OPINION: Love in the time of PrEP

headshot_Cameron Gorman

Cameron Gorman

While we were sitting in the newsroom and brainstorming column ideas for this paper, Editor-in-Chief Valerie Royzman brought up an interesting topic for a Valentine’s Day edition. “You guys could write about lots of things,” she said. “Love, sex, HIV?”

If you don’t know a lot about HIV, or haven’t known people living with it, it can seem like sort of a distant topic. It used to be for me, too. For all the love/hate that I professed for the film version of “RENT,” for all the reading that I did on the ’80s and ’90s, for all the moments my mom cried by the community pool in the summer while reading “And the Band Played On” — I was still somewhat confused about HIV by the time I arrived at POZ for my internship over the summer.

The magazine, a lifestyle publication for people living and thriving with HIV, was a great place to work. I learned a lot: about history, about writing, about New York. But the most important thing that happened to me that summer, really, was internal. All of a sudden, HIV went from some shadowy thing in historical pictures to just another aspect of life at large.

I’d never been totally ignorant about HIV, even before my educational summer. I knew you couldn’t spread it by casual (or even not-so-casual) contact, I knew some of its history and I knew that it had (and continues to) inspire a lot of artistic work. But nothing really got me to look it square in the eyes like writing about it did.

When I came out of the program in August, I made wonderful friends, worked with colleagues I continue to aspire to be like and learned a lot. For one, that remembering the history of those lost to HIV is important. (Documentary recommendation for you? “Silverlake Life: The View from Here.” It’s on YouTube.)

And another thing — the story of HIV treatment is ever-expanding. For a while now, it’s been very possible to live a healthy life with HIV, even to be undetectable. (This is the point at which HIV is untransmittable. Yes! It’s possible!) But the most important thing I took away from what I was generously taught in the POZ offices was this: We have to keep the conversation open.

Prevention, testing, treatment: It’s all wrapped up in stigma. One way to start to shed some of that stigma, to dispel some of the fear surrounding HIV, is to talk about it. There is nothing shameful about it. And in this day and age, there are options. Of course, getting tested early is key. But there are preventative measures that can be used, too.

When Valerie mentioned HIV as a possible topic, my heart moved first. Of course I wanted to write about it — but then I remembered something. During the recent live televising of FOX’s “RENT: Live,” I had been scrolling through Twitter. Yes, I admit it, it was because I was too afraid to watch. But something did catch my eye: Someone tweeted that there was an ad for PrEP (or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) that had been broadcast during the show.

“Huh,” I remember thinking. I was familiar with PrEP. I’d started the summer reading and writing all about it, and I remembered seeing some ads for it in the subway, but I was surprised that it was broadcast to such a large audience. Of course, yes, it was “RENT.” But still. And yes, of course, it was a pharma company’s ad, which can get more than a little prickly when thinking about access to medication. But, still.

I guess I was just glad in a way, that the conversation had been broached. I wondered how many kids watching “RENT,” who had no idea there even were preventative measures for HIV exposure, had seen the commercial. I thought about how far we’d come since the days of “Silverlake,” and about how far we still have to go. There is so much undone, so much that is still unfinished in the story of HIV. After all, there is still no cure.

But for just a moment, I was happy that a little bit of openness had happened in the world. Love, sex, HIV and all.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected].