TheBody's 10 Most Popular HIV-Related Stories of 2018

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What an incredible year it's been at the TheBody! We're coming to the end of my first full year as senior editor, and I greatly appreciate the community of people who have supported our work over the course of the year -- including all of our contributors, and you, our readers!

We wanted to share with you the articles on TheBody that you made the most popular stories we've published this year. These 10 pieces run the gamut of topics and formats, including interviews, personal stories, advice about treatment and medical care, and news stories that made national headlines -- and that we broke first.

We have a lot in store for 2019, and hope you continue to read our work, share our stories on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for our email newsletters. Without further ado, here are our 10 most popular stories of 2018!

Kenyon Farrow is the senior editor of TheBody and TheBodyPRO. Follow Kenyon on Twitter: @kenyonfarrow.


10: HIV Doctors' Advice on Staying Healthy While Living With HIV

Most HIV experts in the U.S. would tell you that the most important thing you can do for your health, as a person living with HIV, is to take your antiretrovirals -- the HIV medication regimen prescribed to you by your health care provider. But there's more to staying healthy as a person living with HIV than taking a daily pill.

We asked some of the most experienced, well-respected HIV physicians in the U.S.: Apart from taking HIV medications, what's the most important piece of advice you have for people living with HIV on staying healthy?

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Courtesy of Sanjay Johnson

9: Sanjay Johnson Faces Prison Sentence in Arkansas HIV Crime Trial

The early interactions between Sanjay Johnson and Jamal "Doe" (a pseudonym) might sound familiar to many gay men across the U.S. In separate interviews with TheBody, the Little Rock, Arkansas, residents described how they exchanged messages on the hook-up app Jack'd in October 2015, then met at Johnson's apartment for a one-night stand.

However, the next interaction between the two men will probably be in a Pulaski County courtroom, where Doe is expected to testify on behalf of the state of Arkansas as it attempts to send Johnson to jail for up to 30 years, a sentence equivalent to that for negligent homicide. (Editor's note: After this article was published, the case was delayed until early 2019.)

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Lambda Legal

8: Kevin Deese Is Fighting the Military on Its HIV Ban

In Spring 2014, Kevin Deese, now 26, was about to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, when officials there told him that routine blood testing had turned up abnormal numbers -- and that a follow-up HIV test came up positive. In keeping with a longstanding U.S. military policy that bans HIV-positive people from enlisting and enlisted servicemembers who test positive from deploying overseas -- squelching their chances at military promotion -- Deese was told that he could graduate, but not be commissioned into the Navy.

After getting over the shock, Deese reached out to the LGBT military advocacy and legal group OutServe-SLDN and joined the lawsuit of another anonymous HIV-positive military academy graduate to fight the policy in court. Lambda Legal is also involved in the suit.

In the age of easy, effective HIV treatment, the military policy is outdated and discriminatory, says Lambda's HIV project director Scott Schoettes. "People with HIV today can deploy," he says. It is not the only case challenging the military's HIV policy; in September, a federal court pushed forward a similar case, brought by Lambda on behalf of Sergeant Nick Harrison, who was denied military advancement because of his HIV status.

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Sylverarts for iStock via Thinkstock

7: A Cheaper Alternative to Truvada Is Hitting the Market: Here's Why It Might Not Lower Costs

The generic drug Cimduo is very similar to Truvada (emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate), the blockbuster brand-name drug that's been used as a "backbone" of HIV regimens for more than a decade -- and that, since 2012, has been the only drug approved for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which actually prevents those who take it from acquiring HIV in the first place.

For reasons too boring to get into, Cimduo isn't technically a generic, and at 40% lower than Truvada's roughly $1,800 monthly sticker price, it's not exactly in the rock-bottom price category we may associate -- perhaps wrongly -- with generics.

Anil Soni, head of global infectious diseases at Mylan, which makes Cimduo, thinks the drug's sub-Truvada price still has the potential to drive down costs for everyone. "Hopefully," he wrote in an email, "[insurers] will pass on savings to patients through reduced copays and premiums, helping them in turn to better afford their medicines.

But there's good reason to believe that, despite its lower price, Cimduo just won't catch on. And the reasons point to the bigger issue of why it's so hard in general to bring down to earth the price of HIV drugs, which have historically been among the more expensive drugs on the market.

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International AIDS Society/Marten van Dijl

6: Why Elton John Owes Black People an Apology After AIDS 2018 Remarks

"Like 15,000 other HIV advocates, providers, and researchers, I am just off the heels of attending the 22nd AIDS 2018 conference hosted by the International AIDS Society in Amsterdam," writes HIV advocate Cheriko A. Boone, M.S.W., M.P.H. "As I arrived at Schiphol airport, donning a 'Silence=Death' t-shirt in homage to ACT UP and ready to experience all that the conference and Amsterdam had to offer, I never would have imagined that on just the second day of the conference I would bear witness to the silencing of black gay men's voices and an affront to the experiences of black people across the diaspora -- perpetrated by none other than Elton John and his foundation.

"With the honor of attending such an important meeting," Boone continues, "comes not only accountability to the communities from which we hail as conference delegates, but also a responsibility to ensure that individuals speaking to our communities' issues do so respectfully and with the cultural humility it behooves any of us to model whenever occupying a critical world stage. Thus, I would be remiss not to shine a light on Elton John's problematic remarks during a session focused on combating worldwide HIV- and LGBTQIA-related stigma, in which he patronizingly admonished black people for not loving each other enough, and in which he called out black American celebrities for allegedly not doing enough to fight stigma globally among black communities."

