Daniel Driffin, a 30-year-old Atlanta-based HIV/AIDS activist, addressed the DNC today. His three-minute speech touched on the history of AIDS, Hillary Clinton’s advocacy regarding the epidemic (which she has a vast experience doing, brain farts aside), and most importantly, the current state of the epidemic, which disproportionately affects black and Latino gay and bisexual men.
We know the world is becoming a more accepting place for queer people, despite visible disparity and virulent backlash. But until we achieve equality for all, how do we reconcile the surviving traditionalist mindset with that of today’s progressive youth? Cecilia Aldarondo’s documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart suggests, if not an answer, then a method for telling stories along our way.
At a certain point while preparing for my interview with the novelist, memoirist, and editor Edmund White, I had to ask myself: What could I possibly say about a certain segment of gay life that Edmund White hasn’t already said beautifully or unflinchingly? “What we desire is crucial to who we are,” he wrote in his 2009 memoir City Boy. “People also like to slur someone who’s very good-looking; beauties are often branded ‘sluts’ or ‘whores,’ though these words make little sense in a sexually permissive age. What, in fact, do they mean? That someone likes to have a lot of sex with a lot of people? What’s so bad about that?” he asked in the ‘Beauties’ entry in the original 1977 edition of The Joy of Gay Sex, which he edited. And then there’s this astounding paragraph from his 1980 travelogue about regional gay culture, States of Desire:
In an interview conducted at Nancy Reagan’s funeral today, Hillary Clinton recounted a version of history that didn’t happen, lauding the former first lady’s “low key advocacy” for the cause of HIV/AIDS awareness. “Low key” is one way of putting it. In fact, the Reagan White House is infamous for its lengthy, deadly silence on the epidemic.
“Because we’ve always suspected that this potentially could happen, and now we’ve shown that it can happen, people need this information to make decisions about their sexual health that feel right for them,” Dr. David Knox told me by phone yesterday. “The more information, the better. And that’s the bottom line.”
A few people that I talked to yesterday, in the wake of the news of the first documented case of a supposed daily PrEP user who nonetheless contracted a strain of HIV with drug resistance, worried about an almost gleeful, “See, told ya so!” sentiment they were seeing in some gay men’s responses. At this point in my life, I am actively trying to avoid the unreasoned opinions of strangers, particularly when these opinions come with the smell of disregard for the community to which those who voice them belong (if not outright self-hatred). That’s to say that I didn’t really interact with any of that. But it is plausible that because PrEP is a discursive lightning rod, its detractors feel justified and some sense of happiness or pride over what many have taken to be solid evidence that PrEP is not 100 percent effective in eliminating HIV—something, by the way, that no expert I’ve ever read has ever attempted to argue. In fact, every doctor or researcher or activist or counselor that I’ve ever talked to has been extremely careful not to claim 100 percent PrEP efficacy.
The first case of HIV contraction in a person taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, or a antiretroviral drug cocktail used to protect people from contracting HIV) daily has been documented and presented by David Knox, MD, an HIV specialist at the Maple Leaf Medical Clinic, at the 2016 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston, according to Benjamin Ryan at Poz. Ryan reports:
“Falling into the easy trap of foregrounding sex has the effect of erasing the nuance, the richness, and even the messiness of people’s lives,” writes professor of history at Connecticut College Jim Downs in his new book Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (out March 1). The book exists to highlight the nuance, the richness, and even the messiness of people’s lives by offering an alternate history of gay life in the ‘70s. Though the years leading up to the AIDS epidemic are largely thought of as a sexual free-for-all (as depicted in the 2005 documentary Gay Sex in the ‘70s, and Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel Faggots), clearly there was more going on than just fucking, and that’s where Downs comes in. He doesn’t negate the idea that lots of men had lots of sex in the ‘70s, he merely supplements it.
Last night, MTV’s True Life featured two people in their 20's who are HIV positive and dating. The picture was at once bleak and hopeful—both Jonahs, 22, and Lexi, 24, are undetectable and yet face other people’s reservations (if not outright bigotry) regarding their status. And still they persevere. In the clip above Jonahs gets rejected after disclosing his status to a guy he met online.
Today’s episode of Dr. Oz returned to the subject of Charlie Sheen’s HIV and the experimental treatment he received from a “doctor” who practices in Mexico, Sam Chachoua. Chachoua allegedly injected himself with Sheen’s HIV positive blood and more recently discussed his treatment of arthritic goat milk on Real Time with Bill Maher, on which Chachoua received 10 minutes of airtime with virtually no scrutiny from Maher.
On today’s episode of Dr. Oz, Charlie Sheen revealed that he had gone off the live-saving cocktail of antiretroviral drugs he was prescribed to treat his HIV, which predictably caused the level of HIV in his blood to become once again detectable. Sheen said when he came out as HIV positive, he began to receive offers of alternative medicines that he then explored. At one point he said of his antiretroviral therapy as “amazing for the [viral load] number, but I don’t know how amazing it’s been for me, ya know?”
When the criminal trial of the HIV-positive college wrestler Michael Johnson began, BuzzFeed reports reports, his lawyer immediately fumbled her words, advising the jury her client was “guilty until proven innocent.” It was an inauspicious start to a trial that seemed, in retrospect, to have been stacked against the defendant in every way possible.
When Charlie Sheen announced earlier this week on the Today show that he is HIV positive, he added that through antiretroviral treatment, his viral load is now undetectable. “My medical team could only shake their heads as each and every blood test returned levels revealing a state of remission,” he wrote. In going public with his status, Sheen introduced the country at large to the emerging reality of what it means to be HIV positive in 2015.
A source with “direct knowledge” of the interview announced earlier today confirmed to CNNMoney that Charlie Sheen will discuss his HIV status with the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, TMZ reports that Sheen has been receiving treatment and the virus is now undetectable in his system.