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
Magnetic (Serodiscordant) Couples on TV
December 9, 2015
As someone who is HIV positive and in a relationship with someone who
is HIV negative, I was excited to hear that a serodiscordant
(“magnetic”) couple was going to be included in season 4 of Shuga, the fictional series based on real world experiences with HIV. Femi is HIV positive. His girlfriend, Sheila, is HIV negative. I want to share my reaction to what these characters face, episode to episode, and share some personal stories about what my own experiences have been.
Hope you find this insightful!
Episode 1, Season 4
Sheila has planned a family dinner as a way to inform her family of
Femi’s HIV status. Femi is naturally nervous about how the news will be
received and Sheila attempts to alleviate his concerns, promising that
everything will be fine. But when an ignorant HIV comment from her
uncle is greeted with supportive laughter from her parents, Sheila and
Femi decide not to disclose his status…
It’s a heartbreaking scene because Sheila expects so much more from
her family; only to discover that her lifelong support system has a real
hang-up when it comes to HIV. In their final scene in episode 1, Femi
consoles Sheila and their love for each other is quite clear,
particularly in how they treat one another in difficult moments.
THE MAGNETIC COUPLE ISSUE IN THIS EPISODE: How and when to disclose the positive person’s HIV status to the HIV negative person’s family.
WHAT THIS WAS LIKE FOR ME: In my relationship with
Gwenn, her mom knew my HIV status before we started dating. Also, I was a
new person in her life and we lived 8 hours away. Like Sheila, Gwenn is
an independent and strong person. Her mom was concerned, but also knew
that Gwenn was an HIV educator. Still, her mom didn’t know a lot about
transmission, so I’m sure that there was still some worry.
When I met Gwenn’s mother, things changed for her- I became a real
person, no longer overshadowed by a daunting medical resume. Meeting
Gwenn’s mom in person helped a lot. She got to see me and Gwenn interact
in person and could tell that we were really in love. Her concern after
meeting wasn’t so much that Gwenn would become infected, but how she
would react if I got really ill. A legit concern, because I was just
starting HIV meds at the time and in the process of regaining my health.
A few months after that first meeting, I had my first family dinner
(Thanksgiving) with Gwenn and her family: and everyone was aware of my
HIV status and welcomed me- and most importantly, us- with open arms.
Back to the Future Day
October 21, 2015
So today is the day- the infamous day of the future highlighted in Back to the Future. October 21, 2015. I saw the movie in the theater, and just rewatched the film last month. It still holds water!
Now, we don’t have flying cars as predicted by the franchise, but technology has moved at an incredible clip. In ’85, when the movie debuted, I was most certainly living with HIV though I was two years shy of the official test result. Back then, there wasn’t much hope. But these days there are incredible medications and people working hard to get them to the people who don’t have easy access. (That’s when a flying car delivery service would really come in handy…)
While treatment options have advanced, on some basic educational levels there are still some incredible parallels to 1985. We must continue to educate about the basics of HIV transmission, as well as the importance of testing and healthy living. And put it in a way that even a young, awkward George McFly can understand.
Here’s to hoping that, thirty years from now on October 21, 2045, HIV will be a thing of the past.
A Month of Superheroes: Charles Sanchez and Team Merce
September 4, 2015
This week saw the big finale of the 8 episode original HIV comedic web series, Merce. I was so intrigued when I first heard about Merce last year, via an Indiegogo campaign – could a comedic story centered around a guy living in NYC work? I believed. I donated. I blogged about it.
And Charles Sanchez and the incredibly talented team at Merce delivered. Big time.
I sat down with Charles Sanchez, he at his computer in New York and me at mine in Virginia, to see how he was feeling after accomplishing such a lofty goal with style.
Are you happy with the response to Merce? Any surprising reactions (good, bad, indifferent)?
For the most part, we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback. Even
people that were apprehensive at the idea of an HIV+ musical comedy,
once they watched an episode or two, were hooked, and find the show
charming and hilarious and wonderful.
have only been two negative comments on our videos, and to both of them
I responded as Merce would and just said, “Thanks for watching and have
a super day!”
would love if every episode had a famous HIV+ person in it, like you,
Mark S. King, Peter Staley, Greg Louganis, Mondo Guerro, Jack
Mackenroth, dreamy Andrew Sullivan and the like. And I’m not sure what
I’d have those people do, but I’d hope that they’d be willing to have a
ball and dance sparkly dances with us! I wonder if Magic Johnson can sing?
