Friday, October 14, 2016


Happy fall, y'all!

I hope we're all doing well. I hope we're reading, eating well, and taking care of our well-beings. If not, than let's get on that.

I'm sure many have assumed I left this blog by the wayside. Quite the contrary. I've spent the bulk of this year stretching You. Me. HIV. from an underground HIV community to a real-live book!

One thing I realized when I first started this blog, was how much work had to be done in order to educate Americans on what HIV is, and what life looks like for long-term survivors, the newly-diagnosed, and those who are living at high-risk. Because of the stigma that insists on holding back the progress that's been made in the HIV community, getting the information out there isn't easy. Over the next few months, I'll be sharing the process of getting You. Me. HIV. published and out to the public. The goal is to keep the book FREE and accessible. A of people feel a need to remind me how hard this is going to be, how much this is going to cost, how I'm going to have to make sure I take care of trademarking, proofreading, medical legitimacy, etc. I remind them that I worry about the work and never worry about the hows, because, the hows are the domain of the universe. All I have to do is write with good intention and get the work done.

In the meantime, there are two ways you can continue to get involved and stay in the know.

1- Keep talking about You. Me. HIV.! Spread the word and the knowledge by letting friends and loved ones know that the information is out there. We should all know what HIV and AIDS stands for. We should all be able to define undetectable and serodiscordant. HIV isn't a social and medical issue reserved only for those living with the virus. It's a worldwide epidemic, and the only way we're going to beat it is by outsmarting it!

2- If you're positive, come out of the closet! Even if it's just telling one friend, or a sibling or trusted co-worker, tell them! The more people come out, the less frightening it will be for future generations. One of the best ways to come out is by sharing your story with You. Me. HIV. Your name will be withheld if you wish, but just you sharing your story will move mountains. You don't have to post fliers about living with HIV throughout your city, but don't shy away from being open with your status. You have nothing to be ashamed of and every reason to own it.

While You. Me. HIV. continues to transition from blog to book, feel free to check out my other work and projects.

Facebook: You. Me. HIV.
Twitter   :
Snapchat: SheWritesToLive
Email     :

Remember, "Out of many, come one"


Monday, December 14, 2015

PrEParing For The Future

"The argument is over for PrEP. If you use the drug, it works."   - Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, at The 2015 National HIV Prevention Conference

Illustration by: Clarione Gutierrez

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis is the controversial practice of using antiretrovirals to prevent HIV infection. When taken properly (one pill, every day) the prophylaxis can build up to a 99% immunity against HIV. Extensive studies prove that *even when taken just four times a week, the pill reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 84%. PrEP is re-inventing the way this generation approaches HIV prevention (whether you know about it or not). 

For those who approach the topic of medical prevention from a personal stance, don't worry; everyone from the Food and Drug Administration right down to the queers in Hell's Kitchen agree that PrEP is not for everyone. However, for **serodiscordant couples, as well as those who engage in risky behavior (i.e. sex without condoms, binge drinking, drug use, SEX WITHOUT CONDOMS), PrEP is a newfound solution to help end the epidemic.

Even though Truvada, the only drug on the market used for PrEP, has only been publicly available since 2012, antiretrovirals have been administered to healthcare professionals as forms of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) as far back as the 90's.

Let's just take a pause and celebrate how far we've actually come. Thirty years ago, if a medical professional was treating an AIDS patient and exposed themselves to the then-deadly virus, there would be no hope for either the doctor or the patient. Today, not only can we extend the lifespan and quality-of-life of those being treated for HIV by decades, we can also interrupt ***seroconversion and haphazard infection from those who have been exposed.

Ineffective. Unnecessary. Radical. Apparently, the thought of taking an 'elective' medication to prevent an acquired disease seems drastic to many people. Here's the thing: HIV may not be a big deal in your world, but the plague has been alive and well since the day it came along in the world. AIDS never stopped being a big deal. No matter how hard we try to fool ourselves into thinking that HIV isn't a big deal either, it is. And, all the medical advancements in the world mean nothing if you can't afford them. Or your body has an adverse reaction to them. Or, you're too afraid to even acknowledge you have the virus. HIV AND AIDS IS STILL A BIG FUCKING DEAL.


In 2014, an estimated 2 million people were newly infected with HIV. Every day about 5,600 people contract HIV—more than 230 every hour. In 2014, 1.2 million people died from AIDS. Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 78 million people have contracted HIV and close to 39 million have died of AIDS-related causes.

*Statistic retrieved from amfAR
Clearly, it's high-time for drastic and radical action.

