My personal story with HIV- I’m old enough to have known people taken from us due to HIV/AIDS, but young enough that I watched the worst of the crisis from my mom’s house while I was growing up. For those of us in my generation, being gay was synonymous with dying of AIDS. When I came out to my mother, she was accepting and wonderful, but when I found her in tears later that day she said “I’m just scared for you, I don’t want people to treat you differently and I don’t want you to get AIDS.” Gay men in my age group had it drilled into us that the ONLY sex was safe sex. When you “slipped up,” there was no PEP to fall back on. You waited an anxious 6 months for the tests to finally show whether a simple mistake or temporary lapse of judgement meant a death sentence.
My husband Jason has always worked for non-profit organizations, first at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, then at Wingspan (the LGBT community center in Tucson, AZ) and most recently at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Through him, and through being an actor and raising money with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, being an ally has been a part of my life for over a decade. I have lost friends to HIV/AIDS, and as a community we lost an entire generation. We need to stop it. We CAN stop it, if everyone is educated. And by everyone I mean EVERYONE. Gay men, their doctors, their elected representatives, health insurance companies, everyone.
PrEP and PEP are SUCH important tools for us. I can’t believe there’s even an argument about it. It’s a PILL that can STOP HIV. What’s to argue about?
I’m passionate about getting information out there because I’ve seen how UNinformed or MISinformed people are. There are doctors, DOCTORS, who don’t know about PrEP and PEP. Why not? Because they’re not told about it. I had a friend in a Red state who needed to access PEP last year. He had to go to an emergency room and explain to the staff what it was. You’re supposed to start it within 36-72 hours, and that precious time was spent educating doctors and nurses and insurance companies and pharmacies about a life-saving drug. He finally got it and it all worked out, but the experience opened his eyes and mine.
To the newly diagnosed, I say this: Keep seeing your doctor. Stay on your meds. Interrupting your drug regimen gives the virus a chance to develop resistance. Keeping the virus undetectable helps to lessen the likelihood of passing it on. Staying on your meds and keeping up with your doctor is the best way to keep yourself healthy and to stop the virus from spreading to anyone else. But also- keep going out. Keep meeting new people. Keep having hot, amazing, body-afirming sex! Your diagnosis is not a death sentence, so don’t let it squeeze the life out of you!