gays. Then, the HIV cocktail was created. A multitude of medications combined to stop HIV from growing within the body, but with various side-effects and high costs to the patient. But even this was better than a painful death. Luckily, our community was there to support those with HIV and created non-profits to ensure their health and wellbeing. These were our brothers and we were there for them.
We now live in interesting times. Treatment as prevention, one pill a day regiments, keep most with HIV alive and kicking, with projections of living a normal life span and, once the virus reaches undetectable levels, unable to pass the virus on to others. This sounds like great news, but just as science and medicine has reached a point to keep those infected with HIV healthy and uninfectious, our community has been responding with even greater amounts of stigma than we have ever seen before. Now that the risk of infection is so low, we have decided to punish those infected and increase our communal outrage level to a point near hatred. Almost every gay HIV positive male reports stigma as a normal part of his personal, dating and sexual life. The most dangerous place for an HIV+ man is the Internet. Dating apps, that were meant to bring gay males together have become the main breeding ground for HIV stigma, with one new company openly expressing that it is not for positive guys. This high level of bigotry is now a standard part of our community. What the fuck happened to us?
And then there is PrEP; the best medication to come along since protease inhibitors in the fight against HIV. A one pill a day medication which is 100 percent effective in preventing HIV infection. 70 percent of the new HIV infections in the United States are with men who have sex with men. This medication could stop an entire generation from contracting one of the deadliest illnesses known to man, but our community decided to deride this achievement and instead of supporting this medication, our leaders made these statements:
Larry Kramer, one of the founders of New York City’s, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) stated in an article for the New York Times, “there’s something to me cowardly about taking Truvada instead of using a condom. You’re taking a drug that is poison to you, and it has lessened your energy to fight, to get involved, to do anything”.
And of course, you will remember David Duran, the HIV positive gay man who published a piece in the Huffington Post coining the phrase “Truvada whore”. Three year later, he, like Kramer has changed his tune. Stating,”when I first heard about PrEP, I wasn’t convinced. I was also, at the time, a slut-shaming, sexually introverted and rather judgmental human being. So when I penned the once famous “Truvada Whore” opinion piece that haunts me to this day, I was coming from a place of not really understanding why anyone would need or want to take this pill when condoms where so readily available.” Mr. Kramer, now calls PrEP “an essential tool”.
It should be noted that neither of these men are medical doctors or policy experts, specializing in gay male health or specialists in the field of modern HIV treatment or prevention. To be very clear, Mr. Duran is “is an award winning travel writer who focuses on destination and luxury travel as well as culinary, hospitality and airlines. He contributes to such publications as Travel Leisure, Jetsetter, Fodor’s and Huffington Post Travel”. Like them, none of your friends on Facebook, or those who write comments on gay news sites, are doctors or experts either. Strangers on the Internet are much more likely to be like Mr. Duran and coming from his place of personal trauma and bullshit, than someone looking out for your individual benefit.
But we want you to take a moment and think about these two (2) men and all of the harm they have created. All of the fear they have stoked as well as the misinformation they have spread. How many guys have contracted HIV while listening to them? How many at-risk men are now living with HIV and MUST TAKE TRUVADA FOR LIFE, instead of as a preventative measure, because they followed the advice of a pillar in our community, and an uninformed travel writer for a magazine and self-described “slut shaming, sexually introverted, judgmental” blogger?
Now, think about all of the gay men in your life that still continue to repeat the words of these men. The ones that know better than you about what you should do, because they have a friend, who knows this guy, that went out with a guy on PrEP who is now….
Special mention should go to the one-man Anti-PrEP crusader with a ton of money and power, who also is head of one of the world’s largest HIV/AIDS organizations, Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Even with all of the new facts, science and research regarding this HIV prevention medication, he continues to spend considerable amounts of time and money on his years-long public campaign against PrEP. Mr. Weinstein’s offenses against those living with HIV and those trying to remain virus free are so numerous and egregious that HIVPLUS magazine wrote a top ten list of his greatest offenses in spreading HIV stigma throughout our community. What the fuck happened to us?
