A recent study confirms that fear of HIV continues to trump scientific knowledge of the virus.
According to a recent study in the Journal of the International AIDS Society, a disturbingly high amount of HIV-negative gay men doubt the veracity of the statement “Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U).” If you haven’t heard that motto before, it’s pretty simple. People living with HIV who are on medication and whose viral loads have reached undetectable status cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. The motto arose after the PARTNER study showed in 2016 that, among over 1,100 mixed-status couples who had condom-less sex, not one HIV-negative partner acquired HIV from their HIV-positive partner.
On a purely human level, the phenomena behind the data is that HIV-negative men refuse to see HIV-positive people as anything other than a virus floating in their blood. When a microscopic virus eclipses someone’s personhood, then something’s gone awry.
As a fellow HIV-negative man, I understand the myriad reasons that you might not yet believe that undetectable = untransmittable. It’s not actually about learning something new, but unlearning lifelong messages that just being gay, and loving other men, would most likely lead to acquiring HIV. And much of that public health messaging often sold HIV-positive gay men up the river.
Aside from public health messaging, so much of gay male culture revolves around the virus as a shared history. Movies and plays about the queer experience often portray the AIDS epidemic to differing effect. While it can serve as a way to unite the community by exploring our shared history, it can also create trauma. And, of course, it’s imperative to note that every HIV-negative.
Though it’s easy to see the root of this long-held stigma, that doesn’t excuse its survival. In the era of U=U, is believing that HIV-positive people with an undetectable viral load can pass the virus is akin to denying climate change?
Yes, as queer men, we have trauma around HIV and that trauma needs to be respected. But, for those HIV-negative men who decide their trauma is more important than an HIV-positive person’s personhood, it’s important that you acknowledge that the problem is your stigma, not a person’s virus.