HIV infections are on the rise; however you would not know it if you asked the majority of the heterosexual community. Though HIV continues to infect heterosexuals daily it almost seems like a non-existent conversation, out of sight and mind. As an HIV + straight male this is troublesome and is one of the main reasons I strive to share my story wherever and whenever I can.
We know that HIV disproportionally affects many in “high-risk” groups however there is still a risk for straight men & women choosing to have unprotected sex. Many think that the worst thing that will happen is pregnancy, however we now know in this day and age, that is the least of our worries.
I have been asked a lot recently whether I believe there is a difference between “gay HIV” and “straight HIV”? In my opinion there definitely is, even though it is the same virus we all battle, the journey is very different. Though the terms have not been officially coined, I believe it is a fair question to ask. In order to understand whether there is a difference between the two we need to understand how HIV/AIDS is viewed and perceived in the heterosexual community.
The truth is most straight people do not talk about HIV unless they are speaking of Magic Johnson or the AIDS Epidemic in Sub-aharan Africa. Although heterosexuals have the highest HIV infection rate worldwide , here in the US we only account for approx. 25 % of new infections.
One of the main issues facing our community is the lack of community awareness/support. There are very few HIV campaigns I have seen that are geared towards the heterosexual community as many are directed towards LGBT or minorities only. This leaves out a large group that is having unprotected sex on a daily basis, often times with multiple partners. Many campaigns still perpetuate the stigma that this is only a gay disease to the point where straight people feel they are in no danger.
I have had several friends of mine who are LGBT tell me “Oh you got HIV from a girl? She must have slept with someone who is bi/gay… There is no way you would have got it otherwise.” It is comments like this that further the stigma we all strive to debunk. Though the risks are smaller for heterosexuals and it is harder to contract, a risk still exists, and instead of making this a ‘one group’ issue we should make this a human race issue because as we all know HIV/AIDS can affect us all.
As far as seeking out support the majority of support groups out there have very few, if any, straight members that attend. It might be due to the fact that straight people normally do not seek out support and tend to keep their diagnosis more private, hoping no one will find out. However I believe the main reason that people do not seek out support is fear of being labeled a stereotype often advertised in HIV/AIDS Prevention efforts including commercials, ASO campaigns, and sex education. These campaigns have very good intentions, no doubt, and are attempting to reach those most at risk. However it is alienating the majority of mainstream America that feel they cannot connect with these messages. HIV is thought of something that happens to “those people” but never to us. I know that is how I thought before I was diagnosed, and I was mistaken. Though I was educated about HIV/AIDS I never applied what I learned from sex education/college courses to my own life.
Many in the straight community do not know their status and are never referred to get an HIV test by a doctor due to the fact they are not “high risk”. Unless the doctor thinks they are participating in high risk behavior such as unprotected anal sex or IV drug use, the subject of HIV is not brought up until the patient does so or a pregnancy is involved. It is for this reason and the multiple stereotypes that many heteros go very long times without knowing their status. This can be very dangerous because if the patient does not ask for the test someone could go long periods of time, possibly reaching AIDS and having opportunistic infections before ever getting the proper chance to take care of their health.
It is each individual person’s responsibility to know their status but it does seem unfair that one group is pushed to be tested while another group that could be equally in danger of infection is pushed to the side.
The age of antiretrovirals has proven to save lives and allow us to live normal life spans but it is also a double edged sword in terms of prevention. Many people, not only in the straight community, now believe that HIV is no big deal; it is a chronic manageable illness that can be controlled by just taking a pill. While this is true, the fear of contracting the virus has decreased. What people don’t understand is the side effects that come with the medicine, the emotional roller coaster that HIV is, and the mental impact a positive diagnosis has on someone.
In summary HIV/AIDS is heavily ignored in straight America today and that is going to continue to add to HIV Infections that are increasing every year. There is much more awareness and support in the LGBT/Minority communities regarding this virus. PrEPand PEP are being advertised more throughout these communities where they hve not even been mentioned at all in the hetero population.
Though there might be more misinformation out there about the virus in these communities at least it is a topic of discussion. HIV/AIDS is not such a “hush-hush” subject that people are even afraid to say the word. The push to get tested and know your status is a good one; however it should be equally shared with everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Instead of these campaigns and organizations focussing on “high risk groups” which stigmatizes everyone, the big picture should be looked at.
There are many faces to HIV and we need to do everything we can to prevent anyone from contracting this virus. I am in no way against LGBT/minority education or awareness; however I believe a large group is being left out.
In order for us to reach zero we need to look at every avenue we can take to reach this goal. This is one reason that I am so out about my status because I want straight people to know that this can happen to them as well; it is not just a gay disease. Regardless of sexual orientation we are all brothers and sisters fighting this battle and we need to be in this together.
Many straight people might not be so open to LGBT equality as I am and everyone has a right to their own opinion; however, I think we can all agree that the goal is an HIV/AIDS free generation.
About the author:: My name is Joshua Middleton and I am a straight male from Southern California that has been living with HIV since June 5, 2012. It has been an emotional roller coaster, however I take it one day at a time. I am very open about my status and since my diagnosis have gotten heavily involved in HIV/AIDS activism in an effort to prevent others from contracting this virus. I am not ashamed of knowing my status and urge everyone, if you do not know your status, please get tested. I am an outgoing, optimistic, energetic person and strive to live every day to the fullest."
This article previously appeared on pozitivehope.com here.