*A 2014 article in based on results from the iprEx Study found that while adherence was the key to maximizing efficacy, taking Truvada at least 2-3 times a week resulted in an 84% reduced risk of contracting HIV.

**serodiscordant [seer-oh-dis-kawr-dnt]: also known as mixed status couple, pertaining to a relationship that includes an HIV positive person and HIV negative person. When both partners share the same status, that couple is referred to as seroconcordant.

***seroconversion:  the period of time during which HIV antibodies develop and become detectable. Seroconversion generally takes place within a few weeks of initial infection. It is often, but not always, accompanied by flu-like symptoms including fever, rash, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes.

PrEP and the Nay Sayers

People are so busy talking about how "the gays are going to (continue) to fuck condomless like rabbits", they blatantly ignore the benefits and possibilities that come with this game-changing source of prevention. Such misguided rhetoric would be deemed irrelevant if not for those who promote it. Michael Weinstein is hell-bent on convincing the masses that other STI's will rise because all the bottoms are going to throw their Trojan's to the fire. When the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation refers to Truvada as a 'party drug', suddenly, people want to get off the prevention train we waited decades to hop on.

Who would want to sleep with that idiot?

Actor, Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, American Horror Story, Buzzfeed) has his own irrational views on the effects of PrEP. In a self-affirming article he wrote for Huffington Post, Quinto wrote of the second-hand tales he heard about PrEP usage in the young, gay community. "I have heard too many stories of young people taking PrEP as an insurance policy against their tendency toward unprotected non-monogamous sex." So many stories? Really? Did he hear the story about the couple who looks into each others eyes when they make love, comforted with an extra cloth of assurance that their love can expand beyond the fucking virus? That's the story that gets clouded because the uninformed few are pumping the hype.

"What if PrEP had come around in 1985? We would have been burning down the Food and Drug Administration to get that pill."
                                                                                             - Peter Staley

PrEP and People of Color

Don't be fooled by the latest statistic floating around. It's going to tell you that HIV infections have gone down over the years. These stats are going to scroll across the bottom of your TV screen while you're catching up on the latest mass shooting. It will probably provide a subtle level of relief. Maybe a little hope that it isn't all bad. But, there's an ugly truth behind that statistic that tucks you in at night; new infections among people of color has risen by 87%. That is an astronomical amount of human beings. Considering the fact that a mere 39% of people living with HIV are receiving  proper medical care, it's pretty safe to assume that there's a severe portion of black Americans infected with HIV who are not getting proper treatment.

Project Q Atlanta campaigning for PrEP

Getting a black American to talk about HIV without using a slur like, "the monster" or, "sick" is one of the biggest challenges in my community. 44% of newly diagnosed HIV patients were black Americans. There are a variety of factors fueling that percentage.  Socioeconomic circumstances, lack of awareness, stigma, and the fact that *black Americans tend to have sex with partners of the same race/ethnicity means that we face greater risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.

What's clear is that HIV isn't getting better in the black community, it's getting worse. Did I mention that NEW INFECTIONS AMONG PEOPLE OF COLOR HAS RISEN BY 87%?

*statistic retrieved by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention

PrEP and the Stigma

As is always the case with HIV/AIDS talk in the United States, the weight of an international epidemic falls on the back of the American gay man. Just as you can't talk about water on Mars without mentioning aliens, one rarely speaks of PrEP without dropping the phrase 'Truvada whore'. Considering the fact that HIV infections continues to bulldoze through the black community, as well as the dangerous outbreak of new infections in middle-America, the epidemic is knocking on every subculture's door. The longer we continue to point fingers and blame at the gay community, HIV/AIDS is going to continue to ravage every subculture we've created.

Besides the stigma (and, Baby, there's always a stigma whenever you talk about HIV/AIDS) people are apposed the drug because you have to take it everyday. If you don't, the drug won't work properly, which heightens your risk of contracting it. People talk about taking a pill everyday like it's the first time in the world that people have elected to take  a pill to prevent catching something (I used to take a pill everyday so I didn't catch something. Babies!).

Another argument against PrEP is that the pill could give a faux sense of invincibility towards contracting HIV, and lack of condom use will spike outbreaks of other STI's. This notion bears striking resemblance to the argument that women who take birth control pills feel encouraged to be promiscuous. The actions of a few should not or never be the consequence of all. It would be naïve to assume that everyone who uses PrEP will continue to behave responsibly, but really, there's no way to know. What we do know is that PrEP works at both blocking transmission and lowering the rate of new infections.

