World AIDS Day Reminder: It’s The Stigma, Stupid


AIDS and the virus that causes it have been around for at least a century. But in 1981, the syndrome that was first called GRID, or Gay-Related Immunodeficiency, began affecting large numbers of people in the West — specifically, white, middle-class people. Soon, it was dubbed a “global phenomenon”.

Today, more than 34 years after its first mention in the New York Times, some scientists are still trying to identify the origins of AIDS. I’m sure they have good reasons for doing so, but to me, it seems like a waste of time, energy, and money. In my decidedly non-scientific view, searching for the source of AIDS is little more than an encouragement to point fingers. Communities always want to blame disease on outsiders; once we can definitively say where AIDS and HIV “come from”, we can say, “It’s not our fault, it’s theirs”. In the process, we remove ourselves from the obligation of doing anything about it.

The actual science of AIDS is far more important, and it’s something we know much more about. With every passing month, we uncover new details about how HIV works, how it evolves in the human body, how it’s transmitted from cell to cell. We also learn its weaknesses.

Over time, such discoveries have made HIV a chronic, manageable disease. If you’re HIV-positive and take your meds, you can live as long as your HIV-negative peers. (Granted, access to those meds isn’t always easy, but it’s getting easier.) Once your viral load is suppressed, it’s also nearly impossible for you to pass the virus to others.

What’s not manageable, what hasn’t evolved over the past three decades, has been the stigma surrounding HIV. As you can see in the video above, HIV-positive people are still called sluts, still told that they “deserved” to contract HIV, that they’re vile, diseased, unlovable.

That’s not just mean-spirited. It directly contributes to the spread of HIV. Stigma scares people from getting tested, and it prevents sexual partners from speaking honestly with one another about HIV status.

So, next time you’re skimming through Grindr or Scruff or Growlr, take a good, long look at some of the profiles there. Guys who describe themselves as some variation of “clean” are probably dicks (and not just because they are what they eat). Guys who say that they’re on PrEP or poz or undetectable are a far better bet. At least they’re willing to talk, and I don’t know about you, but nothing turns me on quite like chatter.

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