The HIV Question on Couples Therapy
October 15, 2014
Nina and Gwenn catching up over coffee in September.
Last week I tuned into Couples Therapy on VH1 because I’d heard that Bob Bowers would be making an appearance. I’m a huge fan of the One Tough Pirate, former POZ coverboy and current HIV asskicker. Though it wasn’t the episode my beloved longtime activist friend was appearing on- HIV was a central theme, as one of the castmates revealed their HIV status publicly for the first time.
Evel Dick is no stranger to reality TV- he has appeared on Big Brother twice, winning season 8 and leaving season 13 early due to personal reasons. The personal reason being that his blood test for HIV (a requirement for Big Brother contestants) came up positive. On Couples Therapy, Dick’s girlfriend wasn’t comfortable with his wanting to come forward with his secret. I recognized his despair; he was in that undeniable moment when you can’t fathom another day trying to ignore something that is literally a part of your biology. You have to break out.
During his session with Couples Therapy’s resident therapist, Dr. Jenn, he was asked how he contracted HIV right off the bat. I wasn’t thrilled with the question, neither was Gwenn (my partner who, like Dick’s partner is HIV negative). About a week later, my good friend Nina Martinez, who has been HIV positive for most of her life, started a discussion with Evel Dick and Dr. Jenn on Twitter about the question of how HIV was contracted. Gwenn joined in and I soon followed.
So, without further ado, I’m going to pass this one on to my guest blogger, Nina, who has gone through the trouble of organizing a Twitter conversation and making it readable. There are also links to the show, and her thoughts on why the question (and answer) to “how did you contract it” was bothersome. It’s a must-read in my opinion and I really appreciate Evel Dick and Dr. Jenn’s willingness to share their perspectives with us.
This is best viewed by opening this PDF: “How You Talk and Ask About HIV Matters” by Nina Martinez (PDF) (Or click the tweets that are just a tiny sample of the conversation!)
Did you click the image? Do it… c’mon…
There ya go! Okay, now that you heard from Nina and everyone involved, I just want to end by saying that, yes, how we discuss HIV in private and in public ultimately matters. For the newly diagnosed it’s tricky territory juggling the raw emotions of testing positive with an unknown etiquette. I know, I made quite a few mistakes when my desire to speak out preceded my understanding of the various landmines on the field. Professionals, like therapists, doctors and nurses, also need to be sensitive to HIV’s social ramifications- which often overshadow the medical reality of living with the virus and is what keeps people silenced who are living with it.
I hope Dr. Jenn reads this blog entry and gets why the bluntness of the question is problematic at best and traumatic at worst for a lot of people with HIV. And I wish Dick all the best in this new phase of his life that includes living openly with HIV. I hope he and his partner really dig in, get informed on actual transmission rates for serodiscordant couples (astronomically low) and realize that their relationship can be a safe, intimate and loving one.
Ethan Zohn: Cancer and World Cup Survivor
July 10, 2014
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. But in the United States it’s a polarizing topic of discussion, not unlike the issue of abortion, Michael Bay reboots and fanny packs at theme parks. (They’re practical, y’all.) This summer, I’ve come down with Soccer Fever. Not since the World Cup in 1994 have I been so into the sport.
I wanted to talk about the World Cup, so I went to the only former soccer pro I know: Ethan Zohn. A co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, canzer crusher and Survivor Africa winner shares his thoughts on HIV, this year’s World Cup tournament and what it means to truly survive life. (NOTE: Ethan’s answers submitted before the Semi-Final matches between Brazil/Germany and The Netherlands/Argentina. He knows his shit.)
So, I gotta know, Ethan: do you have any favorites in the World Cup?
Of course I do, I live for World Cup. I have been to every World Cup since 1994. Before the cup, I felt Brazil would crush everyone. But now, I’m leaning towards an Argentina / Germany final with Argentina winning. Plus I love yelling out the name Schweinsteiger at random moments throughout the day.
What’s up with that dude who bit the other dude?
That dude is Suarez, probably one of the best players in the world. To be honest I think he in love with Giorgio Chiellini. That was a love bite, not a foul. Plus Uraguay, where Suarez is from is the first country to regulate legal production, sale and consumption of marijuana. What do you expect?
