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Placing all the blame

By Dan Savage · March 2nd, 2005 · Savage Love
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Holy cow, Dan! I totally disagree that there is a direct parallel between mugging old ladies and having unsafe sex with an HIV diagnosis. The old ladies have no way to protect themselves, whereas every single person who sleeps with an HIV-er has the choice to use a condom. I work at an HIV service agency and we deal with the issue of disclosure all the time -- it's one of the hardest things for sexually active gay men, especially those that feel validated by sex, to handle. Placing all the blame for the spread of HIV on the people who are already infected is stupid -- for many of them, it's psychologically damaging to live with both the social pressure of being gay and being seen as a walking infection. Should they expose other people to the virus? Of course not. But it takes two to tango.

Plus there's a better way to reach positive people than forcing them to pay "drug-support payments." We should educate them so that they understand the risks they're putting themselves at rather than scolding and punishing them for living with a tragic disease.

-- Doctor Nice

For the love of God, Doctor Nitwit, go into some other line of work! HIV service agencies are overrun with idiots who agree with you, and you're all making the AIDS epidemic incalculably worse. When confronted with a man who's running around indiscriminately infecting other men with HIV, your first impulse is to start spitting out excuses. We should have compassion! Disclosure is difficult! Let's educate the poor little darling -- not about his responsibility to his sex partners, heavens no! Let's educate him about the risks he's putting himself at!

What about compassion for the men he's infecting? What about his responsibility not to spread HIV? As for education, if this asshole is smart enough to use the Internet to line up sex dates, he's smart enough to know that it's wrong to give someone else HIV.

And you know what, Doctor Dipshit? I didn't suggest that we scold and punish people for living with a tragic disease. I suggested that we scold and punish people who maliciously and/or negligently infect other people with a tragic disease. I have scores of friends with HIV who go to great lengths to avoid infecting others, and I certainly wasn't scolding them. They're the good guys, and I'm sick to fucking death of "HIV educators" lumping my ethical HIV-positive friends in with selfish, unethical, immoral HIV-positive shitbags who could care less about infecting other people.

Yes, it takes two to tango. That's why in my drug-support-payment plan the malicious and/or negligent infector would only be on the hook for 50 percent of the expense of the drugs that the person he infected would need to stay alive. My drug-support-payment plan is less mean than the alternative suggested by numerous Savage Love readers: prison. In most U.S. states and all of Canada, knowingly exposing someone to HIV is a felony -- just like mugging little old ladies.

As someone who has worked in HIV/AIDS in NYC for almost 17 years, I applaud your "drug-support payments" idea. Since the beginning of HIV/AIDS I have always been amazed that the onus of prevention was on the uninfected and not the person with HIV. For most communicable diseases, the infected person is educated on how not to spread disease. Someone with active tuberculosis is expected to stay home, not go to work and wear a mask to prevent others from being infected. So why is it so hard to council someone with HIV to not spread a deadly virus? Why is it such a taboo among so many gay activists groups for the HIV-positive person to be a responsible human being?

-- Wake Up, People!

P.S. If you print this, please don't use my name. I work for a public health agency that would not be too happy with my opinions.

I was heartened by your letter, WUP, until I got to your P.S. What does it tell us about HIV and public health agencies that your opinions are so controversial that you can't have your name run with your letter? Nothing good.

Long-time reader, first-time writer. In regard to your "drug-support payments" idea, why stop with just HIV? Why shouldn't we do the same for smokers? Their health problems are numerous. And what about fat people? They regularly make themselves more obese. Shouldn't they have to pay for their diabetes meds, heart-disease meds, heart operations, etc.?

-- J.

Someone has to stuff his own face to get fat and light his own smokes to get lung cancer, which means every fat person and smoker out there is solely responsible for his own health problems. To get infected with HIV, however, someone has to infect you.

But I'll take your bait: Yeah, I believe that people who smoke or stuff themselves should pay higher health-insurance premiums than people who don't take those risks -- and I said "higher," not crushing. The idea is to create a financial incentive for people to make better choices. Likewise, I think people who maliciously and/or negligently infect others with HIV should be held responsible for their actions, and drug-support payments would create a financial incentive to make better choices.

I'm a 52-year-old gay man -- native San Franciscan -- who lost count of the friends I buried from AIDS. I worked at San Francisco General Hospital and saw the horrors of Ward 5A. I volunteered at Project Open Hand to feed those infected. I've walked in countless AIDS walks. How I escaped is beyond me, because I was there in the thick of it. But not a day goes by that I don't remember one of those who died. We didn't know what caused AIDS then. We do now.

That this asshole is purposely infecting others for his own physical pleasure is nothing short of criminal. It is premeditated murder. Yeah, I'd drop his ass quick -- and I'd tell everyone I knew why. Hell, I'd probably tell total strangers. He would not be a friend. Sorry, but my friends care for other people. And ya know what else? I don't want to pay for his fucking medication. Nor do I want to pay for the medications of his barebacking asshole partners.

Once upon a time we opened our hearts and our wallets to those infected. We demanded that the government step in and help. I really hate to say that I don't care, but I don't. Go ahead and die.

-- Tim D.

It's difficult for me to read about people like Help Me Do the Right Thing's friend. At 32, I contracted HIV from a guy I'd been seeing who lied to me about his status. I've accepted my part of the blame. But I also know that in the state of California knowingly transmitting the virus is a felony. I'm not sure if prosecuting this guy is what I want or if it will make any difference, but I do agree with the idea that he should pay for the obscenely expensive meds I now have to take for the remainder of my life.

-- Todd

Thanks for sharing, Tim D. and Todd. We'll have more on this subject next week -- including whether or not it would be possible to establish an HIV "paternity" -- but in an online special only, not in the print version of Savage Love.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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