The Viral Divide

In this month’s post we’ll be looking at HIV, the stigma still associated with the disease, an the unfortunate attitudes on both sides of the infection fence that are dividing our community. I happen to be HIV Negative. I don’t wear that as some badge of honour. It is simply a medical fact.

The title of this post also happens to be the name of a flash collective which sought to address the strained relationships between positive and negative men. They covered everything from race,  and privilege, to the science driving the new HIV landscape. They came up with the HIV ÷ symbol, which features the tagline, “The virus divides. It doesn’t have to. No walls between gay men.” Absolutely brilliant!

I’m old enough to remember the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when no one really knew what was going on, and the medical establishment didn’t give a damn. When the virus was discovered a positive test was a death sentence. People seemed to just disappear. The loss to our community, and to me personally, was devastating. I’m sure many of you went through the same thing. We count ourselves lucky to have survived.

As the drugs got better, the disease became manageable, people started surviving. Now in the days of undetectable viral loads, and PreP, you would think that our attitudes towards HIV would have changed. But have they?

Not really. Many of us have fallen prey to fear mongering media. Some negative guys have bareback sex trusting that their partner is being honest, or has not contracted the virus since their last test. That behaviour is more dangerous that condomless sex with a poz guy who happens to have an undetectable viral load.

Poz guys lament their constant need to educate other gay men about the reality that we are currently in.  The story is very different from where we were only a few years ago. Sadly,

many men who are not living with HIV have become uninterested in being informed about current treatment and prevention options. I can’t imagine not being interested in how this virus, which has cost us so much, is being dealt with.

With the advent of PreP and undetectable viral loads the HIV landscape has drastically changed. There is one documented case of a man on PreP contracting a drug resistant strain of HIV. Hardly a reason to dismiss the efficacy of the drug. PreP is a calculated risk but has already been proven to be far more effective than standard safe sex practices. Check out an amazing new ad campaign, in the article below this, that looks at the reality of PreP,  and condoms. It also puts other STD’s in perspective.

I would like to challenge all of us to stop the shaming, get educated, and stop judging people on the other side of this toxic divide which is undermining the unity of our community. Once again the message is that we must fight together if we are to survive.