Why I’m #DoingIt For National HIV Testing Day #NHTD
June 27, 2016
Today is National HIV Testing Day. I’m HIV positive, and my partner, Gwenn, is HIV negative. We both know our status and that’s important for our health. A couple of years ago, we made a video to show just how easy testing for HIV can be with our friend, Jason:
More recently, Gwenn and I had the honor of joining the CDC and Act Against AIDS campaign, #DoingIt. Testing is so important- and you can’t take control of your health if you don’t know your status. A lot of people don’t get tested for HIV because they are worried about what would happen if they tested positive… how that would affect one’s love life is among those concerns.
Gwenn and I want to show that you can have a healthy relationship: an HIV diagnosis doesn’t stop you from that. And the more you learn about HIV, the less scary it gets. If someone is going to hold a medical condition against you, then my opinion is that they are not worthy of your love.
In recognition of National HIV Testing Day, I am participating in CDC’s Doing It Blog Hop to share a range of perspectives on the importance of HIV testing. Check out the other posts from fellow Blog Hop participants and join the conversation online using #DoingIt and #NHTD.
1. AIDS.gov: bit.ly/aidsgovnhtd5
2. The Counter Narrative Project: bit.ly/thecnpnhtd5
3. Benjamin Di’Costa.com: bit.ly/bdicostanhtd5
4. Healthy Black Men: bit.ly/hlthyblkmennhtd5
5. ShawnandGwenn.com/POZ: (You’re here!)
6. The Healthy Latina: bit.ly/healthylatinanhtd5
7. Greg Revenj: bit.ly/gregrevenjnhtd5
Annie Lennox on HIV Prevention and Funding Needs
June 3, 2016
Last month Gwenn and I had the privilege of speaking about HIV education and prevention on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, representing sero-discordant couples. Annie Lennox and activists from around the world were on hand to discuss the need for continued funding of HIV prevention programs.
Need more Annie? Then check out Ben Ryan’s interview with Annie!
Donald Trump’s (Fictional) Presidential HIV/AIDS Survey Answers
April 11, 2016
Imagining a world where Republican candidates answer surveys by HIV/AIDS organizations… here’s Donald Trump “discussing” the issues of the day. Enjoy.
Positively Yours, Shawn
On HIV research
An extremely credible source has called my office and informed me that HIV is harmless. Another source has told me that a cure would be easy. Easy. If HIV is a threat- and I’m not saying it isn’t a threat- then I’ll have the best minds find the best cure possible. The greatest cure.
On HIV issues and opioid addiction
All of the drugs are coming in from the Mexico border. Once the wall is up- and it is going to be a beautiful wall, I’m telling you, just an absolutely beautiful wall-… there will be no more drugs. People use drugs because they don’t think America is great.
On The National HIV/AIDS Strategy
You tell me what the strategy is? What’s your strategy?
The Office of National AIDS Policy
They have an office for that? Look, I’d get those jokers out of there. I’d say, “You’re fired” and get the best people on the job- no office necessary, just top-of-the-line laptops. Maybe put them up in a Trump tower- who could work in an office in Washington and get a damn thing done? You’ve got to be kidding me.
The Future of the Ryan White Program
He has a program? That is wonderful. Guys don’t know how to throw the football anymore. And Ryan White was just a great quarterback and a great leader on the field. Dallas Cowboys. 1980s. Underrated, in my opinion. Just a fantastic talent.
(At this point an aide leaned in, whispered into Donald Trump’s ear, and then they both abruptly left the room.)
Happy Blogiversary (20 Years!), Steve Schalchlin!
March 24, 2016
When I decided to open up about HIV 20 years ago, I went online hoping to find the internet that exists today. My search for HIV websites yielded a handful of results- one of them was Steve Schalchlin‘s “Living in the Bonus Round”. 20 years ago, today, he put up his first blog entry- then called “online journals” or “online diaries”. I balked at putting a “journal” on my site because I didn’t want to be a copycat. That’s how small the HIV net was back then. “No, do it!” Steve shouted at me, always encouraging me to tell my story in my own voice.
Love you, Steve. Happy Blogiversary, you pioneer you.
To read Steve’s March 24, 1996 debut click here
Outliving the Reagans
March 11, 2016
Today I went to the dentist for a routine teeth cleaning. I wasn’t psyched about it, mainly because of the bleeding that can occur afterwards. Minor stuff, it’s just that I prefer the taste of my daily iced mocha without a splash of plasma.