I’d expect a more chill Suarez, but I’ve known people who freak out on the pot… a friend of mine… someone I know quite personally. He becomes a panicky mess… anyway…
After winning Survivor, you used the prize money to found Grassroot Soccer and help utilize the world’s love of soccer in the fight against HIV. Several years later, you were diagnosed with cancer. I know you didn’t found Grassroot to gain cosmic favor, but… you getting cancer after going to bat, er, going to kick ball for the HIV community, was one of the lamest fouls I’ve ever seen in the sport of life. How are you feeling these days?
Ha! True, I need to have a word with the referee of this game of my life…who is that? God? David Hasselhoff?
I’m feeling great and excited I’m alive and strong enough to drink beer and watch soccer all month. In the years leading up to my cancer diagnosis I have been working hard through Grassroot Soccer, to help prevent young kids in Africa from contracting this life threatening disease. I do not know what it is like to have HIV, nor do I have HIV. But, I do know what it’s like to walk into an office and get handed a very scary life ending diagnosis. Getting cancer gave me some street cred. Now I just want to do everything in my power to make sure others do not have to go through the same crap we went through. Can I get a “hell yeah”….
Hell yeah! Lastly, any big goals for Grassroot Soccer during this World Cup season, or any of your other charitable efforts?
Where do I begin! We always have cool events and fundraising campaigns. Right now, WHEATIES (the iconic cereal that always has amazing athletes on their boxes) is running a contest #WheatiesNext – 5 up-and-coming athletes in a voting contest for who gets on the next box. Each picks a charity to benefit.
Our newest Pro Ambassador, Christen Press, is in the contest and we are her charity – this is a big contest and we are one of the 5 chosen charities – woo-hoo! Check it out here:
Thanks, Ethan! Enjoy the rest of the World Cup. And the beer, you’ve earned it!
The 30/30 Project
April 30, 2014
Ryan Lewis is best known for his work with Macklemore, which has earned him 4 Grammys. Something that not many people know is that his mother, Julie Lewis, has been living with HIV for 30 years. Alongside Julie, Ryan is looking to score another home run with a collaboration that could bring health care to people around the world who currently do not have access to it.
Please watch the video above or click here to learn more about the 30/30 Project and their goal to build health care centers to provide HIV care to those who need it the most.
Why I Don’t Have Dallas Buyers Remorse
March 3, 2014
This year, The Academy Awards were once again touched by the hand of the AIDS epidemic. In 2013, AIDS activists rejoiced when How To Survive a Plague was nominated for Best Documentary. A decade before, Nicole Kidman won for Best Actress in 2003′s The Hours… and a decade before that, Tom Hanks got the nod for Best Actor in Philadelphia in what was, before this past weekend, AIDS’ greatest triumph at Hollywood’s biggest night of the year.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Oscar night…
When both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes two months ago, each actors’ acceptance speech failed to mention AIDS. Much like the trailer for the movie, there wasn’t mention of the medical condition that figures so prominently in the movie’s plot. And, as an AIDS educator, I get it- the word “AIDS” scares a lot of people. Get them in the theater and entertain/enlighten them by any means necessary.
In regard to the AIDS community’s outrage over the Golden Globes speeches and the omission of our struggle… I really didn’t get it. I don’t expect actors to be activists. They play roles, do the job and get in and out of character and on to the next role.
I saw Dallas Buyers Club in a theater, which was more than I expected after hearing about the movie months before its release. I figured it would be an indie flick that wouldn’t find its way to my hometown theater and that I’d catch it half-a-year later on Netflix. The fact that it got so much buzz after its release made me happy- friends of mine were going to see it on their own without me (the “friend with AIDS”) nudging them.
So last night, both actors won again on Oscar night.
Jared Leto mentioned the millions of people who died from AIDS at the tale-end of his acceptance speech, certainly making amends with a portion of the AIDS community… but Matthew McConaughey, the biggest winner, remained mum on HIV/AIDS. He also failed to mention the name of the man whose life he interpreted for the film. Matthew did mention God, and a vision of his father doing a little victory dance in Heaven for him. Which made me wonder: if pressed, could Matthew picture Ron Woodroof in that vision of Heaven, sharing that tender moment of glory with dad?
