My dear gay people,
We’ve come a long way since the first diagnosis of HIV, haven’t we? We have gone from so much promise and talent and love dying needlessly, to effective treatments that can reasonably prevent people from dying, and ensure that those who are HIV+ can live long lives. And yet, despite these developments, we need to talk.
The simple fact is that there is still a vicious stigma surrounding those who are HIV+, and this stigma is especially exacerbated by gay men. A basic lack of understanding fosters fear (a cultural hangover from the days of government warnings about everybody being at risk from catching the infection), and fear fosters hatred. There’s a desperate need for us to look at some facts.
I promise that this is not in an attempt to undermine or demean you. It is simply an attempt to explain that, actually, the seemingly unexplainable is not that unexplainable at all. Here’s a (genuinely) fun fact: somebody who has HIV, and who is receiving effective treatment, can eventually become what is known as ‘undetectable.’ PARTNER performed a study of 888 gay and straight couples, with one partner being HIV negative and one being HIV positive. Over two years there were precisely no transmissions of HIV between the couples, even when no condom was used during sex. At a press conference, Dr Jens Lundgren stated that this meant the chance of acquiring HIV from a partner on effective treatment is ‘nearer to zero.’ It could reasonably be ‘absolutely zero’, though he stressed this is not possible to show with mathematical certainty.
That’s not bad going, is it? From a country where there was no choice but for people to have their HIV become AIDS, and their AIDS lead to their death, to a country where people with HIV can have unprotected sex whilst not transmitting their infection. Despite this there are examples of people with HIV being harassed on dating apps, and being physically assaulted, as a result of their status. Why? Because people are afraid (unnecessarily afraid, but afraid all the same), and fear makes people do strange things. Any amongst us who have been the victim of an anti-gay crime will know this.
We do, nevertheless, have somewhat of a solution. The simple fact is that people are having sex, and they are having unprotected sex, and this dramatically increases the risk of HIV transmission. We cannot, and we must not, allow this to continue exponentially. This is why a little drug called PrEP, perhaps just on the horizon for NHS users, is a revolutionary step towards eradiating this infection once and for all.
There are of course the self-righteous amongst us who will declare ‘here’s how to not get HIV: only have sex with a long-term partner, and always use condoms.’ Perhaps you’re one of them, and that would be a shame. After all, this is only a satisfactory response for anybody who does not understand, and does not seek to understand, the realities of the human condition. Such a profession is simply idealism, and idealism is the enemy of reason.
Despite this, there is a belief – from both gay and straight – that to make PrEP accessible on the NHS would be a disaster. If you are reading this, and you believe that PrEP should not be available, may I ask why? The cost is far below that of the treatment of HIV across a lifetime, and it is surely the duty of socialised healthcare to make provisions for an infection that, left with no prevention, could have disastrous effects. These are facts that are important to consider.
I’m glad that you could take a few minutes for us to sit down and have this little chat, though I appreciate it has been somewhat one sided. Perhaps you’re going to a Pride event now, or have been to a Pride event, or will be in the next few weeks. I do hope that you have a good time but, whilst you’re there, please don’t forget my words here today. That’s a quiet revolution all by itself.
Wishing you much joy,
(P.S. Please, look after each other. Get tested).