“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
Recently a few of us were discussing the latest trend in the HIV community – making the “Undetectables” a sexy new thing. While I believe that we need to educate people about the safety of sex with those of us who are undetectable, the conversation also included the idea that we risk creating a class system of poz people: those who are undetectable and those who are not.
Back in the early 90s I met a straight poz man who implied that there were the “right” ways to have become infected (read “blood transfusion”) and wrong ways (read sex or drugs). In his mind there was a class system where hemophiliacs were at the top of the food chain and faggots and druggies were at the bottom. It separated “good” people and “bad” people, I suppose to make him feel better about himself.
Another class system that seemed common back in the day was based on socio-economic status. I once heard a man who suggested that a poz person who was working “wasn’t a real PWA”. He meant that real PWAs live on disability benefits and those who work are (most likely) “part of the system”.
There are many reasons a person may be detectable – the meds don’t work for them, their immune system responds differently in different circumstances, their strain of HIV is stronger or drug resistant, and so on. If we declare a class of people who have less HIV in their blood as somehow more desirable than others, who do we help? Or worse, who do we shame and stigmatize?
Of course, we already have class systems in place in the HIV community. Those who are not deformed by lypodystrophy or lypoatrophy are more valuable than those who are. Those who are famous are more valuable than those who live on the street. When the pharmas really started recruiting us to be their Guinea Pigs to try every new combination of chemical bliss, we were pictured as young, beautiful people climbing mountains and sailing on the open ocean. Even now, most HIV campaigns use images of flawlessly lovely creatures – rarely do you see older men and women with sunken cheeks and temples.
So, yes, we should promote the factual evidence that people with undetectable viral loads are less likely to pass on HIV, but we must not do it at the expense of the whole of the community. Otherwise we are no better than a facile marketing company selling cars with sex and branding ourselves as better than anyone else.