Who knows. I don’t know Matthew personally. Perhaps he does think Ron is up there, too. And perhaps he didn’t mention AIDS in his speeches for fear of offending anyone with a clumsy comment about HIV/AIDS? He has a famously loose style- so maybe we should be thanking him instead of ridiculing him for his choice of words…
I, for one, am not mad at McConaughey. He rescued a dead script from obscurity and breathed life into the performance. An actor mentioning AIDS out of obligation at an award’s ceremony might give us, those living with the virus, a good feeling inside. But I believe it does very little to educate those in the dark or get them truly interested in the cause. Where an actor has true strength is in the artistry of their craft- and in choosing the role of someone living with AIDS, McConaughey took a risk and it paid off for him professionally. He did his job.
So kudos to Matthew and Jared for going out on a limb and attaching themselves to Dallas Buyers Club. Just because they portrayed people living with AIDS, I don’t expected either of them to emerge from their roles as, say, an activist like Peter Staley of How To Survive a Plague. In fact, after the Golden Globes speech fiasco, Peter himself said: “I’m just happy Hollywood has made an AIDS film again. The crisis is far from over, so we still need reminding. And I hope Matthew McConaughey wins an Oscar.”
Labtest Contest X: Win Body Counts By Sean Strub
February 21, 2014
The Labtest Contest is back! And the grand prize has never been better- guess closest to my t-cell count and win a signed copy of Sean Strub’s incredible new book, Body Counts! The rules are posted below… be sure to follow them and good luck!
Shawn’s Guess: 422
Shawn’s Doctor’s Guess: 670
March-July 2010: Charles Oliff (guess: 567 actual count: 565)
July-December 2010: Aimee Lee (guess: 516 actual: 511)
December 2010- March 2011: “Satan” (guess: 666 actual: 662)
March-July 2011: Sharon Paul (guess:
520 actual: 508)
August-January 2012: Justin Starkenburg (guess: 570 actual count: 579)
February- June: Bob Geise (guess: 595 actual count: 590)
July-September: Sahara Frog (guess: 515 actual count: 512)
September-January 2014: Scott Anderson (guess: 620 actual count: 620)
February-October: Mary (guess: actual count:585 actual count: 583)
NOVEMBER RESULTS: 538 (No Contest)
1. You have to post your guess (between 400 and 700 t-cells) on my Poz blog Comments section
2. Relatives are allowed to guess! Bribes accepted!
3. Closest guess wins- if it’s a tie, the closest guess that DID NOT go over the actual count wins.
4. One vote/guess per person. Must have a valid email address.
5. Deadline is Friday, February 28, 2014 12:01 am EST
Body Counts by Sean Strub
January 14, 2014
Sean Strub’s memoir, Body Counts, hit stores yesterday, and Gwenn and I were fortunate enough to get to our local bookstore just in time to nab the last three copies: one for us, one for my mom (who is a huge fan) and one for a future Labtest Contest prize.
But, don’t wait around for me to get labwork done in March for a chance to win this book, if you have any interest in the history of the gay community, the politics of sex and the realities of living with HIV- you’ve gotta get this book. Click on Sean’s face to read an excerpt of Body Counts in the latest issue of Poz.
Sean has been one of the most influential people in my life as a positoid. Without him, I really have no idea what I’d be doing right now. In 1996, after nearly a decade of living with HIV, I decided to speak out about being positive for the first time; I was 20, still living with my parents in Waynesboro, Virginia, and had just put up a website chronicling my thoughts on living with HIV. My doctor fed me a few issues of Poz Magazine and I was stunned that a magazine solely about HIV existed. I poured through its pages and loved what I read. I sent a fan letter to the editor-in-chief, Sean, and shared where I was at in my own journey with HIV.
A month or so later, I was watching wrestling and the phone rang. “Shawn, telephone!” My dad/secretary called out through my bedroom door. My beloved Ric Flair had just lost his World Title; I was bummed but took the call anyway. It was Sean. He invited me to NYC to be interviewed for the magazine and shortly thereafter I started writing my Positoid column.
When I learned that my original godparents had broken ties with my family in the 1980s after my diagnosis because their church said AIDS was God’s punishment against gay people, I asked Sean and Steve Schalchlin (another beloved mentor) to be my surrogate Godparents. They both readily accepted.
