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The name of the Sh(G)ame

Let’s address the rather large red elephant in the room, shall we? Undetectable viral loads in a person on successful treatment of ARV’s and using PrEP in relation to shame, I feel is a conversation that needs to start happening more.

So, because I am your fairy drag journo godmother, and I am privileged enough to carry a BIG laptop. I’m going to sound off on these topics. If there’s one thing I’m most certainly qualified to talk about, being a gay, Jewish, HIV positive drag queen, is shame.

MY kind (and I say that encompassing all aspects of my identity) were shamed long before Queen Elizabeth II became her majesty, before the first drag queen cast the first brick / stiletto at the Stonewall Riots, and centuries before there was a divide between rich and poor, gay or straight, fat or thin, fabulous or BEIGE. It seems it was predestined for me at least, to live a life of being shamed for so many different aspects of my life. On one hand, us Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years by every culture, gays and drag queens have been shamed since the words of the good lord were twisted and used as propaganda to segregate us, HIV positive people have been shamed because we brought about this plague and epidemic.

I mean let’s face it boys, being undetectable means you can’t get the virus from me. So what’s the big fuss about? Or is it because I’m not ripped enough? My face is made of Mac and Bobby Brown? Or is it because I have a love for the feeling of brand new stockings and how they make my pins all sheer and inviting?  Could it be I contour my nose make-up too much? Maybe wearing sequins during the day isn’t the best life choice? Or is it just simply that this stigma surrounding HIV is still so toxic in the world that undetectable HIV positive people are still shamed for having this virus live in hidden reservoirs in our body and we are still “the untouchables” and most people’s egos can’t let go of this label HIV POSITIVE.

Here’s another real doozy kids…

A friend of mine while speaking on the topic of PrEP – over a glass, or five of wine, admitted he was embarrassed to let anyone who comes over for a “sesh” actually see his PrEP medication in his bathroom, SO HE HIDES IT. In case this John thinks he might be positive! HELLO?! Surely taking PrEP should be applauded and praised? Much like being bold enough to start treatment when diagnosed positive? PrEP has come into our lives and has saved many people from contracting this virus. Much like ARV’s are available which keeps people like me alive and prevents my present and future lovers from joining this club of ours.

Essentially, they are both ARV’s, and they are both saving lives. Surely by now we can learn to let go of our ego’s and the shame and just look at each other as all HIV EQUAL?

Believe me, I’m no stranger to experiencing shame. Funny story. A few years back before I moved to Cape Town, I met a boy on THAT app, we chatted for weeks before we met, the conversation was incredible and for a moment I thought THIS is the kind of man I want to be with, this is the man I wanted to help me shave my back and feet. One random night at the club, I spot him across the dance floor from one of the MANY photo’s he sent me (wink wink nudge nudge) and we ended up in a rapturous embrace, we snogged, spent the night dancing and having a truly Cinderella (Dragarella) moment. The next day we met up, spent the entire day drinking at a hotel pool, it was bliss.

The conversation leaned towards medication and drugs, being a typical homosexual with more issues than Vogue, he explained the various antidepressants, mood stabilizers etc. that he was on, me seeing this as my opportunity to drop the H BOMB, I casually – whilst sipping my Long Island Ice Tea –  informed him that I’m undetectable and have been on treatment for quite a few years. I soon realized his interest had turned to shame, fear and stigma when whilst trying to signal for another cocktail he quipped “I thought we were calling it a day”? Stick a fork in me, I’m DONE! Queue atomic bomb explosion HERE.

Why are we still shaming HIV positive people anyway? Surely, we should all just celebrate love and equality? Put our differences aside and let go of the stigma? The point of this story is that yes, negative people are taking PrEP as a precaution (and in this day and age it’s really a must), positive people are taking it to survive and to remove the transmittable factor from the virus itself but this shaming each other and ourselves over these meds and statuses has got to stop!

As for our negative brothers out there, start taking control of your sex life. It’s just one pill and it’s a game changer that our forefathers fought for so long with ACT UP! Let’s level out the playing field and all take these vital meds and all be HIV equal!?

Just a thought, use it, don’t use it. I’m HIV equal…what are you?

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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