You would think that after almost a decade of writing about my experiences with HIV, I would run out of things to say. And in some ways, I have. My sex life isn’t as salacious and being married with a child doesn’t really prompt conversations about HIV quite like my single years did. But just when I think I’m fresh out of experiences relating to HIV, a pandemic comes along.
In short, the HIV-positive experience in a COVID-19 world is pretty confusing. Some experts on the more conservative spectrum of HIV science consider an undetectable person to be at a greater risk of COVID fatality. Others consider an otherwise healthy person with HIV to be at no greater risk because of their status. And there has even been anecdotal evidence to suggest that a person who is compliant with their meds to be at less risk than the general population to experience severe and potentially deadly symptoms.
So where does that leave me? Just as freaked out and confused as everyone else trying to navigate the biggest public health crisis of our generation. But what I realized is just how similar the danger of COVID-19 is to the danger of HIV in Donald Trump’s 2020—it all boils down to your privilege.
Since the pandemic began, I have been able to work from home, collect a paycheck, keep my insurance, and fill my prescription without even a flicker of worry that all of those things could be taken away. In managing my HIV, these luxuries have allowed me to grapple with more nuanced topics related to sex, dating, and relationships. Just as some people can’t afford to lose their job that exposes them to the public or take care of their children while they attend school from home, many people with HIV are still falling short on the basics of care—leaving them exposed and at risk for health issues that should be a thing of the past. In this country we live in, you can only be as healthy as you are rich.
To be living with HIV in this country in the year of coronavirus is just like it is without. Your health is a socio-economic issue more than it is an actual health issue. If I presented serious symptoms for COVID-19, I wouldn’t hesitate to rush to the hospital and get the treatment I need. But how many people will wait until it may be too late for fear of hospital bills that can reach six figures? Unfortunately, this will most likely intersect with the same people afraid to get tested for HIV or start treatment because in this country, health care is a privilege that they have rarely been afforded.
COVID may not discriminate, but our health care system certainly does. HIV may not discriminate, but more often than not, it’s only those with privilege in America who can crawl out from under the weight of their diagnosis. Until the health crisis and our broken health care system are addressed, pandemics like COVID and HIV will continue to discriminate against those who can’t bankroll their medical care.
Stand up. Speak out. And demand a better America this November.
Contributing editor TYLER CURRY is also editor at large at Plus magazine, the author of A Peacock Among Pigeons, and a gay man living with HIV. (@IamTylerCurry)