“…’I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury’ said cunning old Fury,
‘I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision seems to have everyone reeling. On the one hand, they made a decision, which is a good thing. On the other hand, the decision has too many grey areas and we’re not all comfortable with that.
In talking with a sexual partner who is aware of my status, he supported the view that I am, albeit unfortunately, responsible to protect him from me. I pointed out, yet again, that we must all of us assume that our sexual partners have something we don’t want to get and that we all have something we don’t want to transmit. In my mind this includes all sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV. We used to say that in the 1980s, but I don’t hear it much anymore.
A friend on Facebook, told me she had posted a comment on an editorial in the Globe & Mail. I started reading the comments and quickly had to stop. The vitriol spewed from the readers was more than I could handle and I realized that in the court of public opinion, we are still considered the vectors of disease and I suspect many would love to see us all sent to the leper island – thereby keeping safe the innocent lambs who refuse to take responsibility for their personal behavioural choices.
I’m torn between the agency-based argument that we’ve been shuffled a step backward and my own internal view that in fact I am responsible for keeping HIV away from my sexual partners. I am responsible – but that does not negate the responsibility of others.
Perhaps there’s a little of the Nanny State living in this twisted view. We must all be protected from that which might harm us: we are not responsible, others are. But that holds as well for those of us living with HIV. We wish to remain blameless and innocent in the potential transmission of the virus. And we are not. And neither are others.
Most people don’t understand what safer sex is. Perhaps we dropped the ball on that one after the meds improved. We saw treatment as a panacea for education. We started to get our lives back and the AIDS industry shifted it’s focus away from sex and toward needles. Education about safer sex is still out there, but with health authorities squarely moving toward “harm reduction” (which now means needle exchange), there is a new scramble to figure out how we get the safer sex message out to people. The stigma campaigns are a good start, but they reach a limited audience, often preach to the converted and don’t talk about personal responsibility. Instead, they harp on the message of “why do you hate us?”
Until we go back to the beginning and start over with the relentless messages about condom use, personal responsibility and safety there will be no change in public awareness of how HIV is and is not transmitted, and we can talk about undetectable viral loads until we’re blue in the face.
The early days of AIDS and the “gay plague” are with us still. The blame game continues to rage on both sides and Supreme Court or not, we will never be able to legislate common sense.