I identify as a harm reductionist. I believe in the idea of being fully aware of the consequences of risky behaviors, and utilizing strategies to reduce the risk out of them. I look both ways before I cross the street. I keep my shoes tied. I wear condoms when I have sex. I do my part in trying to not put myself in harms way of anything that could be harmful — and ironically why I was against PrEP.
I couldn’t wrap my head around not using condoms, being tested regularly, and having to take a pill for the rest of my life. In the current state of Blackness and the way PrEP is marketed, I always felt like it was some racist target to medicate the Black gay community…or something. I mean, that’s not a far fetched idea right? The Tuskeegee Experiment comes to mind.
I guess I should explain what PrEP is, no? PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medication that keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. Essentially, a pill someone can take daily to greatly the reduce the risk of contracting HIV while in addition to practicing safe sex. We tend to always look for something quick to remedy us as opposed to focusing on the root of the problem. We see it with obesity, mainly. Hydroxycut, Phen-Phen, or those bad bitch teas they sell on instagram which is a one-stop-fix-this-problem magic potion without changing any of the behaviors contributing to the heart of the matter.
“Why can’t we just work out our issues with promiscuity, dating/sex apps, and dating by proxy? A pill is just contributing to the problem.”
That’s something I said numerous times, and it’s not completely off kilter. There’s this notion in the health community that we may be pacifying risky sexual behavior because HIV/AIDS campaigns aren’t aggressive enough in tackling reducing the community viral load — in other words, the ads suck and are too soft. “Oh, if I get infected I can take a pill, become undetectable and I’m cool? Bet.” That’s one argument. There’s a few others around. I was vehemently opposed to this entire concept until last week. I went to the doctor for the first time in years.
Full disclosure: the doctor is scary for me. Nothing ever has good with me visiting a doctor or a hospital so I stay away. I have had a change of heart recently due to a health concern (it was just acid reflux, I’m fine) and I went. I had a physical and had the doctor test me for everything. I got the results in two days, so naturally I was sweating bullets. I came back negative for everything…and I asked for a prescription for PrEP.
In March, Damon Young of VerySmartBrothas and The Root wrote about the reasons why Black men don’t go to the doctor. If straight Black men aren’t going to the doctor, imagine those who have sex with men. The stigma and fear, and lack of understanding from medical professionals is just enough for us Black gay men to rub some tussin on it and keep it pushin’.
What changed my mind?
Two things: statistics and quality of life.
We are becoming infected at an astronomical rate. I have no intentions on dating outside of my race to reduce the viral load due to it being concentrated with risk. In February of 2016, the Center for Disease Control announced that half of gay and bisexual black men and a quarter of gay and bisexual Hispanic men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes. The numbers show that it’s almost common place for Black MsM (men who have sex with men) to become infected. There’s a lot of us who are in committed monogamous relationships, and someone may be unfaithful and infect another person with the virus — a not uncommon story in the LGBTQ+ community. Also, people lie about their HIV status out of fear, denial, or them not knowing since, by large we don’t necessarily go to the doctor. There’s also a lack of sexual education in our community. Essentially, we’re socialized and learn how to protect ourselves in a heterosexual way, but not when it comes to having sex with other men. With that being said, it really lessens the dating pool.
Growing up gay, the golden ideal was to date and love someone who was not HIV positive as there was a fear you could contract HIV or some other social issue. There’s a lot of us who ideally would like someone who is not HIV negative, and whatever their reasons are it’s okay. But if the numbers are showing that half of us will become infected with HIV, and by large a lot of men (positive or not) aren’t compatible with you and trash, what’s left? This is all to assume that someone is being completely honest of course.
So, I decided to take PrEP in addition to condoms (because it does not protect against all STDs) as the air bags to my seatbelt. I did it for me.
And I feel good about it.
For more information, log on to http://www.whatisprep.org
For assistance on paying for PrEP, log on to https://start.truvada.com/paying-for-truvada