I'm Positive, I'm on Treatment, I'm Undetectable, So Get Off My Case!
This article originally appeared on PositiveLite.com, Canada's Online HIV Magazine.
Okay, look out folks, senior citizen out of control and about to rant!
To quote any queen on the Drag Race, I'm sick of being treated as a pariah (which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as: "a term of reproach or abuse: a worthless or contemptible person; a wretch, a cur."), officially!
Where's this coming from? Because I'm HIV positive, I'm on treatment and the virus is undetectable in my body, yet I'm seen as unclean, untouchable and unattractive. Who thinks that? Why the world at large and of course my ever-empathetic fellow homosexuals. Why would they think that? You tell me!
Despite the latest research and the fact that there are practically no known cases of a person of my status infecting anyone else with HIV, there's no way I'm welcomed back into the fold as a safe sexual partner? It may sound as though I've got a massive chip on my shoulder but recent rejections both subtle and downright rude, have confirmed my status as a social pariah even within my own community.
I'm speaking generally of course. There are hundreds of reasons why people won't find me attractive, not the least of which is my chronological age. Got it; no problem there; it's in the eye of the beholder but when I'm rejected because of one of the most loaded acronyms in history and the outdated connotations that go with it, it pisses me off.
People with HIV have had 30 years of infection, survival, getting treatment, getting through that treatment, eventually becoming healthy and undetectable and being proved to be safer sexual options than anyone who isn't tested and yet we're still the "unclean" to be avoided and demeaned at all costs.
I accept that it will take some time for the general population to catch up with the news that undetectable people can't pass on the virus but I hate the fact that nobody is interested in publicizing that news. I also rile at the inherent cowardice of HIV organisations and the LGBT media, who are also reluctant to publish any findings that may damage the safe sex message and always qualify any statements with caveats. Who else is heartily sick of "Research suggests ..."?
What is their problem? It's the same problem that refuses to accept that treatment as prevention (TasP) will bring down HIV transmission and screams attacks on personal liberty if it's suggested that everybody gets tested and if need be, treated for HIV. There's no logic behind it at all, yet LGBTQ ostriches the world over are burying their heads in the sand and refusing to face facts. That idiot Weinstein, who claimed that Truvada is nothing more than a party drug and will lead to orgies on a Roman scale, typifies the group of people who, let's face it, are disgusted by the idea of an unsheathed penis entering an anus and are so arrogant that they can't trust people to make sensible choices and take responsibility for their own health. He's a so-called HIV leader! It's just not good enough anymore. We have the means to reduce HIV to a bit player on the viral stage and yet still moral judgments rule the day.
I've had personal experience recently of being categorized and labelled to the point of humiliation and contempt. Having lost a budding relationship, I decided to get back on the horse and dip my toe in the dating world again. However, I long ago gave up the idea of hiding my status and history -- it's so much part of who I am, it's pointless trying to hide it. The difference with before is that instead of being passive and waiting for people to contact me, I decided to send exploratory messages to those who I thought might be interested. It's not as though I was contacting young people, or even people under 40, I'm attracted to mature people who've seen a bit of life. My profiles show exactly what my status is and I don't hide the facts.
Some reactions were frankly horrifying. Either complete denial of my existence and radio silence from that point on, or long diatribes outlining my doubtful moral fiber, with suggestions of depravity and accusations of wanting to spread my "disease" amongst the "innocent." Thankfully, not everybody reacted in that way. There were those who politely told me they wouldn't ever consider having sex with a positive guy (not great for the ego but acceptable in the name of freedom of choice) and those who frankly admitted they were terrified of becoming infected. I'll take honesty above insult any day of the week.
There's no point in trying to present the facts to most people, the ad-men in the '80s did their job too well in terrifying people into thinking we were all going to die and many of us sadly did but we're now 20 years further. Besides that, informing people of the latest findings, doesn't come over as credible because they're not reading it as scientific proof and nobody's giving out the right information to the right media outlets. You'd think that informing people that undetectable HIV-plussers on treatment are safer than most, would be good news, worthy of trumpeting across the airwaves but there's a tangible reluctance to give people the facts. It's probably because very few headline writers would be able to resist the sentence that comes after it, "... unlimited sex orgies inevitable!" We're already facing the Truvada whore tsunami and that's just because prevention is also seen as a gateway to depravity.
The problem is that the word "undetectable" means very little to so many. The word hasn't got out that it means an almost impossible chance of infection. The word isn't being put out there and I want to know why. It's dribbling through via the more liberal thinking gay and HIV sites but we need (I hate to say it) the heterosexual media to do some serious journalism and educate people.
The more rational HIV detractors say that it's too soon and the chances of mistakes being made with all the possible consequences are just too great. Okay, prove to me that undetectable people are in any way a danger to others. Bring out the facts. How many people on treatment with strong immune systems and undetectable levels of HIV in their blood, have infected others? You can't can you, because there aren't any.
The back-up argument is that HIV can linger in any number of other bodily fluids and organs and is essentially untraceable with modern testing methods. Okay, let's assume that's so; the levels must still be so minuscule that cross infection just isn't happening, otherwise there would be statistics from all over the world of "undetectable" people still infecting others. Please, I beg of you, disprove my point.
One can only assume that, apart from the ever present danger of other STIs (ever present to the rest of the population too may I remind you), my present status means that nobody can catch HIV from me, whether I have safe sex or not. If it were any other way, the increases in HIV infection would have been swamped by millions of new cases spreading like bush fires across the world. The resurgence of barebacking (if it ever went away) would have seen to that by now.
The commonest HIV strain began in one place and spread within 10 years across the world. Something's stopping that happening again and that something is effective treatment. Yes cases are still happening but they are largely emerging from people who don't know they are infected and haven't yet got tested. So, considering the number of young people (and old) discarding condoms now that the panic is over, why isn't HIV out of control again? Because the treatment is so damned effective that's why. Undetectable people with HIV are safe sexual partners. If you know something I don't and have the evidence to back it up, of course I'll eat my words.
So there's no reason for not telling the world the facts and setting undetectable people free from the shackles of stigma. The problem is that it's an image problem. We're already tainted; we're already too dirty to let loose on the world again. In the rush for normalization and acceptance on Wisteria Lane, our own organizations have forgotten that sex is an integral part of our identity and would prefer it were not talked about, dare I suggest, so that the sponsors don't back off! They're waiting for all the first and second generation HIVers to die out (of natural causes) and then the new rosy pink, unblemished LGBT tribes can take their place in society, untarnished by the sexual innuendo of HIV. What they forget is that gay men still give it and take it up the butt and always will and the hetero population will never forget that, however many bridal bouquets and white picket fences enhance the suburbs.