sexual health

Are you HIV-negative? If so, why do you want to talk more about HIV? Is there a particular story or situation that changed how you understood HIV?

I am HIV-negative and want to talk more about HIV because I feel that there is something profound when a negative person does so, specifically when it comes to challenging stigma. The same is true for when men stand up for the rights of women or straight people for the rights of LGBT’s. It’s less defensive and also shows the ‘other’ that they have allies outside of their group.

My journey with HIV started when I dated an incredible man who also happened to be positive. I call him The Catalyst because he challenged every fear and stigma that I had towards the disease and to those who tested positive for it.

He was the first openly positive person I’d met and it just so happened that I also fell in love with him. I remember trying to process my feelings and fears in my journal, writing that I had finally met HIV, my fear, for the first time and that it had come wrapped in the body of someone who filled my heart with joy. Up until that point it was the disease of rural Africa, not something that came into my first world conservative bubble.

His transparency around his status set me off on a journey to learn more about the virus so that I could make an informed decision around dating him. As knowledge empowered, fear started to slip away and I have since dated two other positive men, knowing full well the intricacies of this relationship.

I included friends and family with me on this exploration and, as a result, a group of 50 odd private-school educated people learnt for the first time about mixed-status relationships, PrEP and the advances in treatment. As people raised in the fear-culture that exists in South Africa’s around HIV, we all saw it as a death sentence but learnt together that things had changed.

A combination of love, education and an open mind changed my stigma and I hope to be a voice that rids shame from the idea of getting tested or having the virus.

South Africa faces significant racial and economic disparities that affect access to HIV prevention and treatment. In an ideal world, what would HIV prevention and treatment look like throughout the country?

While travelling the US and UK this year I decided to get tested in every city I visited to see how they all handled it. From a men’s clinic in the Castro to a truck outside the Abby in West Hollywood, I watched as 1st World countries provided free and easy access to those looking to get tested. Even with the ease of access, I still felt a tinge of embarrassment as I stepped into each venue, my conservative up bringing telling me to be more discrete.

What I took from these places was that, in conservative countries like South Africa, testing needs to be brought to the population as they should not be expected to have the courage to look for it themselves. It should also be coupled with something less stigmatised like a cholesterol or diabetes test so that people don’t feel like they are being tested for their shameful sins.

I’d love to see churches provide testing facilities on their premises (pipe dream I know) and think that if we are able to get the religious and community leaders to embrace a culture of testing and treatment, we will see more people getting tested.

Add to that the visibility of proud, positive public figures and I think you will see more people going forward to be tested.

Are you an activist or do you work in academic or scientific fields that deal with HIV and sexuality? If so, describe the work you’re doing, talking about how you got involved and what you hope this work will accomplish.

I am a published author and feature filmmaker with an activist tendency and strive to just be transparent about my life as a gay man and also my support of people who test positive. I do this by being vocal and telling people’s stories, be it through a post on Facebook or characters that I write

 

I’ve known since the beginning of the year that I would be going to Mexico City and South Africa but I haven’t know what I’m doing. Finally, I’m excited to announce a more concrete plan of what I’ll be doing and offer a little insight into the process. All of this has been a while in the making, but I’m happy to finally be going somewhere and setting myself up for a lot of exciting things to come.

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I feel like living in a world and talking so openly about queer sexuality and HIV/AIDS leads to a constant sense of alienation and disconnect. But what could happen if there was an easy, visual way to showcase that people living with HIV, who have experienced the loss of someone with AIDS, are on PrEP, or otherwise are confused about which sexual health services cater to LGBTQ-identified people? It seems like some of the silence, stigma and sense of disconnect could be lessened.

As I started to think about what Our Viral Lives could do, I again gravitated toward the idea of using digital tools. Having something that can be easily accessed around the world would allow more people to connect more easily, and thus the “Sex Without Boundaries” map was born. The idea is that if you’re poz, if you lost someone to AIDS, want to mention you’re on PrEP, or have a sexual health resource to share, you can.

This map will serve to build up more and more people over time to highlight the idea that we’re not alone, that there are people who share in our experiences, and that we can be empowered in our own communities to discuss sexuality and HIV if we haven’t already. Currently, anyone can reach out directly to Our Viral Lives at kyle [at] ourvirallives [dot] org to get added to the map. You can also send out a tweet here. All you need is your first name last initial, age, gender and/or sexual orientation, and HIV status, if you’re on PrEP, and since when.

(And if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out directly.)

Today I went to get my quarterly HIV test to renew my Truvada (PrEP) prescription. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever had gotten an HIV test using another HIV prevention tool other than condoms. There’s always some thought in the back of my mind that I could get HIV because I know that not having sex with a condom will possibly give me HIV. This has been ingrained since I was a middle school student. But I did feel more at ease and, as a result, I started to think more about what’s worried me and just how much I’ve grown.

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