Friday, April 26, 2013

HIV/AIDS: Everyone has it, no one is talking about it

I vividly remember the day I walked into my parent's house about a week after coming out to them, when my mom made her first assumption about my newly claimed sexuality. I was walking toward my room, behind the couch where she was sitting, when she stopped me and looked at me with a concerned face. She paused. A few moments later she asked, "Do you know what I'm concerned about most?" I knew she meant with "being gay now," but I didn't know what she was concerned about. "Uhhhhh, no," I said. "Your health." I was confused. Or maybe I acted confused because I knew what she meant. She was afraid now that I had a boyfriend I was going to get HIV or already had HIV. I exclaimed that not every gay person has AIDS and stormed off to my room like an angry teenager.

But isn't that something to be angry about? Isn't that a common belief among a lot people? Maybe not in the neo liberal town of Austin (because Austin is perfect), but somehow there has become a notion—and maybe it exists more in older generations—that "all the gays have AIDS." I'm not sure where this originated. Maybe in the mid- to late-'80s when media portrayed entire communities as being affected by the virus. Which was true to some extent, but it's not the epidemic that it once was. So why haven't the perceptions changed?

Because the conversations have stopped. In his recent article "Where the Hell is Our Community?" Michael Kaplan, president and CEO of AIDS United, wrote, "Our community has decided to live with [HIV], not talk about it, but live with it." It's more difficult to change the narratives around gay people having HIV when even the gay community isn't talking about the virus. Kaplan writes how DOMA and ENDA are the hot topics right now, asserting it's because they're de-sexed issues. He says that to talk about HIV means we have to talk about sex, in addition to drugs and poverty. Really, all three of these topics are taboo in socio-political realms, but especially sex, and don't even think about gay sex.

It's great that medications are being produced that can lower viral loads and help HIV-positive people managed their health. Another narrative takes place that says HIV is no longer a death sentence. This might be true... for people who have access to health care and the treatments to live longer. But every year about 9,000 men who have sex with men die from HIV-related illnesses, according to Kaplan's article. Marriage equality and employment nondiscrimination are important issues and I want them to succeed. But what about all these people dying, all these people we've stopped talking about?

Gay and bisexual men don't fear HIV/AIDS like they should, and everyone else could use a paradigm shift in thinking about the virus. People have bought into the idea of just taking a pill—as we do with many illnesses—even when this pill is no cure, and therefore are becoming silent about HIV simply because it's easy. It's easy when the detrimental effects of the virus can be put off for several more years with a pill. Instead of paying for our health, though, why don't we protect it? Kaplan estimates the cost of treatment for HIV in an average lifespan is $350,000. Is the "pleasure" or "fantasy" of not using a condom worth $350,000? Is the avoided stress of getting tested worth $350,000? Maybe you think not getting tested will save you the money. But what if you're already HIV-positive? What if you get the virus that one time you barebacked with a guy who said his viral load was undetectable? It's not worth the risk. Protect your health and the community and know your status.


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