[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s we went to press, another month goes by where the political campaigns on both sides of the aisle, with few exceptions, continue to stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS by simply not mentioning us. And yet, the number of new infections—according to the CDC—continues to exceed 50,000 per year. According to more stats just released, up to forty percent of Americans living with HIV are not receiving consistent medical care for their condition. And that’s with the Obamacare rollout pretty much complete. And the really frightening number is the one concerning Americans living with HIV—nearly one-third don’t know they’re positive!
Some would argue that the candidates for the highest office in the land have not mentioned, or were slow to mention, AIDS because it isn’t worthy of a political soundbite, that it has become relegated to the class of chronic and treatable health conditions. But it’s not curable, like Hep C (with which one in three Americans living with HIV are coinfected); HIV transmission is not ending if one in two young gay men surveyed report not thinking that condoms have much use in their prevention plans. The reason isn’t just that there are viable treatments out there if you do get infected. The reason, I believe, is closer to this fact of our youth culture: a need to belong.
Back at an AIDS and literature conference in Key West, Florida, held in 1997, that I was invited to attend as a panelist along with Tony Kushner and Larry Kramer, I introduced the topic of a relatively new phenomenon called “bug chasing” where there was an almost cultlike obsession by some gay men who were actively searching to be seroconverted by an already HIV-positive partner. A sort of searching for solidarity in the face of homophobia and AIDS phobia. In other words, institutionalized barebacking of young gay men purposely getting infected so that they could feel fraternity with others likewise infected.
The reason why I bring this up nearly two decades after the “bug chasers” panel discussion is that today’s PrEP is almost universally accepted as a form of prophylaxis, a kind of letting go of the fear that has ravaged MSMs for over thirty years. Largely a gay and bisexual quandary in this country, the race is on for not only a cure for AIDS but also scientific, medical, and sociological forms of HIV prevention not centered on the rigorous use of condoms. For this month’s double cover story with Teddy and Milissa Sears, we discover their thoughts on the value of monogamy, trust, and awareness that, in their view, are important attitudes largely dismissed by today’s oversexed culture. In Dann Dulin’s exclusive interview with the celebrity newlywed couple, they express the following truth: “AIDS is not the disease du jour. Zika is the disease du jour and it’s scaring a lot of people….HIV and AIDS has been around for a long time. Maybe it’s not as terrifying as it used to be, but, it’s still a killer.”
Essentially, they are stressing fidelity to the cause. This steadfast approach serves us well, whether we are part of a group of long-term survivors, as noted in this issue’s “Honoring Our Experience,” by Hank Trout, or up-and-coming advocates making waves in Atlanta, as Larry Buhl reports in “An Epidemic of Inequality.” Staying vigilant is key—see Sherri Lewis’s critique of AIDS revisionism in this month’s Role Call; Tyeshia Alston’s belief in the constancy of love to help us survive in her column; or the belief that words matter when it comes to describing our HIV-positive realities, as noted by our newest columnist, John Francis Leonard.
None of this means blind faith, like some people have accused presidential candidate supporters on the left and the right as having. This is a faith in the cause imbued with our memories of loved ones who died too soon. This is a faith honed by our own struggles to survive and thrive. This is a faith informed by the idea that we can find brotherhood and sisterhood across our differences. We don’t need to chase anything but health justice, empowerment, and the cure.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.