Stigma. Some poz guys here have said they don’t experience much of it. Other have said “are you crazy? It’s everywhere!” My response is somewhere in the middle; I’m fortunate not to have to bear the brunt of it - much - in my daily life. Being out about being poz helps see to that. But I see it around me, impacting on others all the time, and I certainly see it directed at us poz guys collectively, all the time.
Often it’s because we are portrayed in the media (like in that Globe and Mail article) or even in our own community (like some of the remarks provoked by that gay.com feature) as being complacent about the risk of HIV transmission, or worse, acting “irresponsibly”. Vectors of disease, in fact, only interested in our own gratification, with no concern about infecting others.
That’s highly stigmatizing language of course. But if we argue that kind of talk is an unfair and erroneous characterization, we’re accused of “pussyfooting.” (I hate that term. by the way.)
Here are the three main arguments I and others make against charges of “irresponsibility”:
- most poz guys play safe
- the evidence suggests that its neg guys who don’t know they are poz, with resultant high viral loads, who are the source of most new infections
- where “irresponsibility” exists, it does so in both poz and neg guys, so concentrating on the problem in just one of those communities is unfair and unproductive.
All of these facts are true.
What we don’t deal with so well, perhaps, are the exceptions. We know some poz guys out there struggle, have slip-ups, have self-respect problems and are saddled with a host of factors which make their sexual health, and even that of others they have sex with, not a top priority in their lives. Not unlike some neg guys, in fact. For poz guys, the added impact of stigma doesn’t help, in fact it’s at the root of many of the problems poz guys face. But it strikes me that we poz guys are slightly reluctant to acknowledge that those problems do exist in the poz community and that they sometimes manifest themselves in risky behaviours, like fucking without condoms. It happens. It’s better, I think, to acknowledge that than to sweep it under the carpet.
It’s also helpful, and perhaps even essential, to acknowledge that we can do something about it. In my next post, I’ll talk about what I see as some of those ways. But in the meantime, I’d be interested in what others think. Do we poz guys hurt ourselves by suggesting we all practice safer sex, all the time, that the problem is solely in the neg community, not ours, that it’s all about testing, or in the other ways we routinely deflect criticism?
And if there is a problem out there, how do we deal with it?