No, the magical blue pill will not protect you from other serious STI's. It's not meant to act as a slut-shield that wards off every sexually-related disease and virus. PrEP is identical to birth control pills in the sense that the objective is singular. Truvada only offers reduced risk from contracting HIV.

Once you start taking it, you can't stop.
False. There are no known adverse reactions that stem from discontinued use. Doctors actually advise patients to reconsider using Truvada for PrEP when the patient is no longer in the 'season of risk' they were when the drug was first prescribed.
That stuff can mess up your body.
Barely! Every drug has a fucked-up list of could-be side-effects, from Tylenol to tenofovir. Studies have proven that the vast majority of  Truvada users were unscathed of medical consequence.
It doesn't work.
If there's one thing that's proven certain of Truvada for PrEP, it's that it works. Every scientist, medical professional, clinic rep, and advocate will tell you that it works. And, we have the data, science, and facts to prove it.

It's way too expensive

Maybe for some, but not many. Despite the whopping $8,000-$14,000 a year fee floating about, that's for those who don't have health insurance and are paying out-of-pocket. However, for those with health insurance (especially good health insurance), many users of Truvada for PrEP pay much smaller amounts, and some health insurance and cities offer the drug at incredibly low costs.
PrEP and the Future

The reality is that everyone from activists and physicians, to politicians and preachers are in support of PrEP. Whether you're negative and your partner is diagnosed with HIV, or, you're at-risk and willing to take heightened measures to stay off the statistic spreads, PrEP is becoming readily available to more and more Americans every day.

This past spring, Governor Cuomo announced that the Ending the Epidemic Task Force had devised a five-year plan to reduce the rate of newly diagnosed HIV patients to 750 by the year 2020. PrEP takes up a four-part plank on their 30-steps  plan to reduce HIV infections and eradicate AIDS. According to Gay Men's Health Crisis CEO Kelsey Louie, "We have the tools, we have the data and we have the unprecedented political will and partnership with Governor Andrew Cuomo. We now have a Blueprint to help make the plan to End AIDS as an epidemic by 2020 a reality.”

Georgia, Florida, and a slew of other states have incorporated PrEP into their prevention strategies. But, of course, there is no spot on earth that's doing a better job of fighting the virus than San Francisco, USA. With an unbelievably low 350 HIV diagnoses in 2014, the former epicenter of the virus has become the model for treating and preventing HIV. It should come as no surprise that PrEP is one of their biggest weapons.

In the end, prophylaxis won't eliminate HIV/AIDS entirely. But, neither will condoms. The hope is that by encouraging the use of PrEP among those who are in high risk, in conjunction with maintaining undetectable levels in those who are already HIV positive, we can contain the disease (which would be awesome, because I really don't know how many more 'announcements' I can take from a dear friend before I start pulling my fucking hair out).
"PrEP, along with condoms, TasP (Treatment as Prevention), and better access to healthcare, are now essential public health tools in lowering HIV infections among gay men and trans women. We must use every tool necessary to help them – and to help all those at risk – stop this virus, once and for all."
ACT UP, Fight Back, Fight AIDS."
Larry Kramer
Jim Eigo
Matt Ebert
James Krellenstein
Peter Staley

Monday, November 23, 2015

HIV 101

When I speak to friends, loved ones, and internet trolls about HIV, there's a lot of missing facts and outdated information. Whether I'm explaining the difference between HIV and AIDS, or, why the stigma is doing more damage than the virus itself, people have no idea what I'm talking about.

I was on the verge of defriending anyone I thought would never get it, until I remembered what this blog is all about; Helping Ignorant Victims. Victims to their own ignorance, living in a world with no idea that the same virus that changed life as we know it is making a resurgence, and we can stop it. Taking away the one smart friend they have isn't going to help things. This is an important time to educate and be educated. It's time to smarten up!



Human immunodeficiency virus attacks important cells that fight infection and disease, destroying the immune system in the process. There's no cure (yet), but, due to the advancement of medicine, research, and treatment, HIV is treated as a chronic disease (like diabetes) and not a terminal illness. There are three stages of possible progression.


Acute HIV Infection - This refers to the first 1-4 weeks of contracting the virus, when seroconversion takes place. During this time, there may be physical symptoms attributed to HIV (of the 7 people in my life who are positive, three were diagnosed after seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms. Three friends found out after routine check-ups. Only two of my friends found out by getting tested). Symptoms include - but are NOT limited to: swollen glands, persistent fever, headache, and rash. It is also during this time that the person with the virus is highly infectious, making them vulnerable to transmitting HIV to others. This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to GET TESTED REGULARLY! CDC suggests annual testing (more frequent testing is suggested for those in high-risk categories).