I filled out my medical resume- checking the usual boxes of HIV, hemophilia, hepatitis B/C (they shared a box)- then turned the information over to the receptionist. The plan from there was to sit on the couch and dick around on my iPhone until I heard my name called, which would signal the inevitable bloodletting in a backroom. But before I could get my phone on, I was greeted by the Reagans, smiling at my from the cover of a People Magazine on the coffee table. Today, Nancy’s funeral is being held… and I got to thinking about how stupid my feelings of aprehension were in regard to my dentist appointment (it went great, btw, no real bleeding!)… how few of my 80s HIV bretheren had the opportunity to sit on a comfortable couch on a 70-degree day in March in the year 2016… and check those virus boxes…
I didn’t open the magazine- I took a picture with it. Then wrote the following and posted it on social media quickly, not wanting the feelings to pass without sharing:
I outlived both Nancy and Ronald Reagan. Many others who were diagnosed with HIV during Reagan’s presidency were not so lucky. Their silence on AIDS – as it was emerging and killing the citizens they’d sworn to protect – is a dark chapter in United States history and a harsh lesson on moralism in politics.
Q&A About “Doing It” with CDC
February 13, 2016
As many of you know, we are a part of Doing It – CDC’s new national HIV testing campaign. There was a lot more that went into creating the campaign than you might think, like finding real people (like us!) who are passionate about testing and want to share their story as part of a national campaign. We loved being a part of it, so to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Karra French, one of the coordinators on set, sent us a few questions to answer about our experience, and why Doing It means so much to us.
KF: Why did you want to be a part of the Doing It campaign?
Gwenn: We both believe that testing for HIV is so crucial. We also think it’s important to show that serodiscordant couples like us can have a healthy and happy relationship. A lot of people think that a positive test result means the end of their love life, which puts up another barrier to getting tested. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
KF: What was the photo shoot like?
Shawn: The photo shoot for the Doing It campaign was a lot of fun. We weren’t expecting such a cool make-over, so it felt more like a modeling gig than an HIV testing campaign – which is good! We believe that you have to disarm people to get information across; you can’t come in heavy-handed or preachy and expect people to respond. Everyone’s attitude at the shoot was very relaxed and we knew that the results of all the hard work would reflect that- and it did!
KF: Were you comfortable being in front of the camera?
Shawn: We were. Since we’ve been together, we’ve shared our story a lot. But that doesn’t automatically equate comfort. If a photographer asks us to pose in a weird way or tells us not to smile so much, that raises a red flag. Thankfully our experience with the Doing It campaign didn’t have any of those fear-based elements that we’ve encountered before. Everyone was so accepting and supportive of our participation, and really understood what the heart of this campaign is all about.
KF: What was the most memorable part of the day?
Gwenn: Seeing Shawn’s pompadour! He’s tried to get his hair to do that again, but that was a professional job.
KF: Do you ever look over your shoulder, expecting to find three dozen (literally) armed heart pillows following you around?
Shawn: Yes, I do! It starts as a nightmare – they walk slowly towards me but then it’s fine because they just end up giving me a big hug.
KF: How does your participation in the campaign help others?
Gwenn: We hope that it helps people get over their fear of being tested for HIV and understand that it’s better to know your status. Most importantly, we want people to know that a positive test result doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of love and happiness.
KF: What does the campaign theme, “I’m/We’re Doing It,” mean to you?
Shawn: Well, there’s the obvious double entendre there… so we won’t get too graphic on what “doing it” means to us. The theme is great because of that. It brings up the idea of sex but then directs people to information about HIV testing. An HIV testing campaign should acknowledge sex – in a fun and non-judgmental way.
KF: What can people learn from your serodiscordant relationship that they can apply to their own lives?
Gwenn: From the outside, I think that some people can’t understand how a couple could deal with HIV. But that just comes from a lack of understanding about transmission and current treatments for HIV. If you take it down to the basics, there’s a lot more to learn that goes beyond HIV. With us, we know Shawn’s medical conditions. And we know mine, as well. It’s about staying healthy together and being there for each other. If that’s not what love is about, then I don’t know what is.
KF: What would you tell someone that is fearful or reluctant to get an HIV test?
Gwenn: We’d say that we understand – we’ve been there. The first time I got tested, after being in a relationship with Shawn for six months, we were both nervous. We’d been completely safe, but we still had that fear… and we were HIV educators! Over time that aspect of it got easier, but we remember that first time and can empathize with anyone who is nervous about getting an HIV test. Our advice is simple: you are worth it. There is such a risk to someone’s health who is HIV positive and doesn’t know it.