What we also should learn from those men is that even guys living with HIV, or working for HIV/AIDS non-profits, are not immune from spreading HIV stigma. Years and decades of being told they are infectious, dirty and deserving of a horrible death must obviously take a toll on someone, as well as not wanting to see another generation succumb to this illness. But the fear of the past and the horrors endured cannot and must not stop progress and science. Denial will not bring back any of your loved ones or stop anyone else from becoming infected with HIV, but it will keep people from getting tested and continue to spread the fear of a manageable illness. Having HIV does not make one an expert on the illness or its effects on the individual body. Too often the negative opinions of a gay man living with HIV, like Mr. Duran, or someone in power like Mr. Weinstein, outweigh science and increase fear. We must all learn the new facts about HIV, even those living with it, and spread the message of undetectable equals uninfectious. This is how we move forward with our individual and community healthcare.
It has been stated many times and research has confirmed, that we all have a level of internalized homophobia as we were born into a world that praises heterosexuality and sees homosexuality as a deviance. We are not normal, rather queer; an oddity, one of god’s mistakes, and AIDS is his divine punishment. Even those who are not religious have found justification in shaming and blaming our sexual acts for this level of justice. In response, they reject anal sex and condemn it as rape. Others have used HIV as yet another way to discriminate against males of colour, as they have the largest rates of HIV infection by population percentage. These people totally ignore the historical ramifications of institutionalized racism, poverty, medical experimentation and even denial of treatment, access to care, medication, information and general healthcare coverage many men of colour face. Finally, HIV is used as a bench marker for goodness. Words like “clean” are thrown around to find out who is worthy of sexual attention and affection.
Our community, who has been known to laugh at right-wing voters for their denial of basic science, evolution and climate change, are now quick to denounce the science of #UequalsU as well as each and every study that states those living with HIV who are undetectable are not a danger to others. These same guys refuse PrEP on the outdated notion that condoms work just as well or better (They Don’t). These feelings would not be such an issue, if these people did not have such platforms as the Internet and other forms of social media, to not only force their agenda on others, but shame those who dare make decisions about their personal lives based on science and not fear, peer pressure or lies. We have become our brothers’ worst enemies, contributing to the high rates of loneliness, isolation and even suicide of guys who have HIV.
HIV is a gay male health concern, but it is not inevitable. If we continue to allow our fears of the past or the “what ifs” to dictate our decisions, our brothers did die in vain. They suffered for nothing because we learned nothing. The facts and science are clear, HIV has changed and we, as a community and individuals must change too. This means supporting HIV testing, making it routine if you are sexually active, providing and taking PrEP if you are at risk for HIV infection, allowing others to create personal tool kits of protection, repealing criminalization laws and stopping HIV stigma within and outside of our communities. This is how we will end HIV, not by spreading outdated fears and stigma.
A few important facts
- HIV has changed
- Most on medication take ONE pill a day, not a full cocktail of drugs
- Side effects from HIV meds are very rare and minimal for almost everyone
- Guys only die of AIDS when they go undiagnosed for HIV and without treatment
- Most who contract HIV do so from guys they are in a relationship with
- Condoms are not more effective than PrEP
- only 4 people in the entire world contracted HIV while on PrEP, all due to other issues
- You don’t know anyone that contracted HIV while on PrEP
- You probably know someone who contracted HIV while using condoms
- HIV positive guys can and do lead normal, long life spans
- HIV positive guys can spread stigma just as much as anyone else
- There is no such thing as Bug Chasers
- Undetectable means an HIV poz guy cannot infect anyone with the virus
- There is NO SCIENTIFIC PROOF/EVIDENCE OF HIV RE-INFECTION (SUPER HIV VIRUS)
- You cannot contract HIV from kissing, rimming, jerking off, toilet seats, food utensils, etc…
- HIV criminalization laws are out dated, not based on science and penalize testing
- You don’t have to have sex with someone living with HIV, but you also don’t have to be a dick to them