Clinical Latency Stage - During this stage the virus appears dormant. It slows down producing copies of itself, and leaves few - if any, physical symptoms of its presence. However, HIV will continue to multiply in the system. When left untreated, the virus can remain dormant in the system for as long as ten years and as little as two.

According to a 2014 report from UNAIDS, 36.9 million people were living with HIV worldwide, with 2 million people infected across the world (50,000 new cases here in the states).

*For more information on HIV testing and treatment, go to



Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the most advanced,
progressive stage of HIV (often referred to as late-stage HIV). Depending on which report you read (I'm going with AVERTing HIV and AIDS ), studies show that individuals can live roughly 10 to 15 years with untreated HIV before the virus progresses to AIDS. By this time, the immune system has suffered extensive damage, and the body is vulnerable to different infections and illnesses.

People living with AIDS are vulnerable to tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other opportunistic infections. The CDC classifies an AIDS diagnosis as any HIV+ patient who develops one or more OI, regardless of their viral load or CD4 count.

Thanks to groundbreaking antiretroviral treatment (more on that in a bit), AIDS is not nearly as prevalent as it used to be in America. However, in many third world countries AIDS is a major issue. Here are a few quick facts (provided by about how HIV/AIDS is affecting Africa:


·         Out of the 34 million HIV-positive people worldwide, 69% live in sub-Saharan Africa.

·         There are roughly 23.8 million infected persons in all of Africa.

·         91% of the world’s HIV+ children live in Africa.

·         More than one million adults and children die every year from HIV/AIDS in Africa alone.

·         In 2011, 1.7 million people worldwide died from AIDS.

·         Since the epidemic of HIV/AIDS, more than 75 million people have contracted the illness, and over 36 million have died from an HIV-related cause. 71% of the HIV/AIDS-related deaths in 2011 were people living in Africa.


*For more information on the plight of Africans fighting the war against AIDS, check out the AIDS Foundation of South Africa or


Viral Load

According to, the term viral load refers to the amount of HIV in a sample of blood. A viral load test is a lab test that measures the number of HIV virus copies (particles) in a milliliter of your blood. A viral load test helps provide information on your health status and how well antiretroviral therapy is controlling the virus. A high viral load means that there's a high level of HIV present in the body; a low viral load means that the HIV is being controlled and suppressed.

In other words, there is a degree as to how much of the virus is in the blood stream. The higher the degree, the higher the risk of contracting an infection or illness, spreading the virus, and getting AIDS. In addition to reducing the amount of HIV in the body, HIV medicines greatly reduce the risk of transmitting to others. 

Undetectable Viral Load


“... When an HIV-infected person takes antiretroviral therapy that keeps the virus suppressed, the treatment is highly effective at preventing sexual transmission of HIV to an uninfected heterosexual partner.” Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

This is a moment when every poz patient should give themselves a gold star. Celebration need be had when your doctor tells you that your viral load test came back undetectable. So long as you take care of yourself and take your medicine, you stand a good chance of living a full and healthy life.

The correlation between preventing those who are negative from contracting the disease, and keeping those who test positive undetected cannot be overstated. Keep the patient healthy and undetected. This way, they live long, productive lives with unlikely risk of transmitting HIV. Keep negative patients negative with regular testing and proper prevention. It’s that simple! Or, so it would seem…

 Only about 25 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. have achieved viral suppression. African Americans are least likely to have controlled HIV in this manner, with 21 percent achieving viral suppression, compared to 26 percent of Hispanics and 30 percent of whites.
data retrieved from Illinois HCC 


Undetectable means that after a series of tests, results show that a person living with HIV no longer shows traces of the virus. However, ven though ART's and a healthy lifestyle have suppressed the virus to untraceable levels, it's still there. Without ART's, copies of the virus will most likely resurface and multiply in the blood. No drug holiday's for poz patients.

 It may seem like a drag for *serodiscordant couples to rely on condoms as a sole mean of protection. Especially since there is no 100% guarantee against contracting HIV or any other STD/STI when it comes to shared-needle usage or sexual contact. However, there are ways to further protect and intervene HIV transmission.

 *Serodiscordant is a term used to describe couples with differing HIV status; one partner is HIV+ and the other is negative. Such couples are also referred to as magnetic or mixed-status. In the event that both partners are HIV+, they are then in a seroconcordant relationship.

Antiretroviral Treatment (or therapy)

HIV/AIDS-related deaths has dropped dramatically since it's inception in 1981. The reason is ART. This form of treatment has been a key factor in viral suppression, as well as increased lifespan of HIV+ patients.