Charlie Sheen Bit Me: An HIV Love Story #ValentinesDay
February 12, 2016
“Charlie bit me… and that really hurt!”
The infamous “Charlie bit me” YouTube video has been viewed over 800 million times since it was posted in 2007. It’s a pretty adorable video, featuring two brothers and a trust exercise gone horribly wrong. But recently, the video took on a new meaning for me when I equated it with Charlie Sheen’s announcement last fall that he is living with HIV.
The love story between the HIV/AIDS community and Charlie Sheen started off quite well. Sure, Charlie had enjoyed his share of nibbles before with his strange behavior and indefensible activities- domestic abuse chief among them. But we in the HIV community are a pretty forgiving bunch and are quick to rally around the newly diagnosed. For a lot of us, HIV has provided levity and a new appreciation for life.
Even though Charlie tested positive in 2011, “coming out” with his status was a big hurdle to overcome and a judgmental and ill-informed public backlash was all but guaranteed. That’s why HIV/AIDS activists took to television shows, Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to provide cover for Charlie and anyone else who is HIV positive, really. I wrote a piece for ET Tonight’s website entitled, Charlie Sheen Doesn’t Deserve HIV Any More Than I Did As at Age 11.
And Charlie’s revelation on the Today Show in November warranted such support. He and his doctor opened up a conversation about viral load and how HIV cannot be transmitted if your HIV medications are effectively suppressing the virus. Per usual, Matt Lauer approached the interview the way that most in the media do- as the prosecutor with Charlie standing trial for not only contracting HIV, but for living with it as well.
At the turn of the new year, the Dr. Oz Show revealed that Charlie Sheen was going to be a guest. Mark King blogged about it, I Watched Charlie Sheen on The Dr. Oz Show So You Don’t Have Toand, after reading Peter Staley’s take on it, Charlie Sheen Shits On 30 Years of AIDS Activism, I decided to take Mark up on his kind offer so I decided not to watch the episode.
Basically, Charlie bit us.
An the reason why it hurt so much is because that episode of Dr. Oz explored Charlie’s desire to be cured of HIV, which led him to a guy I’ll refer to as What’s Up Doc. After getting exposure on Dr. Oz, What’s Up Doc was invited to be a guest on Real Time With Bill Maher a few weeks later, and Maher basically gave him an open mic to discuss how awesome his goat milk AIDS cure is…
This week, Charlie Sheen re-appeared on Dr. Oz to do some damage control. The beginning of the episode was well-done, as Dr. Oz, Charlie and Charlie’s doctor effectively discredited What’s Up Doc and Bill Maher for lending credence to the man’s flawed science and questionable tactics. But then midway through there was a segment filmed at Charlie’s home, with him on the computer doing some research. He was visited by a young man who has made a complimentary documentary about a phony HIV cure salesman in Africa, who was born with the God-given gift to find natural herbs to cure whatever else ails ya.
After watching the trailer of this guy’s documentary, Charlie pretty much said that it was interesting and gives him some more things to think about…
Now, this is where I find The Dr. Oz Show to be in contempt. Why on Earth would you include that in an edited segment of the show? An episode in which you expel the virtues of Charlie returning to his treatment while also explaining why people like What’s Up Doc are so dangerous? For the big finale, the Dr. Oz Show announced that Charlie is entering a legitimate drug trial in an effort to make his life on HIV meds easier- at no point do they have a real discussion on the side effects of his current regimen, which is most certainly the catalyst for his desire to try something new.
It looks like Charlie’s search for a cure is going to be a regular feature on Dr. Oz, which means there will certainly be more finger-biting to come. As someone who started HIV meds in 1999- which undoubtedly saved my life- I’ve made quality of life a priority in my treatment decisions. In 2004, I went on a two month drug holiday after having success with my week-on/week-off drug regimen and I ended up in the hospital. So I’d be a hypocrite if I wagged my finger at Sheen for doing something different.
I don’t regret going to bat for Charlie- he struggles with a lot of issues (as many of us do) and HIV is just one more on the list. I wish the best for Charlie and anyone else that is struggling with their drug regimen. My hope is anyone else who isn’t happy with their drug regimen because of debilitating side effects will have an open and honest discussion with their doctors.
Happy Valentine’s Day,
PSA: Don’t Be Like Bill Maher. He’s Stupid.
January 30, 2016