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wissanu01 via iStockphoto

5: Would You Treat Your HIV With a Monthly Injection Instead of Daily Pills?

This past summer, new clinical trial results found that a monthly injectable two-med regimen worked just as well against HIV over six months as the typical, contemporary, three-drug regimen you pop daily by mouth at home.

A study released earlier this year found that those taking the injectable drug combo in trials considered the side effects -- including brief injection-site bruising like after getting a typical shot -- to be mild, and apparently a small price to pay for not having to take HIV meds or think about their HIV status every day.

We asked a diverse group of HIV-positive folks from around the U.S. whether they'd consider switching to an injectable.

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Laura Davis

4: What to Expect After Bottom Surgery -- One Transgender Woman's Experience With Vaginoplasty

"A lot of trans people work really hard to get their surgeries covered," Nyala Moon says. "You go through those hard journeys of finding a surgeon who will do it, of getting health insurance that will cover it. And you get to your surgery. And you're like: 'I'm getting my surgery. It's tomorrow. I'm drinking the bowel prep. It's gross. I'm going to get through it.' And you get your surgery.

"And you're like: 'I hate it. I have gotten this surgery that I have wanted to get all of my life. This is the tipping point. I've fallen off into this reality that I've been working hard to strive for.' And you think that the journey is over, right? I did, at least. And it's not. It's not over.

"After you finish with surgery, the journey begins of actually relearning yourself. Because once you get the surgery, and you're done, and you're healing, and you're in your room, and your family's there, your friends are there, supporting you, you think that you've made it. There's nothing else you need to worry about. Wrong."

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Greg Vaughn

3: Adult Film Star Jacen Zhu Turns HIV and Crystal Meth Activist With New Campaign to TakedownTina

As he was already the spokesmodel for the D.C. PrEP Squad Campaign, I knew Jacen Zhu was interested in educating and mobilizing gay men around HIV prevention. An adult film model helping to promote pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the LGBTQ community is great, but not unexpected. But it was his admission on Twitter to struggling with crystal meth -- along with a video confessional -- that caught my attention.

As more attention is being paid to black and Latinx queer men who have become addicted to meth, Zhu is taking it a step further than just discussing his own use. He's launching a campaign, #TakedownTina, to do more to educate and empower queer men of color who need support with addiction to substances. I sat down with Zhu to discuss his newfound activism.

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Selfie by Jack Mackenroth

2: Going XXX -- HIV-Positive Activist Jack Mackenroth Comes Into His Own

"I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, and it was the same old stuff: political harangues, celebrity scandals, and reality TV rants," Charles Sanchez writes. "All of a sudden, a short video clip of delightfully graphic, XXX, scorching hot bareback male-on-male action came into view. Ooo, baby! I'm intrigued. As the video continued and my computer screen started to burn up, I realized: 'Hey, I know that guy!' Well, one of them.

"That guy is internationally known HIV activist and advocate, Jack Mackenroth, who has recently entered the realm of adult entertainment. At the beginning of the year, he began showing his goodies on a personal page on OnlyFans, a site dedicated to providing exclusive content to users for a monthly fee. Forty-eight year old Jack has been taking to his Twitter page, which was formerly filled with witticisms and HIV advocacy, to advertise his new business venture, in all his humpy, fit glory.

"Jack has never been known as a blushing flower, and God knows he's got a darling figure. He has been a competitive swimmer since his school days, and he's won gold medals at almost every Gay Games he's competed in. He's a fashion and fitness model (appearing in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Genre, and L'Uomo Vogue, to name a few), so getting naked or close to naked has never been something he's shied away from."

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Michael Rivera [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1: Publix Grocery Chain Denies PrEP Coverage to Its Employees

As Ryan Lee reported in January:

"Some parts of the country have weather that signals the arrival of the winter holiday season, but the South has Publix commercials. The Florida-based grocery store chain has made a Christmas tradition of its sentimental short films exalting family, fireplaces, and food bought from its stores and prepared with your love. 'Whatever your tradition may be, we're grateful to be a part of it,' a narrator with a delicate rasp says in the 2017 ad, 'Traditions. A Publix Christmas story.'

"However, Publix is showing a cooler, less compassionate side to some of its 188,000 employees. One of the more prominent supermarket brands in the southeast, it has taken a hard line against including the HIV-prevention medication known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the insurance coverage it offers workers. But it remains a mystery whether the company is blocking coverage for PrEP due to cost concerns or the growing cry of employers (such as Hobby Lobby) that don't want to cover medical care for issues or people they deem morally objectionable.

"The company's rejection of what is widely considered a major breakthrough in HIV prevention is as unique as it is puzzling, said David Holland, M.D., M.H.S., an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University and director of the Fulton County PrEP clinic in Atlanta, who unsuccessfully tried to get Publix to cover PrEP for one of the company's employees. 'We've started 255 people on PrEP at our clinic alone, and this is the only person that we weren't able to get PrEP for,' Holland said."

Due to public outrage as a result of our story going viral, Publix quickly announced a reversal of its policy. Lee's reporting got the ball rolling.

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