ART is a combination of medicines used to fight HIV. The combination, dosage, and amount differs for each person. Some people have to take a few pills in the morning and a few pills at night. Others take much more (I have a few friends who take a single pill once a day). There's a variety of contributing factors; prescriptions, dosage, existing medical condition, cost, etc.

For more information on antiretroviral treatment, go to 

 Post-exposure prophylaxis is the usage of ART's to prevent HIV from making copies of itself and spreading in an HIV negative body after a single high-risk event. PEP must be started as soon as possible to be effective, and always within 3 days of possible exposure.


You read it right. The same drugs used to suppress HIV can prevent you from getting it. While its inception is news to most, PEP has been around for well over a decade, used to prevent seroconversion in rape victims and many in the medical field who've been exposed to HIV.

 When you think PEP, think the morning-after pill. The only exception is that PEP requires 28 days of continuous use to work, and has little affect if taken improperly or outside the 3-day window of exposure.



 PrEP (re-exposure prophylaxis) is the controversial practice of using antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection before exposure. When used correctly, *PrEP can build up to a 92% immunity against HIV.

Condomless sex outside of primary relationships or marriage happens with regularity. While an undetectable status reduces risk of transmission - dramatically, because of the virus' presence, it still poses a miniscule risk. For that reason, doctors will always advice PrEP users to proceed with condoms.


Truvada is currently the only medication available for PrEP use. It's only been on the market since 2012, but there is much hype, stigma, and gossip surrounding the prophylaxis.

When you think of Prep, think the birth control pill. It doesn't work right if you don't take it every day, and it's not necessary to take it if you're not active or no longer fall in the high-risk category. However, if you find yourself involved with someone who's positive, PrEP is an amazing option that would allow you and your partner to engage in the safest sex possible.


*Depending on which source you go by, the effectiveness of using Truvada for PrEP will vary. gives it a 92-99% rating in effectiveness. Other sources give it approximate percentage rates - all ranging past 90%. However, there are those in the medical field, as well as the HIV/AIDS community who both question the effectiveness of prophylaxis as well as the intention of it. There will be a more detailed post on PrEP to come.


The Virus vs. The Stigma

I've yet to publish a post that doesn't make mention of the nasty stigma. A cluster-fuck of dated information, myths, shaming, and even heavier consequences (such as incarceration), prevent many from getting both tested and treated. Fear of the backlash drives them to put any relation of them and the virus in the far-back of their brains. Even those at high-risk can convince themselves they have unlikely chances of contracting HIV. Besides that, the humiliation and shame associated with the virus sends many into a mean depression and downward spiral.

When we talk about people living with HIV, we are NOT talking about a threat to society. We are talking about a human being with a medical condition. Just like hepatitis. Just like herpes. Just like that nasty ass flu that was floating around New York City a few winter's ago. When it comes to medical conditions, they should always be treated with care and compassion.

The stigma is so threaded into our social dialogue, many rarely even notice its existence. Yet, every time someone treats AIDS as a punch line, insinuates that someone has it, shames someone living with AIDS for carrying the disease, or a person in the media mistakes HIV with AIDS (I know you hear me Howard Stern), the stigma is being perpetuated and allowed. It's going to a lot of acknowledgement, and a lot of conversations like this in order to get our way around the stigma.


The Virus vs. The Future 

This is when the people who nod off during HIV talks need to wake up.

With a steady combination of HIV treatment, prevention, and information, we have more power than ever. This might seem far-fetched at first read, but keep in mind that San Fransisco's last annual report of newly infected HIV patients was only 350. New York, not to be outdone has pulled together an aggressive Ending The Epidemic Task Force. The task force, along with governor Cuomo has pulled together an impressive 5 year plan to get newly infected HIV diagnoses down to three digits. The plan incorporates treatment as prevention, along with outpatient programs, and prophylaxis.

Despite the hurtles that stigma and lack of information have created, there's much to be optimistic about when it comes to HIV treatment and prevention.

Thanks to the following sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention                                                                       Illinois HCC                             Poz    
Ending The Epidemic Task Force                       




Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good Luck, Charlie!

Charlie Sheen did something pretty rad Tuesday morning.

He had the balls to admit to contracting HIV to a merciless and misinformed American media, putting to bed the mythical "Hollywood Suparstar's Desperate Battle with AIDS" (way to go, Radar Online) . By the way, how much longer are we going to take professionals flamboyantly mistaking HIV and AIDS (Howard Stern, please rise)?

