Coming Out as HIV+

Be it the 1970s or 2019, HIV has always had a stigma associated with it. Although times have changed a lot and science has reached a position where mitigation is possible, HIV+ people are still hesitant and nervous about how society will perceive them. Will they be accepted into mainstream society? Would people steer clear of them on the roads? There has been a major improvement in that regard as many celebrities infected with HIV have come out, for example Charlie Sheen. This has given others the courage to do so and actually seek out treatment and get correct prognosis for it. Times are changing and it is prudent that no one stays behind.

The story of Steve Spencer is a bit different. Apart from being HIV+, he is also a member of the LGBTQ community. The stigma associated with them is extremely well-known, but again, things are slowly changing. With several rallies and parades in many countries throughout the globe, LGBTQ members have a voice in society and people like him are making good use of it. He is also the founder of PrEp Access Now (PAN).

What is PrEP?

PrEP is Pre-exposure Prophylaxis. Currently sold by one brand called Truvada, it is a pill that reduces the chances of AIDS while consummating. But, in a shocking turn of events, Mr. Spencer contracted AIDS despite being on PrEP. This pill is mainly used by people who don’t usually use condoms while having vaginal or anal sex where AIDS can be a risk. It shouldn’t be used unless you are at high risk of AIDS. One should always consult their doctor to get the right details regarding PrEP.

What is PAN?

The official site of PAN declares it to be a non-profit organization that guides you along the process of HIV prevention and awareness by informing you about PrEP and checks if it is necessary for you. They also make sure to find ways that would make PrEP available to those that can’t afford it. Sadly, it wouldn’t escape public attention that the founder of PAN himself is HIV+. While in no way does he desire to negate all the progress made by this organization, human emotions and thoughts are hard to discern. People should not compare one anomaly with the thousands of other cases where PAN has actually worked successfully.

But, as we return to the story of Mr. Spencer, it is one of pride. Although he contracted HIV, he has been able to keep a positive approach towards life without losing hope. His coming out at the Mardi Gras with The Institute of Many (TIM) was a big thing, not just for the community, but for him as well. He called the incident a process of turning grief and disappointment into the very celebration of life. The overwhelming response that he got shocked him to the very core. For a moment he didn’t feel alone. He knew that he had his community around him and irrespective of what happened, his legacy would survive.

In an interview with Nic Holas, the co-founder of TIM, Mr. Spencer talks about how the weeks between diagnosis and achieving an undetectable load was frightening, nauseating, and absolutely life gutting. It obviously came as a shock to him that he was HIV+, for he was always careful about it. He regularly got tested for HIV and STI because he was the founder of PAN. He was also very sexually liberated owing to his own vast information about AIDS prevention. So, one can obviously understand the pain when such an aware individual had to suffer from the same disease he had been trying to prevent.

He believes that any questions on how and why he contracted AIDS are irrelevant; for the main point is that he contracted it. Even though he can understand the doubts that other PrEP patients might have, the main concern should always be the seroconversion rate that every human has. This means that some pills might work in a certain way for certain individuals and in other ways for other individuals. There is no point in trying to equate them.

He further states that while it is obviously natural to be concerned, there are few questions that would forever remain unanswered. He would never truly know how he contracted AIDS. And he isn’t the only one with such answers. He contacted several other people with AIDS who had the same issue. What he implies is that the point of seroconversion can’t be deduced, thereby negating every possibility of searching for any mistakes or problems along the way. At the end of the day, it is your life that is at stake. So you might as well be extremely aware of every single thing that happens along the way. Many might claim that it was rotten luck, but if you have a community beside you that would stand with you till the end of time, you will definitely pull through.

He concludes his interview stating how despite the degree of advancement made by science, discrimination still exists. As he mentions it himself, it is better to just tell your family or your partners that you are undergoing extensive treatment and it is showing results, rather than stating that your treatment is pending. Even though it is purely a state of being, of being calm and composed as you see results post initial treatment, you might also think about people around you, who would support you no matter what.

Mr. Steve Spencer is ready for what comes next. Every HIV+ person should be.