Let’s Talk About AIDS

Recently, a 16-year-old with a popular Vine account named Nash Grier made an inflammatory statement claiming that AIDS was a “fag” thing*.  He may only be 16, but he has over 8 million followers, and is parroting an anti-gay message that has, in the past, been used to vilify the LGBT community.  The original belief was that only gay persons were at risk for HIV/AIDS, and the myth accompanying this was that the gay community “deserved” this, as “punishment” for their behavior.  Even today, it can be difficult to impress upon heterosexual persons that they are equally, if not more, at risk for HIV, when myths like this continue to circulate in popular culture.  In fact, the Vine video in question first showed a public service announcement that was reminding people that getting tested for HIV is not just a “gay thing”, and that everyone should get tested.

So, let’s talk about AIDS.  No matter your gender, no matter your race, no matter your age, no matter your sexual orientation, if you are sexually active or use intravenous drugs, you may be at risk for HIV/AIDS.  I know it’s easy to More than 1 million people are living with AIDS in the United States today, and 1 in 6 don’t know they’re infected.  Incidence (the number of new infections per year) and prevalence (the proportion of a population impacted by HIV/AIDS) vary by geographic location and demographic group, but make no mistake: people in every are and every group are impacted by this disease.

Why the LGBTQ community then?  The reality is that, specifically, men who have sex with men (MSM) are among the most at-risk for HIV infection, particularly young, African-American MSM (in the United States, at least).  The reason for this, however, is purely biological: anal sex carries with it greater risk of transmitting infections as a result of how membranes become exposed and the relative roughness/rubbing involved in anal sex.  As a result, individuals who engage primarily in anal sex are more likely to transmit infections, including HIV.  But that doesn’t mean that vaginal intercourse doesn’t also carry with it a risk of HIV transmission: it does.

I’ll also briefly get into the issue of race as well.  African-Americans are the most impacted demographic group in the United States with regards to HIV/AIDS.  This is in part because of the relative lack of services initially available in African-American communities, and in part because of the link between HIV risk and incarceration, which also disproportionately impacts African-Americans.  Within prison communities, practices like unprotected sex and needle-sharing among illicit drug users are commonplace, and very few states require/provide for HIV testing upon exiting the system.  This means that many individuals who contract HIV while in prison do not realize they are HIV positive when they re-enter their communities.

At the same time, partners of incarcerated persons (often women) are placed at risk not only when their partners return, but while they are away; research indicates that women who believe they need to be involved with a man for sociocultural reasons are placed at risk when the male-to-female ratio in their communities becomes skewed (for example, by wide-scale incarceration), in part because they lose their bargaining power over things like safe sex.  I mention it here because it’s interesting, but also because these dynamics have disproportionately placed African-American women at risk.  While women represent 20% of HIV positive persons in the United States, African-American women make up the largest portion of that demographic.

If you’re reading this and thinking this means it might be a “gay thing” or a “Black thing”, I want to be reiterate what I said earlier: those groups are disproportionately impacted because of the ways in which the virus spreads, but every demographic group is vulnerable.  So no matter how you identify, no matter the color of your skin, no matter what social network you think you’re plugged into…get yourself tested.  I know it seems scary, but it’s NOT just a “gay thing”, it’s NOT just a “Black thing”, it’s a health thing, and getting tested could help you prevent the virus from transmitting further, delay symptoms by years, and let you live a healthier life.  When we let homophobia/heterosexism cloud our understandings of real medical processes, when we let racial conceptions of us and them distort our views of situations, we put ourselves, and the people we love at risk.  Check your assumptions, and then check your area for free/low-cost HIV clinics.  The more you know, the more control you get.


*NOTE: the author of this blog does not approve of the use of slurs such as this one

~ by Randi Saunders on July 10, 2014.

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