We’re still reeling from season 1! But my producing partner Tyne Firmin
and I have talked about what season 2 might look like, and it’s a
definite possibility, perhaps next year. Merce‘s message of
living life with joy and humor and love is and important one, and the
more we can get his silliness out into the world, the better. Soon after
my HIV diagnosis almost 12 years ago, I was told that stress and worry
are some of the worst things for the health of us pozzers, as you call
us (I adore that, by the way). The opposite of stress and worry is joy
and lightness, and that’s what I try to convey with Merce. It’s also how I try to live my life, by choosing joy.
Judd Winick: The Hero Who Crashed The Real World
August 31, 2015
I’ve written extensively about how much The Real World San Francisco influenced me- you know, the season of MTV’s reality show that featured Pedro Zamora and his life with HIV. I wasn’t talking about HIV openly when that aired in 1994. I loved seeing Pedro meet new friends and speak so openly about his experiences.
One of those new friends was aspiring cartoonist, Judd Winick. When he defended the comedic merits of The Three Stooges, I took notice. He seemed like a nice, thoughtful, guy. Back then, The Real World would cast people like Judd, who was hustling to get gigs and find love, which he did with housemate Pam. How Judd reacted to Pedro’s HIV status, with warmness, care and gentle curiosity, really made an impression. When I finally opened up and talked to my friends about HIV, they supported me in the same way.
After Pedro’s passing, Judd dedicated his time to step in and fill Pedro’s speaking engagements, educating about HIV and talking about his friendship with Pedro. One of my favorite books is his graphic novel, Pedro and Me- it really showed me what the experience of The Real World was like, behind the scenes. The book brought me to tears.
Judd has used his platform to explore themes that are of interest to the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities. His graphic novel, Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is out now. Seth Meyers says Hilo is “a perfect book for any kid who ever needed a friend and then had one with superpowers fall from space.” Big thanks and gratitude to Judd for showing me that friends would be there to support me when I was ready to let them in.
A Month of Superheroes: John Oliver
August 17, 2015
The new issue of POZ is out, entitled “Suppression Superheroes”. You can check it out by clicking here.
Inspired by this issue, I want to spend the next month highlighting some folks who I deem to be superheroes among us. They’ll range from people I’ve met in flesh in blood, to people who I’ve merely observed in the stars from my lowly terrestrial perch.
First up is John Oliver. I’ve been a fan of his since his first appearances as a correspondent on The Daily Show. But my appreciation for John grew beyond his talents as a comedian when he donated his talents to an HIV/AIDS fundraiser (AIDS Walk NY) that my friends and I were participating in 2007 and 2008.
Here’s Gwenn fanning out as she introduces John in 2007:
On his HBO show, “Last Week with John Oliver”, John has incorporated the issue of clean needles into a children’s song, and also tackled the issue of sex education in America’s public schools. Check out his take on sex ed below:
What makes John Oliver a superhero to me is his common sense, the uncommon ability to use his comedic skills to open hearts to difficult topics and his empathy for man and womankind.
Merce- Original HIV Comedy Series!
July 28, 2015
Now that 40 has sunk in, and I have recovered from my birthday festivities, I wanted to post an entry about one of my favorite new things: Merce! It’s so over-the-top campy and kind-hearted, with a story that is centered around the middle-aged Merce, an HIV positive man living in New York City.
The episodes are short, funny and inspired. And I’m so happy to see a web series focused on a lead character living in today’s American world with HIV. Well done, Team Merce!
For those of you who haven’t checked it out yet, here’s the first two episodes below.
The first episode debuted two weeks ago, and in it the title character, Merce, who is living with HIV in New York City, goes on a date…
In episode two, Merce has a doctor’s appointment. Harboring a not-so-subtle crush on his own personal McDreamy, Merce is disappointed when his doctor suggests that he start working out.
Looking forward to seeing what adventures lie ahead for wide-eyed Merce!