I'd also like to know when we got so dick deep in judging others that we abandoned our compassion? Seriously. Seriously! Where the fuck is our compassion? Because, I didn't hear it in that shitty Howard Stern interview, and I can't find it on my Facebook page. I had a longtime friend post a status that reiterated the shame and judgment hijacking almost every conversation about the contraction of HIV (he actually used the term, "Dirty needles and whores" in correlation with those affected by HIV/AIDS. He is evil and he must be destroyed).

Very 80's photo of Ryan White with Charlie Sheen and Marlee Matlin 

The New Out

Love of my life (in my head) Danny Pintauro said it best; HIV is the new closet. Admitting a positive HIV status in this era is the equivalent of a gay man's rite-of-passage; coming out of the closet. From the drum roll, right down to the misguided "how will this affect our children" babble. The outcome, clearly, will differ. However, the blueprint for a public coming-out is nearly identical. You get the interview. You get the magazine cover. You get the round of applause. You get the public shaming. And, you get to stand by and watch the most intimate parts of your life and sexual behavior dissected and judged before your very own eyes. 

I see HIV/AIDS advocates with the same precarious we-need-a-leader look in their eyes that I've grown desensitized to. Because, in the black community, that look has been present since the day the Reverend died. For each rise of a prominent figure in the center of any fight, is the fall of someone who gets demoted to what they could have been. Whether it's Caitlyn, or Danny, or Charlie, they come out to a lot of pressure. Pressure to speak up. Pressure to show up. Pressure to get it right. And when they don't measure up to our defining-as-we-go standards, we knock 'em down. Crabs in a barrel, I tell ya'.

Blind Reporting

"I want to know, do you take responsibility for your actions, for being promiscuous, going into a lifestyle of having heightened sex...?" 

The biggest detriment that stems from our ragtag media circuit is that it's stalling our need to spread information and resources. Long story short, the media isn't ready. If the American people are scared straight when it comes to HIV anything, then the American media is scared stupid. Howard Stern doesn't know the difference from HIV and AIDS (fact-checkers, anyone?) and Candace from Full House wants to know if you've repented for being naughty. What is going on?! This is the time to educate. I've seen better reporting from The Onion and the New York Post (literally).

 Charlie gave us so much to talk about that morning. Like, how alcohol and substance abuse spike the risk factors of contracting HIV. How mental health has strong ties to substance abuse. This is an amazing opportunity for us to drop our systematic, incorrect views on the virus and use a more adult, tactical approach to how we treat HIV prevention and infection. This is what we should be talking about. This is what we need to be talking about. But, of course, we get caught up trying to figure out how many grams Danny smoked, and how many prostitutes Charlie ran through. People walk away with no real, fruitful insight on the issues. Slaves to the stigma. As Peter Staley puts it, "The stigma has made the front end work frustratingly inefficient. It always comes down to the stigma."

If American society had the intellect to discuss the behavior of Charlie Sheen in correlation with HIV contraction, this would be an entirely different discussion. Unfortunately, the intellect is lacking so the progression has stalled. If there's any doubt about this fact, simply check the comment section of any article written on Charlie Sheen (like this one). You'll find it infested with bad humor and heartless judgment. People who attack Charlie Sheen for having HIV don't talk about him like he's a person. People talk about him with free range to take shots at his health, his future, and his livelihood, like this dick. They talk about him the same exact way they talk about anyone who's contracted HIV. It's a fucking shame.

He Had it coming

What do you say to a stage-four lung cancer patient who used to smoke a pack a day? Do you say, "Ha! That's what you get! What were you thinking?" If the judgment and ridicule overrides a person's medical condition, than the person doing the judging is an asshole. There's no such thing as a disease deserved. Every time you cast shame and judgment on anyone for their medical condition (mental, clinical, acquired, etc.), you're playing for the wrong team. And, scaring people from getting tested, protected, and educated on their health. True story.

If the "that's what happens" adage is a nod to his colorful sexual past, than you are absolutely right. Contracting HIV is certainly something that can happen when you engage in unprotected sex, and disregard sexually transmitted diseases (and other consequences. Like babies). But, just to be clear, only half of young adults are using condoms on a consistent basis. Should we treat the other half that's at a higher-risk than their peers like many morons are treating Charlie, because that's what happens? Compassion? Anybody?

Why should anyone feel sorry for that degenerate? He's no hero!

