Nicholas Little, an HIV prevention worker from Ottawa, has been a great supporter of this site. And today, not because I’m lazy, but because he says it so well, I’m going to quote, with his permission, a big chunk of a recent post on his own blog.
Nicholas says we need to do an about face; to turn our attention to those guys who assume they are negative but are in fact positive - and highly infectious at that - rather than continually focussing on poz guys as the problem, and by doing so, stigmatizing them.
Interesting. Even our own community has being doing a lot of work focussing on poz guys lately. I don’t think his line of thought negates the poz prevention work that is being done in this province, and which I strongly believe in. But it does suggest a new and highly productive avenue for poz prevention to explore further, by expanding its target audience perhaps. Anyway, here’s what Nicholas says . . .
A recent UK study shows that over 50% of recently HIV+ gay men leave UK sexual health clinics undiagnosed. FIFTY PERCENT. And of those men who also have another sexually transmitted infection (making them more infectious to others), 80% left the clinics without being tested for HIV. EIGHTY PERCENT.
This blows my mind. We waste outrageous amounts of energy pushing men who know they are HIV+ to the margins of society — straight into prison cells, in fact — while we ignore the real crisis right in front of us. Study after study confirms: too many gay men are not getting tested for HIV - especially those engaging in high risk sex who need to be tested most.
We know who our true target audience is: gay men under the false assumption that they are HIV-, who have recently sero-converted (making them more infectious because their viral load is higher) and who may also have another sexually transmitted infection (make them yet more infectious). This is who HIV prevention campaigns should be focusing on. This is who is most likely to pass on the virus.
Not men who know they are HIV+. Not HIV+ men who self-disclose about their status (the majority). Not HIV+ men who, with their partners, employ harm reduction measures to keep everyone safer (the majority). Not HIV+ men who maintain good general health (by eating well, building strong social support networks with friends, combating HIV stigma, nurturing self-esteem and getting regularly tested for other STIs, among other things).
The UK Study should be sounding alarm bells. The longer we play into the paranoia about people who know they are HIV+ wilfully infecting others, the longer this epidemic will go on. We are wilfully deceiving ourselves and paying a very high cost because of it.
Just this past weekend an Ottawa gay guy told me, I always take my own condom because I am afraid the positive guy might have poked holes in his condoms in advance. I asked him, Do you even know any positive guys? He shook his head no. You do actually. About 11% of your random hook ups are positive. About 11% of guys at the Ottawa gay bars are positive. And seriously, dude, do you honestly think these guys are sitting around in some kind of vengeful stitch n bitch poking holes in big batches of condoms? These guys have way better things to do with their time. Like grocery shopping. Like doing their laundry. Like laying on the couch missing the days when Bob Barker was the host of The Price Is Right. Because they’re fucking human beings, not vindictive aliens. They’re regular, boring, everyday gay guys like you and me. And for all you know, I AM one of those 11% of gay guys. So I’m going to put this condom on that I lovingly perforated for you at home and we’re going to fuck already.
He laughed. And we did.
You can read the full text of Nicholas’s blog post, including recommendations for the way to go forward. It’s good. It’s here: