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PrEPped in the (Sh)City

My name is Cadenza Jones and four years ago I decided to pack up my life and relocate to the Gay Mecca of Southern Africa. Fresh off the N1 from Jozi, I earned my keep, putting tin foil in over bleached bobs and styling the harriets of the somewhat rich and almost famous gals of the Mother City and to this day, it’s what I do!

In April 2011, my life took a drastic turn after a disastrous breakup with an ex-boyfriend, in PARIS of all places! Ironic isn’t it? The City of love and romance…well, not for me. Upon arriving home from the Eiffel Tower of Break-up Doom, mother-dearest, with her incredible Jewish “I know it all because I’m your mother” superpower, suggested that I go for an HIV test.

My mother is incredibly knowledgeable on HIV and AIDS, having worked as a community HIV counsellor – she was super supportive. She insisted on accompanying me and also got tested at the same time for moral support. A trip to the doctor, a single finger prick to my index finger and the only thing I remember were the heart-sinking words falling like heavy dumbbells from the doctor’s lips “Mrs Fleischmann you’re fine, but oh Cadenza! I’m afraid not so…”

Nothing could prepare you for hearing those words, not even if they were uttered by Meryl Streep herself which in itself would be an honour if her ‘majesty’ delivered such news. Not even a cheque for a million dollars could take away the cloud of doom and gloom that befalls a person when given the 80’s notion of a death sentence.  What made this new shocking revelation even harder to accept was the memory of my mother who demanded I use condoms at the tender age of 14 – and yes, I was already having sex at 14 (with men a lot older). I mean who wasn’t, right? In hindsight, the legal implications of those encounters could have made me a wealthy child star! But that’s a story for another day. I’ll be honest; I enjoyed every seedy encounter that came from the invention of internet chat rooms and my newly found love of Gay clubs! I remember being 15 years old, dancing every weekend in Braamfontein, taking molly as if each euphoric trip gave me my very own superpower and I felt invincible.

A few months later I was put onto ARV’s. 6 months later and Voila! My Cd4 count had shot up to 942, and my viral load was undetectable and it felt like hearing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” for the first time!

As a well-seasoned 34-year-old “psychological woman” now, I look back on those years of debauchery leading up to my mid 20’s and wonder if there was something I could have done differently which could have altered my path than to be stuck with a thick-skinned ‘friend’ for life. You know that individual who is forever tagging along, despite not being invited and doesn’t even buy me drinks… I’m projecting and digressing, but you get the point.

Along comes PrEP…

I’m pretty sure had PrEP been a thing in the early 2000s, my mother would have packed my pre-exposure prophylaxis medication into my school lunch because she knew I had raging hormones. I was quite the hottie back then and all the boys wanted to come for a milkshake to my yard. Hell, if it was a thing back then, I would have played the ‘get out of jail free card’  (in pill form) which would’ve allowed me to have all the fun I wanted without worrying about a possible life-sentence with HIV.

How far we’ve come in the last couple of years! How far indeed! These days a single pill can save your life, and prevent our negative brothers and sisters from joining this non-exclusive club, complete with its status block on dating apps that boldly reads “negative on PrEP”. The hilda face of HIV stigma is finally starting to make more of an effort! What a difference a minimal concealer, a smokey eye and also zhooshing the hair can make? And we are all gagging to finally see stigma’s make-over ‘true-veal’!

A couple of new friends I made, like so many other Gay-tonians, aren’t strangers to having ‘Sex-in-the-Mother-City’.  We joke about longing to hear those magic words every modern day gay man (or woman) long to hear. No, not “I love you”, but rather “Don’t worry I’m on Prep”.

If this is the miracle drug, we’ve been waiting for since the ’80s, how come more people aren’t incorporating it into their daily vitamin and protein shake regimen?

I find it interesting that a lot of guys who are taking PrEP are using it as a hoe-down and are boldly blasé about the risk of other STIs. Then there are those guys who are informed, still playing unprotected Russian roulette but not jumping at the opportunity of a scenically-sound prevention alternative.  I mean Paris Hilton would jump at every photo-op (and secretly orchestrate the Paparazzi too), despite her sex tape scandal and her bad-but-so-gay-that-it’s-good album failure. Somehow I have gone off the point, what is my point…my point is, PrEP in the City and being undetectable has given our community the freedom to shag again, dissolving the superficial barriers and the very real stigma that comes with being diagnosed and made us all just lovers again.

So I have to ask… Are you “PrEPped in the (Sh)City?”

Alain Fleischmann is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute and these are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.

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