I’m Over AIDS, Aren’t You?

Protestors march in support of AIDS funding
Protestors march in support of AIDS funding

Did you know there was a huge international AIDS conference going on last week? Yep, the aptly named International AIDS Conference, held in Washington, D.C., drew world leaders, activists, public health professionals, people living with the disease, and other concerned individuals to talk about prevention, testing, treatment, a cure, and all the surrounding policy. All week long, I’ve been seeing tweets and articles about the conference but I just can’t get too worked up about what I know to be good work going on down in D.C. Why not? This is not very popular to say but I’m so very over talking about AIDS.

Can they just cure this sh*t already? As an “80s baby,” I’ve been hearing about AIDS my entire life and all indications point to me hearing about it until I die (though hopefully not from AIDS). There are 11 HIV/AIDS awareness days and the whole month of July as well. Are you aware yet? Parlour editrix Hills said I had to write something about this AIDS conference because I couldn’t just let this major event go by without any comment, right? Ugh, as much as I’d like to deny it, she was right. It is a huge deal. With the U.N. reporting that a woman is newly infected with HIV every minute, there’s no denying that AIDS is a BFD.

A lot of interesting research and stories have come out of the conference this week. Like the idea of getting old with AIDS, something you probably haven’t given much thought since for so long, HIV/AIDS was considered a sure death sentence and not the type of disease that could allow you attend your grandchild’s high school graduation. However, the advances in HIV/AIDS treatments have made it possible to live much longer. Rayford Kytle, a 65 year old gay man living with AIDS, attended the conference to learn more about new drugs and methods to manage the disease he’s lived with for 30 years and to share his story. It will be interesting to see how the aging HIV/AIDS population manages this aggressive disease along with the complications inherent in growing old.

While prevention is paramount, leaders at the conference are encouraging a new focus on testing and treatment that may help usher in the “AIDS-free Generation” some have begun to buzz about. Not only do HIV/AIDS treatment drugs reduce the symptoms and prolong the life of the infected, but they significantly reduce the risk of transmitting the disease as well. This strategy has been successful for years with Herpes, another sexually-transmitted and incurable virus. While the drugs will never eradicate the virus from your body, they will slow its replication, resulting in lower levels of the virus in the bloodstream and bodily fluids where the disease is transmitted.

See, some great discussion and strategizing did happen at the International AIDS Conference this week and I’m truly glad about that. I want our political and faith leaders, scientists, and advocates to come together like this and make change happen. But what I really need is for you and your cousins to use condoms, get tested, be responsible, and hold each other accountable. Otherwise I’m going to be back here every month trying to find new ways to talk to you about HIV and AIDS and that’s that shit I don’t like. Because it’s really simple, isn’t it? Eleven days and a whole month be damned, you are aware of AIDS. If you’re not, we’ve got bigger problems than how you do your sex or how many dirty needles you share. You know that condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV and compared to that caramel macchiato you have every morning, they’re highly affordable and easy to obtain. At this point, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that there’s a lot of sleeping around and lying going on out there so you need to get tested, often and with your partners if possible. That goes for you too Ms. Committed-Monogamous-Heterosexual relationship.

That’s why I’m over talking about AIDS. Because I feel like you, my peers, already know what I’m going to say. A lot of folks continue to ignore the facts and that just adds to my frustration. One caveat: We must still talk to the youth about HIV/AIDS. Shockingly, even schools with health and sex education programs are slacking on their HIV/AIDS lessons – the number of students being taught about HIV/AIDS has fallen by 8% over the past 14 years. It’s up to us to talk to nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, etc., although I fear that will be another “do as I say, not as I do” lesson. Unlike you and me, they don’t do bad despite knowing better because unfortunately, they don’t know at all. I will continue talking to them about prevention and testing but I’m tired of ringing the same bell for you grownups.

Know your status and protect yourself so we don’t have a need for an AIDS conference in 2032. Because if we’re still trying to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in 20 years, they really might be able to say I died from (talking about) AIDS.

ps. And if you’re a gay black or Latino male, it’s extra real in these streets as black men who have sex with men and are between 13-29 years old have shown a 48% increase in new infections. 13! (said is Ghostface “All I Got is You” interlude voice) Elsewhere gay and bisexual men are two-thirds of the new HIV cases among Latinos. Like Nakia said, please get tested and be aware of you and your partner’s status because, due to the high number of infected parties in these groups, that casual shag is most likely be a loaded gun. Read more here: HIV Infection Rates: Black and Latino Gay Men at Risk