If you are a gay male in America, one in five of your male friends has HIV.
And one in ten of your friends doesn’t even know that they have it.
These staggering statistics have been searing a hole in my brain today, the day marking the mid-point of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As riders celebrate by hoisting their bicycles over their heads, many are equally somber about what they have come here for.
“It affects everyone,” says Thomas Gay, who was diagnosed with HIV over seven years ago. “Whether you know it or not, not everyone is forthcoming and able to let the world know about their status. So just because you don’t know somebody’s positive, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t.”
It all comes down to two things:
- If you don’t ask, you don’t care. It is your own individual responsibility – if you choose to be responsible for your own health – to find out the HIV/STD status of every single sexual partner.
- It only takes one time. Taking a risk “only this one time” basically throws all your previous prevention out of the window, because all it takes is one time to get infected. It’s like not wearing a seatbelt, or not wearing sunscreen – all it takes is one time.
Gay males are at the certain of this resurgence, and the fight is nastier than ever. We are catching the disease later, with ever more people being infected. There’s this general apathy towards the issue, with many folks thinking that AIDS is a treatable disease. That it’s no longer the death sentence that it once was. That you can live a healthy life with HIV/AIDS.
To be honest, I used to think that this was true. Until one of my best friends on this green earth was diagnosed with HIV after an unwanted sexual encounter. All of a sudden, his life was turned upside down. He had to take meds every day, and suffered mood swings, nausea and a plethora of other challenges. It was excruciating to watch him go through this, and I never told him how terrified it made me feel.
That could have been me.
My awareness, and passion, for this issue has been ignited by my experience so far on the AIDS/LifeCycle ride. I know that the rest of this week will stoke my fire even more. Watching riders hoist their bikes over their heads, hearing these incredibly touching stories, and living the passion of the hundreds of volunteers has opened my eyes to the unpleasant realities of the gay community’s current situation.
This is untenable. We should not can not have another plague that decimates our community. Be safe, get tested, and ask. It only takes once – and in the end, we are all only blessed with one life.