In the queer community, there are trailblazers, brilliant minds, and kind hearts.
There are also idiots. We really are just like everyone else.
A poster-boy for privilege, I don’t deal with much bigotry because I am cisgender and white. That and having been out of the dating scene for the last four years, I was blind to the emergence of another, fully-grown, idiotic bias against PrEP consumers, of which I am a new partaker.
Every couple weeks, I’ll get chastised on Grindr based on my profile information. Is it because I say I’m 5’6” and 130 pounds? (Snitches get stiches, bathroom scale!) It is because of my HIV status: Negative, on PrEP.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (specifically Truvada) is a daily medication taken as a pre-emptive measure against contracting HIV from potentially positive, detectable partners who may or may not be aware that they have the disease. It’s obtained by testing negatively for HIV every three months to qualify for a prescription renewal. While some worry about stomach or kidney complications, I’ve experienced only one side-effect: shame.
I recently received this gem as a greeting: “WHY ARE ALL THE CUTE GUYS 'NEGATIVE ON PREP'?” First of all, thank you. I needed that today. Second of all, easy answer: safety. We’re fortunate to live in greater visibility than ever and that breeds freedom of sexual expression. It’s no shock that unprotected sex within the community has been en vogue for some time. Regardless of my safety with partners, PrEP is an added precaution I can take that, luckily, my insurance covers. Even uninsured, Gilead (the drug manufacturer) offers payment assistance in varying amounts. This doesn’t mean I shtoop any mustachioed, Adam’s-appled thing walking past my window. But if and when I choose to participate in a “Tour de Homme,” bare or wrapped, I can be sure I won’t contract or unknowingly spread HIV. I refuse to be shamed for safety, Grindr stranger.
I have been traveling around the United States for work the entire time I have been on PrEP. The first couple messages I received were all from older men in areas of the country I presumed were less tolerant. I originally surmised that this “Truvada-Whore” mind set would fester only in the minds of these particular older gay men who felt the mansplaining obligation to critique me about my perceived vamp-itude, since my youthful façade would allude to virginal piousness; a quality they hunt for in their younger, “purer” partners.
However, the longer I’ve been on it, the more surprise I feel toward the varying demographics of PrEP-shamers. I receive anti-PrEP love letters in all manner of places. Many in cities with higher STD rates, fewer sexual health outreach programs, and smaller gay communities in bible-thumping locales. But not exclusively. Larger, blue-er cities have just as many uninformed people desperately needing health information. Young and old alike would assume that, since I’m on PrEP, I am some condomless heathen. In actuality, my consistent prescription for PrEP should reassure one and all that I, as well as every other consumer, get myself tested at least once every three months. Can everyone else always say the same?
Paradoxically, it’s these shamers who generally write “looking for quick fun” or “not into anything long-term” in their Grindr profiles. Exactly! I am also looking to explore and have fun with different people. I just prefer doing it with a pill that accounts for the occasional spontaneous, latex-free encounter.
The misinformation about this drug doesn’t begin and end with the act of shaming those on it. Nothing makes my pupils recede into the back of my head more than hearing young, sexually active gay men tell me they have no interest in getting on PrEP because they “always use condoms.” By this fuzzy logic, all women who use condoms must also feel no need to be on birth control. It is an added precaution. And let’s face it, even when applied, condoms can break. PrEP puts the control of personal sexual health back into our hands.
I cannot sing this drug’s praises enough. I wish I could go door to door and hawk it off on the homosexuals of America like an HIV-prevention Avon Lady. But the perception that only whores use it needs to end. In fact, within our community, one defined by who we have sex with, we need to stop the slut-shaming altogether. Getting more educated about PrEP is one way to start.
We mock the conservative right who shame women for their sexual health practices, it’s about time we put our money where our mouths are. Embracing and respecting decisions of those taking PrEP is one way we can prove how forward-thinking we boast ourselves to be. You know, that and shutting down the blatant racism, sexism, transphobia, and HIV-stigma that runs rampant through our community. Easy stuff.
KENNY FRANCOEUR is a writer and dance captain for The Book of Mormon. Follow him on Twitter @kenny_francoeur.