What is the world coming to? I ended up having to come to the "defense" of my arch-nemesis Jack Mackenroth last week. I say "defense" as he wasn't attacked per se, but in a roundabout way the promo video he made for the web site HealthyWithHIV.com was.
MOC blog, a site that I LOVE LOVE LOVE (for obvious reasons, and also for the fact that he frequently has a fresh take or an unexplored perspective on a variety of subjects) posted the video along with this paragraph:
"This promotional piece for HealthyWithHIV.com (paid for by the drug company MERCK) features competitive swimmer Jack Mackenroth who is clearly in terrific shape. And I'm genuinely happy for the guy. But are we doing a disservice to young people by featuring men in prime physical condition instead of those less fortunate, physically attenuated souls who haven't been quite that lucky? Many young people (what I'll none-too-lightly call the "Post-AIDS" generation, for not having participated in the carnage) fail to grasp that being HIV-positive is neither desirous nor chic. And they need that constant reminder. Where and how is that message getting out?"
My response is re-printed below:
I can't help but feel after reading this that there's a none too subtle desire on your part to see and portray HIV+ men as sick and frail and therefore "other". It is this kind of hidden stigma that keeps gay men that are already frightened of HIV from getting tested and, if need be, treated. This ignorance and fear is what perpetuates the spread of HIV more than anything else. The facts are that most men that are diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion will remain healthy for decades and those receiving more advanced treatment today may not ever outwardly "carry a sign" of being HIV+. Nobody is advocating that young gay men today seek out HIV, but your expressed desire to have it portrayed as a debilitating sickness is kind of offensive. Sorry if we're not suffering enough for you to feel better about yourself.
I was a little annoyed at MOC's writer and a little bit sad. While the sentiment was genuine, and I have no doubt as to the truthfulness of wanting to make sure that a message like "Having HIV Can Suck" gets out to young people unaware or uninformed of what the consequences are, I think it's unfortunate that there's some obvious stigma and prejudice buried amongst the good intentions.
Of course, left untreated, HIV will still ravage and kill you. And there are the unlucky people who do not respond well to standard treatments, as well as those who are "treatment experienced" that are now suffering some difiicult side effects from more experimental drugs.
But by and large, if you do find that you become HIV+, and you are tested early and get treated when it becomes required, chances are that you will have to deal with managing your health the foreseeable future, taking better care of yourself, taking medication every day- every. day, and the very real possibility of some long-term side effects of unknown consequence. You will also more than likely experience a disastrously negative impact on your sex life, and you will be faced with the ongoing pressure of whether or not to disclose this information to your friends, your family and your co-workers. You will face a certain amount of discrimination.
But you can also lead a relatively peaceful and normal life, hold down a job, pay your bills and still hope that someday, somewhere you meet a nice guy.
And that is what needs to be reflected in the ads.