All of that personal history and admiration aside, it was hard to tear myself from Body Counts to post this blog- it really is an incredible book and an honest, forthcoming account from someone who has a truly unique set of experiences to draw from.
False HIV Rumors About Miley Cyrus
October 4, 2013
Wednesday night a group of bottomfeeders from 4chan launched a cowardly, anonymous online campaign entitled “Cure For Miley”. The goal? Presumably it’s either to trick people into thinking the singer is HIV positive- Oh my God, how awful for her reputation, what an insult (dripping sarcasm)- or to shame her overtly sexual public performances.
Now, I’m no Miley fan. And yes, I could stand to see a little less of her tongue. Though, if someone had to be forced to never reveal their mouthsnake again, I’d banish Gene Simmons before I’d exile Miley’s flavor saver. Still, that’s not the story here- what pisses me off most about this campaign is that it’s underlying theme is: what could be more embarrassing and shameful than HIV?
Well, I don’t think HIV is embarrassing- or shameful. I’ve been living with it for most of my life. It’s a virus. A pesky one that can make life harder than it needs to be sometimes. But I do my best to stay healthy while dealing with the distraction of having to educate and enlighten people to the facts about HIV, while dispelling the rumors.
What is shameful and embarrassing? Posting anonymously online in an attempt to discredit, embarrass or shame someone else. Any jackass with no dignity or grace can do this. Look at YouTube Comments, do you think those people are happy with their lives? The loathsome losers who started “Cure For Miley” think they’ve done something great- all they’ve done is make stupid people laugh, and make some people with HIV roll their eyes and hang their heads.
Like Miley? Hate Miley? It doesn’t matter. At least she’s out there, doing her thing, taking all of the criticism that comes when you reach the top of that chosen profession. Maybe actual names and faces will be attributed to this lame campaign, maybe not. Either way, I for one am not letting these idiots off the hook.My message to them and the rest of the ever-growing population of cowards who hide behind their screen names is very simple.
Die soon and make the world a better place.
Tommy Morrison and HIV Denialism
September 3, 2013
Last Sunday, Tommy Morrison passed to spirit. I don’t have firsthand information on the whys and hows, but I did read an article that said the cause was an infection that occurred when he had pectoral implants removed last year. His promoter, wife and even he himself continued to deny he had HIV until the very end.
I first became aware of Tommy Morrison in the early 1990s, when his boxing career was beginning to explode. He had unnatural power- and made for exciting fights because of his desire to trade bombs with opponents. Sometimes he detonated on them, other times he was rendered semi-conscious as a man counted to 10 in front of him…
In 1996, he tested positive for HIV. In 1997, he was interviewed by Poz Magazine, and he claimed that HIV was a harmless virus and the medications were the poison to be concerned about. I didn’t know his stance at the time, and in that same issue I wrote a column about Tommy. As a boxing fan, I was hoping he’d be joining my ranks as someone trying to shed light on the fact that you can have HIV and still have a normal life.
Instead, Tommy Morrison went all-in on conspiracy theories. After he was stripped of his boxing license and his HIV status was revealed to the world, he dealt with what many of us fear most: rejection. Professionally and personally he likely felt pain that even the confines of a boxing ring couldn’t match. He turned to the internet to research HIV, and that’s where he probably first heard of false positive HIV test results…
And that- after everything he’d already been through- sounded pretty damn good.
Tommy also tested positive right around the time that combination therapy was introduced. It’s now widely understood that AZT monotherapy, the standard course for treating HIV before “the cocktail” was pretty harsh. So, instead of heeding the advice of his doctor, Time Magazine’s 1996 “Man of the Year”, Tommy fired him. And started taking vitamins as he attempted to put to rest the hard living that had derailed his career long before he tested positive for HIV.
But with each appearance in public over the last several years, he began to look weaker as he entered his 40s. And as late as February of 2011, he continued to claim that he wasn’t HIV positive.
In the end HIV denialism played as big of a role- if not bigger- in his decline than HIV itself.
I wish Tommy had chosen to fight HIV head-on, the same way that he fought opponents in the ring. Instead, he was charmed by the idea that he was living with a harmless virus- and then further charmed by the idea that he didn’t have a virus in his body at all. And now, at the young age of 44, Tommy Morrison is gone.
And that is very sad.