December 2, 2011
As an action-packed year for the HIV/AIDS community draws to a close, TheBody.com takes stock of 2011 in a new series of articles, "2011 HIV/AIDS Year in Review." Read the entire series here.
Every year, we here at TheBody.com hope to outdo ourselves: We aim to provide more news and more research, and highlight more community voices than ever before. Whether we're successful or not might be entirely in the eye of the beholder (though in my completely unbiased, neutral, not-at-all personally involved opinion, I'd say 2011 turned out spectacularly), but one thing we can say is that a handful of our articles stand out as having gotten a lot of responses from our readers.
Here are the 10 pieces on TheBody.com that generated the biggest buzz in the last year, garnering huge responses on Facebook, Twitter and in our comments.
In September, we in TheBody.com offices were shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of Dr. Robert Frascino, who'd been our resident safer sex expert for many years, as well as a blogger, vocal community member, and all-around fantastic voice for people living with HIV. Our grief was shared by thousands worldwide, and when his death was announced, hundreds of people left comments to pay their respects, comfort one another and share stories of how Dr. Bob helped them.
We still miss Dr. Bob terribly, but as his husband and partner of 18 years, Dr. Steve, reminds us, Dr. Bob lives on in the 30,000 forum posts he left behind, and the people he helped will never forget him.
Earlier this year, we launched a slideshow of the 10 biggest HIV-positive celebrities -- but the comments quickly overflowed with people noting our oversights, and the list had to be expanded. From movie stars to athletes, musicians to models and more, these are only 15 of the many stars brave enough to come forward with their status, or whose HIV status was announced after their death.
Although the HIV community knows it to be untrue, the idea that Magic Johnson was cured remains in the world at large. In his video blog, Justin B. Terry-Smith tackled this myth, writing:
A lot of Black heterosexual people think that Magic Johnson has been cured of HIV and sometimes that can lead to dangerous behaviors. Some people say that, "Oh so Magic Johnson's been cured of HIV so I can have unprotected sex again" ... NOT. This is not the truth at all. My wish is that people keep protecting themselves against HIV. Prevention right now should be one of our top priorities since there is no cure at the moment.
This year also marked the 20th anniversary of Magic's disclosure. Aside from Justin's blog entry, our news editor, Kellee Terrell, posed the question "Will This Generation's Magic Johnson Please Stand Up?" in an important editorial. We also gathered memories of and reactions to the disclosure from members of the HIV community in a slideshow: "20 Years of Magic: How One Man's HIV Disclosure Inspired Others."
Early this year, blogger Mark S. King discovered a video of bawdy robots who met online and are about to get it on, but stop to discuss HIV and condoms. When one robot admits he has HIV, the other flips out -- even though he's willing to have sex with strangers, trusting that they'll know their HIV status and will tell the truth about it. If this banter sounds absurd when robots say it, imagine how it sounds when it happens in real life.
The lesson in all this, of course, is not to put your life into the hands of someone you've known for five minutes. Or five months. The responsibility not to get exposed to HIV (and hepatitis and other STDs) is entirely yours. And another thing: If you're a sexually active "man about town" and your last HIV test was months ago, the results don't really matter anymore. Go get a new one.
And, as he added at the end: "Sometimes the truth hurts. In this case, it's also hilarious."
It's amazing how such a tiny piece can gain so much traction -- or maybe, considering it's about a potential HIV cure, that should just be expected. A lot of people were excited and energized in the wake of the news that Timothy Brown (formerly known as the "Berlin patient") had been cured of HIV. This short news piece calling for volunteers blew up on Facebook and Twitter as people eagerly spread the word, hoping to fill out the study ranks and help the research move forward.
When she was diagnosed with HIV, Damaries Cruz decided to hold off on starting medications -- eventually waiting 17 years. Her health was far from perfect and had been for a long time (she'd even received an AIDS diagnosis, with a low T-cell count and a high viral load), but she finally knew the time was right:
I even cried. Your T cells, they are like soldiers; they help your immune system. But I felt as if they were my kids, waiting there, like, "What are you doing? What are you doing? Come on, help me." And I felt so guilty, so guilty, that I just had to say, "You know what? Help is on the way. I'm going to do what I need to do. Do not worry." Then I came back and I started researching HIV medications.
I never was against medication completely. I would say, "When the time comes, I'm going to research it." And you know, when that time comes, you do feel it in the core of your body, in the center of your soul. You feel it -- that it is the moment.
Since official guidelines have been recommending people living with HIV start treatment earlier and earlier, it's easy to overlook just how nerve wracking the decision to go on meds can be. Readers across the country -- and the world -- connected with Damaries' story about waiting.
In his first blog entry at TheBody.com, Nelson Vergel gave voice to some of the fears HIVers in his generation are experiencing:
With the advent of friendlier drugs and long-term virus suppression, many of us are confronted with a dilemma faced by few healthy people our age. Fear of financial doom in old age has replaced the fear of death that was part of our psyche for so many years.
Many people with HIV on permanent disability struggle by on less than $1,000 a month to pay all their bills. Others who get payments from private disability policies from their last job will lose them when they reach age 65. But who thought we were going to live to be 65 anyway!?
In the entry's comments, many readers poured out their own insecurities about HIV, money and aging.
In January, Maria T. Mejia joined TheBody.com's blogging family, providing another unique perspective to the site. Among many other things, Maria is an activist, an educator, a lesbian and a long-term survivor who kept her HIV status hidden for many years. In her most popular blog entry, "Why I Want to Show My Face After 20 Years," she explains what prompted her to go public:
Something really deep happened before 2011 came. My partner's sister passed away from cancer and this was so terrible :(. I thought to myself, and asked myself, WHY can't I say I have HIV?? Why is it that anyone can say they have cancer or diabetes or any other health condition and I am so scared to disclose openly without having that fear?
It then, with a combination of other things, made me feel it is time to show my face to take the stigma away! We are not criminals ...
In her blog, Maria speaks openly and honestly about her experiences taking medication, dealing with stigma and much more.
Having Brooke Davidoff join the bloggers at TheBody.com was one of our top stories from last year, and she has remained a popular voice on the site in 2011. In this entry, she writes with raw honesty about the fear of infecting her husband:
We had sex; not a big deal. We're married. We're supposed to have sex. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last time.
But he wasn't supposed to get sick the day after. He was throwing up and had a fever that came out of nowhere.
Was it because of me? Is he no longer HIV negative?
Although some commenters called into question Brooke and her husband's decision not to use condoms, most were from other HIVers in magnetic relationships who reminded her -- as she'd reminded them -- that her fears are understandable and she isn't alone.
Early this year, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn came under investigation for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid at a New York City hotel. The story was irresistible to the tabloids from the very start, so it's no shock that it got even worse when HIV entered the mix. The New York Post reported that Strauss-Kahn's accuser lived in an apartment building that rents only to adults living with HIV. In an editorial responding to the paper, Kellee Terrell wrote:
Look, I am fully aware that Strauss-Kahn's guilt is to be determined by a jury of his peers, so I shouldn't judge him, nor should the paper. But to paint him as a victim and try to out her supposed HIV status is just plain wrong.
What does her alleged HIV status have to do with this case? Absolutely nothing. And if she is HIV positive, which has not been confirmed, how is it any of our business? It's not.
Kellee also pointed out to readers that the Post was not only reinforcing HIV stigma, it was placing the blame for the assault on the rape victim -- something that many other media pieces also do, especially if the victim is a woman of color.
Becky Allen is the site manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Becky on Twitter: @BeckyAtTheBody.
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