Josh Kruger says we are often unwilling to take the professional, social, and sexual risks of affirming that we are HIV+. But, he says, come out. You’ll find that nobody really cares about your HIV-status.
In POZ Magazine, Michael Kaplan, CEO of AIDS United, himself HIV+ since 1992, makes the case for a national HIV+ coming out day wherein HIV+ men and women publicly disclose and affirm their HIV status. A good number of readers of this site have asked for my opinion on the matter, and as an HIV+ man, I, along with a good number of readers, have an obvious stakeholder position in this discussion.
While I make no comparison of myself to the obvious gravitas and incredible insights and experience of Kaplan, I do say that as someone who routinely writes against HIV stigmatization, about the deleterious effects an HIV negative based LGBT community has on its HIV+ members, and about the need for candid discussions on the reality of sexual health in 2013, I think this is probably the best advancement to improve the quality of life for HIV+ individuals since modern triple and quadruple therapy antiretroviral treatment.
Last year, I publicly disclosed my own HIV status on Philadelphia Magazine’s G Philly Blog. While the response to this public disclosure was overwhelmingly heartening and warm, there were still, of course, those who commented on that site and in local LGBT social settings that I was, and these are direct quotes, “a slut,” “deserving of HIV,” “hypocritical,” “dirty,” and every other standard, and idiotic, common insult thrown, at one point or another, carelessly at most people who live with HIV. Disingenuously, entire segments of the LGBT community take the personal responsibility of HIV negative sexual partners entirely off the table, force an unfair expectation of disclosure entirely onto the shoulders of those living with HIV, and, most alarmingly, contain swaths of “reformed good little boys” living with HIV, who seemingly tend to make their livings off of HIV prevention, efforts that they themselves seem to have not even adhered to by nature of their contradictory existence.
Most annoyingly, these hypocrites, when coupled with their ludicrous demands that everyone use a condom every time, stigmatize themselves by calling me, again literally, a “murderer,” “playing Russian roulette,” and “stupid.” Bizarrely, these professionals, who would not put food on their tables if HIV was, in fact, eradicated, seem to ignore completely the mounting evidence that antiretroviral treatment when adhered to nearly 100% of the time takes HIV transmission completely out of the realm of scientific possibility without condoms being necessary whatsoever. Instead, they kowtow to the demands of Durex, Trojan, and Lifestyles out of intellectual laziness and counterproductive conventional wisdom that, based upon the growing HIV infection rate in the United States, is obviously ineffective.
And, it is because of the secretive and stigmatic nature of HIV that this cycle of reckless behavior, refusal to get tested for HIV and the ensuing inevitable consequences of having sex with folks who aren’t on antiretroviral treatment, continues. With this in mind, it is high time that HIV+ Americans come out of the virologic closet and affirm that they are, first and foremost, human beings deserving of the same respect and dignity that we afford even the kinkiest members of the LGBT community without regard to their personal sexual proclivities. After all, this demand for equality of representation and equality of circumstance, particularly in the context of legal and health related issues, is the precise equality currently demanded by the Human Rights Campaign, which seems to think that HIV doesn’t exist.
In Philadelphia alone, 20,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS. We exist, and we have more votes, more impact on society, and more influence on the direction of the LGBT community, an admittedly fragmented and loosely affiliated cultural bloc that cannot even make up its mind on what to call itself, than a great number of political and social interest groups demanding more seats at the table of human discourse than the HIV+ have themselves. And, because we are afraid of people calling us sluts, of people judging our behavior, of people hypocritically barebacking while simultaneously telling us we deserved our divine sentence of a blood born virus, we are unwilling to take the professional, social, and sexual risks of affirming that we are HIV+. And, frankly, we are successfully living with HIV thanks to the hard work of more compassionate segments of the LGBT community, including a myriad of HIV/AIDS organizations here in Philadelphia and the good work of state legislators like openly gay State Representative Brian Sims. Ironically, the seeming majority of HIV+ men and women are overwhelmingly healthier and monitor their bodies and personal behavior to a degree most HIV negative people, either out of unfortunate lack of access to healthcare or laziness or ignorance, find prohibitive.
Now, nobody should be forced to come out of the virologic closet just as nobody’s sexuality should be whispered about for page views or forced to discuss their private life publicly. That is, nobody should be forced to do any of this if they are, indeed, not a hypocrite with obvious contradictions between their personal identity or behavior and what they advocate. Nonetheless, just as the glass closet keeps society guessing about the dates and husbands, or lack thereof, of media, political, and cultural figures, the virologic closet impedes happiness, sex, marriage, dating, friendships, understanding, tolerance, acceptance, and every other factor inherent in public assertion of circumstance and identity. Therefore, I encourage anyone who is HIV+ to recognize that the benefits of coming out, of being able to finally no longer tiptoe with our potential boyfriends around the issue of HIV, of no longer feeling that we deserved this virus, of no longer feeling the need to enter the backdoor of public health centers as though we are second class citizens hiding our most basic of human needs, access to healthcare, far outweigh the stupid biases of an incredibly small, and disgusting, group of thoughtless, inhuman morons who would rather gossip about HIV than genuinely care about the 20,000 Philadelphians living with HIV.
So, come out. You’ll find that nobody really cares about your HIV status aside from the fact that you are taking care of yourself, that you are using the tools the LGBT and HIV/AIDS community have worked toward for decades, and that you are, above all else, content and happy.
If you would like to possibly come out publicly about your HIV+ status, contact Josh Kruger at
This article previously appeared on Josh’s own blog here.