A dis­course on dis­clo­sure

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Last month, an At­lanta so­cial me­dia “celebrity” posted a se­ries of videos on Face­book in which he outed his for­mer room­mate (and un­re­quited love in­ter­est) as be­ing HIV-pos­i­tive. The videos were sala­cious and vin­dic­tive, even though the celebrity, who I’ll call Queen Meat­head, tried to frame the dis­clo­sure as a pub­lic ser­vice to the pre­sum­ably un­sus­pect­ing part­ners who had raw sex with his for­mer room­mate.

Rarely does a jilted ego re­spond with al­tru­is­tic deeds, and there are mil­lions of peo­ple who have done far more good in this world than Queen Meat­head, with­out be­ing half as petty. The out­ing sparked an im­pas­sioned on­line dis­cus­sion about dis­clo­sure and de­cency, and in­spired the non-profit NAESM to host a re­cent fo­rum on the stigma and re­spon­si­bil­ity placed upon HIV-pos­i­tive in­di­vid­u­als, whether while dat­ing or in their daily lives.

It was dis­ap­point­ing that Queen Meat­head was in­vited to be a pan­elist, but not sur­pris­ing that he ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion and en­sured his mere pres­ence was an­tag­o­nis­tic. He wore a black shirt with bright red letters that screamed, “HIV NEG­A­TIVE” above the city’s sky­line, the mes­sage be­ing: I’m dif­fer­ent from, and bet­ter than, all th­ese dirty ATL fags.

In re­al­ity, Queen Meat­head is a car­i­ca­ture of messi­ness. He’s built a so­cial me­dia brand off of be­ing vi­ciously sloppy, and much like Don­ald Trump, the more out­ra­geous things he says and does, the more at­ten­tion his brand re­ceives.

Good, bad, venge­ful -- it doesn’t mat­ter what type of at­ten­tion it is, as long as ev­ery­one is talk­ing about Queen Meat­head (which is why I’m not us­ing his name in this col­umn). It was sick­en­ing and in­sult­ing to see him on­stage at the NAESM fo­rum, rel­ish­ing the at­ten­tion his messi­ness earned him, while smugly spew­ing more mis­in­for­ma­tion and judg­ment.

There were tech­ni­cal prob­lems with the mi­cro­phone Queen Meat­head used that night, which is ap­pro­pri­ate since noth­ing he said was worth hear­ing. Granted, the fo­rum, and the dif­fi­cult but crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion about HIV dis­clo­sure, prob­a­bly wouldn’t have oc­curred with­out his ini­tial tabloid post­ings, but there is “In re­al­ity, Queen Meat­head is a car­i­ca­ture of messi­ness. He’s built a so­cial me­dia brand off of be­ing vi­ciously sloppy, and much like Don­ald Trump, the more out­ra­geous things he says and does, the more at­ten­tion his brand re­ceives.” noth­ing Queen Meat­head can con­trib­ute to a strat­egy to fight HIV among black gay men in At­lanta ex­cept more messi­ness.

It’s un­for­tu­nate that some­one who per­pet­u­ated such a vi­cious be­trayal upon his room­mate and the larger black gay com­mu­nity in At­lanta was given a plat­form to fur­ther malign a ma­jor­ity of black gay HIV-pos­i­tive men as reck­less and preda­tory. It’s a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that is eas­ily ac­cepted and echoed by het­ero­sex­u­als when they hear that the HIV rate in black gay men in At­lanta ri­vals that of third-world coun­tries, but it dis­torts re­al­ity.

Un­doubt­edly, the HIV epi­demic in black gay At­lanta is dev­as­tat­ing, and there is a le­gal and eth­i­cal im­per­a­tive for HIV-pos­i­tive in­di­vid­u­als to dis­close their sta­tus to their sex­ual part­ners be­fore in­ter­course. Yet, a ma­jor­ity of new HIV cases are not caused by HIV­pos­i­tive men seek­ing to in­fect new part­ners, but rather by those who are un­aware that they are liv­ing with the virus.

HIV-pos­i­tive in­di­vid­u­als are not sup­posed to par­take in sex, es­pe­cially with­out pro­tec­tion, and those of us who do are cast as wicked even when the risk for trans­mis­sion is neg­li­gi­ble or non-ex­is­tent.

One way to help gay men not fear get­ting tested for HIV, or dis­clos­ing their sta­tus, is cor­rect­ing the mis­con­cep­tion of those liv­ing with the virus from dirty and dy­ing, to af­firmed and thriv­ing -- in their phys­i­cal, emo­tional and sex­ual health. Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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