When I talk about Charlie Sheen today, I could give two-shits about who he was yesterday. His penchant for fast drugs, good times, and long nights are not unlike my own. No, I never paid for a whore. But, I sure did enjoy brushing arms with them. And, I use(d) to do a lot of drugs. Drugs that provoke a slew of bad decisions and risky behavior. I haven't contracted HIV like Sheen. But, that doesn't make me better or smarter. It just makes me (dare I say it) lucky. What if I did have HIV though? Would you just throw me out to pasture, forget you ever knew me? Would you tell me I had it coming? Would you think my karma caught up with me? If so, I would ask you, "Where the fuck is your compassion?"

Don't trust anybody who's got the guile to tell you who deserves what - not even yourself. Rest assured, sooner or later, we will all find ourselves on the losing side of compassion. Maybe you'll get fired for screwing up, or a suspended license for a DUI, or your lover will leave you because they're tired of your shit. Whatever it is, the other shoe is going to drop. You're going to realize you don't know it all. It's going to dawn on you that, perhaps, you played it all wrong. And then, that's when you'll have some empathy for the Charlie's in the world. I say, don't wait for the other shoe to drop. Muster up some compassion and logic now.

The bottom line is that we're living in an era that has yet to properly address and get a handle on how we're going to deal with HIV/AIDS moving forward. We can't afford to pick and choose who we support in the HIV/AIDS community. We can't afford to pass up the opportunity to educate and inform a generation that treats a fucking plague like an ancient, common cold. And, we most certainly cannot afford to not give a round of applause to any human (no matter what past precedes them) who has balls big enough to tell the world he's positive on national TV. Thanks to Charlie, the conversation is full-throttle. People are talking, and they're learning, honey! He may not be a hero to many due to his past discretions, bu,t make no mistake, admitting to being HIV positive in this country is a very brave thing to do.

It's going to be a very long, very winding road to getting American media and society to treat HIV treatment, prevention, and patients with the respect and facts deserved.
In the end, we'll never know why the good Lord would tap on a womanizing degenerate like Charlie Sheen to be the latest messenger. What we know to be true is that there's been enough divide in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Like it or not, he's on our team now.

Friday, October 23, 2015

AIDS Jokes and Those Who Shame Them: Who's Getting the Last Laugh?

Question: How do you turn a fruit into a vegetable?
Punch line: AIDS

This 'joke' was told to me at work. Let's translate: How do you kill a homosexual? Punch line: AIDS.

*In the state of New York, 80% of newly diagnosed AIDS patients lived in New York City

*100,000 New Yorkers have died of HIV/AIDS related causes

*Men who have sex with men make up 4% of the US male population, but account for almost 78% of all new HIV infection

*93% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses among females in New York City were in black or Latina women in the first half of 2011.

I'm begging you; show me the funny.

It was the summer of 2013. I had been employed at this cheesy midtown restaurant for almost a year. Long enough to know the in's and out's, but still unknown to the hire up's. It was the best shitty job I'd ever had, in the heart of Manhattan.

This 'joke' was being recited by a co-worker, who heard it from a cook who told it on a cigarette break. I immediately interpreted the 'joke' on a literal level; my reaction was visceral. I was both underwhelmed and disturbed at the hamburger-helpers I called peers who felt it appropriate to recite the slur. The verbal indignity was re-told in a very hush-hush, "I can't believe he said that, but isn't it funny?" manner. Even still, my disgust was targeted solely towards the cook. Was he making fun of queers or AIDS patients? Was anyone aware that the insult reiterated the myth that AIDS was a gay disease? The vacant space where his brain should have been found humor in that 'joke'. Apparently I was supposed to find the humor as well. Of course I let each moron within that circle know their humor lacked both compassion and comedy. And, of course, I stormed off knowing my scolding did the situation no justice.

I wanted heads to roll and knew exactly how to do it. By the time I got home at the end of my shift, I had drafted a 608-word, scathing email aching to be proofread and cc'd to anyone who had an iota of pull within the company. My words were sharp and abrasive with a hint of threat. I stated facts. I noted breached rules and regulations from the employee handbook. I suggested diversity training. And then, I waited.

While action was made (he was terminated within 72 hours), it had been done in silence with no warning to follow. One day the prick was at work. The next day he wasn't. No diversity classes. No reiteration of corporate conduct and ethics. No lesson.

Whispers turned into bold-faced accusations. By the end of the week there were a substantial amount of supporters of the 86'd cook. That zero-tolerance stance I took upon first hearing the 'joke' lead many to figure out I was the whistle-blower. The cold shoulders were relentless, as was the backhanded commentary. "Uh oh, Tamela's here. Everybody watch what you say before that girl gets you fired." Once, while having a simple difference of opinion with a co-worker she quipped, "Even if you're wrong, you're right. Please, please, don't get me fired!" Ironically, the consequence the prick paid for his own actions far outweighed the action that actually caused such consequence.

