This is a column I have been thinking about writing for so, so long. What better way to clear the air on this subject than to make it my first piece of 2017?
A few days ago, I received a package from Gil Diaz at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He sent me the T-shirt and “Kleen Canteen” pictured with this piece. God bless you Gil, by the way, for thinking I can fit into a medium.
I served as one of the official journalists of AIDS LifeCycle the past two years, which was an awesome experience even though I was unable to do the ride, both years, due to outrageous, unbelievable-unless-you-live-here events in my personal life that coincided with the ride two years in a row.
I’m going to start posting some of my Healthline Contributors pieces on AIDS LifeCycle beginning tomorrow. Healthline Contributors recently went dark but Healthline gave me permission to re-post my work on my own site. Many thanks to Healthline.
My journalism career essentially was brought back from the dead in 2013 when I began writing for Healthline News, primarily about HIV. I had left the workplace at the end of 2010 to focus on taking care of my dad and myself. When dad went into the hospital, and then a nursing home, and then a memory care facility, I got back to work.
Writing about HIV, for me, was sort of like a duck to water. While I do not have HIV, I certainly once lived the life of someone at extremely high risk of infection. I also worked as executive news editor of The Advocate just as protease inhibitors came out and people with HIV, still alive today, were saying, “Damn! I never should have sold my life insurance policy to the viatical!” It was a positive turning point in the epidemic that continued in that direction of progress for many years, up until recently.
Which is depressing. But that’s not why I stopped writing about HIV. At least not directly.
Watch for more of the same science-based reports I used to write for Healthline
I have a new client, Vital Updates, and I know they want me to start writing more about scientific developments related to HIV. Here’s a piece I wrote just last week regarding people with HIV having double the heart attack risk. I encourage the HIV scientific community to start sending me news releases again.
Many things converged all at once that caused me to stop writing about HIV. I survived a horrifying assault the last night I ever took a drink, Memorial Day 2014. Around the anniversary date of that assault, something traumatic happened to me again. I have written about these things piecemeal rather extensively, and people in the HIV community who worked closely with me around the time that they happened know the details and hopefully understand. I apologize if I ever offended any of them, and I’m sure I probably did.
It all was so traumatic, that I have since “ghosted” anyone, anyplace, or anything that was part of my life when these horrific events went down, simply to avoid triggers. I have stopped short of moving because my dad did not leave me the family home, and I have not sunk a bunch of money into remodeling it, to just up and leave. I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere.
Even though most of the people, places and things in my life (I have changed grocery stores, banks, everything) had NOTHING to do with the traumatic event itself, PTSD doesn’t really differentiate when it comes to triggers. If they were a big part of your life when that bad stuff happened (and in the case of HIV, relate to the trauma in an unfortunate sense because it’s a topic you write about professionally) you must just step aside for a while and catch your breath to move past it.
And what happened to me did have a lot to do with HIV, as far as I’m concerned, even if I am not infected. I thought about getting into that a bit in this piece, but I’ll save that for a later date, if I ever feel comfortable writing about it at all.
Then there is the matter of Danny Pintauro
When Danny Pintauro first told Oprah, and then went on The View, about contracting HIV while high on crystal meth, boy did I ever just want to hug him. I, too, had a RAGING crystal meth addiction when I lived in Los Angeles (and sadly, it’s ravaging the community where I live now, the Quad-Cities, my hometown, all these years later).
Suddenly, several of the bi-coastal gay opinionmakers emerged with fierce nastiness. They attacked Danny for taking personal responsibility for his addiction (he never said he was a “moral failure,” he simply took PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. This is what you’re supposed to do if you want to better yourself.)
BUT WORSE, so much worse, is that they began attacking him for saying he contracted HIV from oral sex. Let me tell you something: When you have bleeding, open, oral apthous ulcers, which you get from doing tons and tons of meth (particularly smoking it), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that hell yes you can get HIV from oral sex. These “activists” who blasted him and claimed otherwise were talking out their blowholes. Period!
I, too, had the oral apthous ulcers at one time in Los Angeles. I also had all the symptoms of acute HIV infection and ended up going to the doctor. The doctor was certain I was infected and even surmised I got it through oral sex because of the oral apthous ulcers and my sexual history of the previous month. Danny’s story rang true with me in every. Single. Way. The attack by the bi-coastal gay opinionmakers was unwarranted, irresponsible, and a bunch of poo. Period.
PrEP: A great tool for many, but causing problems, too
That brings me to PrEP, and the “sex positive” campaigns. From day one, I said that I DO NOT think Michael Weinstein is a “nut.” I think he believes what he says, and I understand where he is coming from, even if I don’t always agree with him.
What has happened since PrEP? STIs. THROUGH. THE ROOF. Truth. Period. Many gay men, particularly those already at elevated risk of HIV infection, don’t need encouragement in being promiscuous, especially with crystal meth raining down like confetti all over the U.S. I speak from experience. For many years, I was as promiscuous as they come. For me, it was about my drug and alcohol abuse more than anything else. Once I got sober, the promiscuous behavior just stopped. Because it’s not who I am.
It’s nothing short of a miracle that I am three years sober in May, but miracles do happen, and can happen for anyone who wants to change. There’s a lot of great help out there.
At the same time, the mantra of “impossible to transmit if undetectable” is dangerous, in my opinion, because it largely is based on the trust of your partner, who you may not know very well at all. Let’s face it, in the era of Grindr, Scruff, Craigslist, etc., many gay sexual encounters are with partners people don’t know a whole lot – if anything — about. And “impossible to transmit if undetectable” does not jive with what doctors have told me for years, which is that viral loads can blip. So, for the people who frequently use those platforms, PrEP probably is a good idea if they’re not using condoms (but who really wants a strain of potentially untreatable gonorrhea anyway?)
While even I at one time scoffed at Weinstein’s insistence that condoms shouldn’t be thrown out like the baby with the bath water, let’s face it. He has turned out to be right. I know that is very painful for many people!
I may be sexless and out of touch, but my experience is not unique
Admittedly, the issue of HIV doesn’t directly affect me right now as much as it has in the past. I have not had sex of any kind in over three years, and see nothing but a sexual desert on the current horizon. So admittedly, I am “out of touch.”
I realize that is not “normal” in the view of many gay men, or even healthy. Naturally I hope the “drought” doesn’t last forever, but when you don’t have anyone in your life who you want to have sex with, why would you have it?
Another point I want to make: I have heard numerous reports from people my age and older who told me they stopped using PrEP after suffering bone density loss and kidney problems. I can assure you, these are people who love sex, are not “prudes,” but felt the medication was doing more harm than good. It’s a personal choice.
Please read this excellent Los Angeles Times piece on Truvada if you never have. Outstanding reporting.
I want to end this way-too-long piece with this. Since I stopped writing about HIV, I have lost lots of followers to my Facebook page who used to follow me for HIV news. And that’s understandable. Yet I have more page likes than ever before, because now I write about other things, too.
Here’s my point, and why I fully intend to start writing about HIV more frequently: The stigma and the ignorance about the disease still is SO BAD, that when I do write about HIV these days, I lose page likes. Every. Single. Time.
For sure this piece will cost me plenty of followers. And that’s fine. I believe in authenticity, I still support every effort to encourage HIV testing, access to affordable treatment for all, and the realistic goal of ending the epidemic once and for all. I plan to continue to do my part in helping to accomplish that.