The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study in 2016 that declared that, if current diagnosis rates persist, half of all Black men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States would eventually be diagnosed with HIV. Deemed a public health epidemic, this study was meant to promote a call to action to scale up efforts lest these HIV predictions come to fruition. As we work to "scale up," I want to assert that we have our efforts acknowledge something deeply important -- pleasure.
Within public health, conversations about HIV and Black MSM tend to carry this notion of "risk." Having condomless sex, multiple sex partners, exclusive sexual networks, and experiencing racism/homophobia are said to put Black MSM "at-risk" for being diagnosed with HIV. While there is validity in speaking about factors that could contribute to higher HIV rates, we must be careful about using language that contributes to the type of stigma we are working to eliminate. We often discuss homophobia from a social, cultural, and political sense, but at the root of it, it is a disdain for pleasure between individuals of the same gender -- a disdain for the desire and longing that motivates individuals to identify as part of the LGBTQ community to begin with. And, if we're not careful, we can contribute to a sense of shame that homophobia works to already create in so many of us.
When Black MSM are only brought into mainstream light when discussing HIV and, furthermore, when that messaging labels everyday behaviors and realities for Black MSM as "risk factors" for HIV, it implies that HIV diagnosis is an inevitability for Black MSM. That Black MSM, as beings, are "risky." So today, and going forward, I want to see more harm-reduction messaging that acknowledges pleasure and empowers Black MSM with options. From barrier methods to PrEP/PEP to Treatment as Prevention (TasP), there is no shortage of ways to engage in safer sex practices as Black MSM.
And to all the Black queer men out there, regardless of your HIV status, your pleasure is not risky.
The way in which you express love is not risky.
And, most importantly, you, as a human being, are not risky.