As time past, the termination scandal dissipated. By the time Christmas rolled around it felt as though the incident was a million miles away. Until it happened. She happened. Justine Sacco.

In route to Africa, Sacco made a vile 'joke' about being immune to AIDS because she's not a black African. Humor as cruel and ignorant as the one that prick told. However, there were more than just a few ears listening during a cigarette break. She broadcasted her Trumpesque humor for all the Twitter world to re-tweet. Sacco's consequence, by far, eclipsed that of the ex-cook. She wasn't just fired. By the time her feet touched African soil her reputation shear existence was ruined, social media style.

I used to think there would always be fool-proof gratification in seeing justice served. However, when the motive is misplaced or the lesson is lost, who's winning? Even if Justine Sacco evolved into an intellectual space that allowed her to understand the hurt and damage in that loaded gun she tweeted, her resentment towards those who rallied for her demise blares over her redemption song. Just as I assume that prick spends more time thinking about the bitch who got him fired than thinking about how hurt that bitch must of been that someone would mock a pandemic that's taken 40 million lives (and counting).

People have long-been comfortable with joking about AIDS. In their minds it has nothing to do with them. AIDS is little more than a punch line as far as popular culture is concerned.

It's easy to laugh at strangers when we've convinced ourselves that they're in a land far, far away; too distant to provoke care or compassion. This ill-willed mindset not only encourages the stigma to grow, it eggs it on. Taking a pandemic and talking it down to a punch line is a defense mechanism that comforts many in the high-risk category. Believe it or not, there are many ignorant victims in this world convinced that as long as they're not checking a homosexual and/or substance abuse box, they're in the clear. If only those who laughed at AIDS knew exactly how at-risk they are, I assure you they would not be laughing. Ironically, if those who are at high-risk knew what that risk meant, as well as why the odds are so high against them, their personal fear and concern would dramatically reduce the risks and leave little room for humor.

I'm sure there are many who are still committed to the old adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones" (if one more person tells me, 'but it was just a joke', I'm probably going to vaporize them). It's easy to follow that chant until you're the one who loses your job, your kids, your dignity, or your privacy because you contracted a chronic illness. Who gets the last laugh then?

There are HIV positive people living in New York that have the same chance as anyone else to live long, healthy lives. But, they'll never know because we're laughing them out of the waiting rooms. Can you believe that there are people who willingly decline FREE HIV/AIDS testing? Too scared to know (insert sad face here).

The correlation between that prick's circumstances, as well as Sacco's, as well as many, many, many others is the fact that the space to educate those too desensitized to pass up laughing took a backseat to blaming/shaming the ignorant. In my experience, I was the one on the blame/shame end of the stick, unlike Sacco who had to carry the consequence of an ignorant culture on her own.

 I do not endorse the public shaming of any individual for something said. But, not for any righteous or humbling reason. Simply because, it's a fucking distraction. I'd give less than two shits about morons telling bad jokes if it weren't for the fact that the humor is killing us. Literally. People are dying. All over the world. Of AIDS. Babies. Children. People. We're not going to accomplish anything by going after the wrong target.

One night, while downing craft beers and Fireball with a co-worker, he finally asked the question he and many other's wanted answered.

"Why'd you have to get him fired? I mean... he really wasn't a bad guy. And, it was just a joke." He proceeded to inform me that many people sympathized with the terminated supervisor, mainly because he was soon-to-be married and needed his job to pay for wedding expenses.

"There's no such thing as a funny AIDS joke," I responded after a moment's pause. I then said things that, until that moment, had been unsaid. "More than two-third's of my loved ones are gay, and more than a handful are HIV positive. I just can't stop thinking about what that joke would do to them, how it would make them feel if they heard it. I think about that and it makes my skin crawl." We continued to debate about stigmas, consequence, and general opinion.

In the end, my email didn't change the way popular culture addresses the lack of compassion, understanding, and logic towards those with AIDS. And, while I take no pride in the loss of someone's wages, I'll never regret taking a stand. It's going to take a lot of people, a lot of emails, and a lot of, "That shit's not funny bro," before the masses wise up. The only way to kill the stigma is by changing the narrative. If there's one lesson I took from my experiences with AIDS 'jokes' it's that it's more important to shame the humor and the narrative than it is to shame the individual sharing it. The prick who got fired, along with Justine Sacco are nothing more than ignorant victims who've got a lot to learn.

*statistics compiled by New York City Aids Memorial January 2013