HIV/AIDS & Stigma (Canadian Edition Lite)


A post by Jamie

This past Saturday was World AIDS Day. If you didn’t know, that’s OK. Now you do. As I was walking up to the site of an anti-abortion hate group demonstration to go picket them, a group of people in my city were giving out free hugs to anyone who wanted one, and passing out red ribbons to spread a message of compassion for everyone who is presently living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS. And while prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS and raising awareness to reduce stigma faced by people living with HIV/AIDS are both really important sides of the conversation, there’s another side to it that often gets overlooked or completely ignored: institutionalized HIV/AIDS discrimination. For the purposes of relative brevity only, I am limiting the content of this post to HIV/AIDS discrimination in Canada, and will not be addressing the racial component (i.e., which racial groups are at highest risk). It should go without saying that this is already a loaded topic. I’m going to warm this post up by providing you readers with a video link for the trailer of a powerful documentary about the life-long effects of discriminatory North American laws (specifically in the U.S.) on HIV-positive people, before I break down some basic terminology:

HIV Is Not A Crime – A 2011 Documentary by Sean Strub

Relevant Terminology

Now, partly for the purposes of reducing the space it takes to say “living with HIV/AIDS”, and partly as a sign of compassion for those individuals who are thusly described (some of whom are my friends), for the rest of this post, I am going to use the word poz instead. I will be using it like any other adjective, just like how I don’t talk about my friends who are poz any differently than anyone else unless the topic at hand is specifically about social barriers against people who are poz. Previously, one might have said “infected”. But is this person a zombie or a rabid animal? I think we can all afford to be a lot more sensitive, and just use the word poz instead.

Furthermore, on the issue of the term “infection” (and sometimes even its cousin, “transmission”) — some people are born poz, some people became poz relatively unintentionally (i.e., not engaging in high-risk behaviours, such as bare-backing with someone they knew at the time was poz or sharing needles), and some people who became poz at one time now have such a low viral load that it can’t even be detected (let alone transmitted in any way to another individual). It is for sensitivity to all of these people and, really, most people who are poz (and not currently dying from complications of AIDS), that many prefer to speak of becoming converted. Most people who are poz aren’t walking around with such an active and excessively contagious infectious process coursing through their circulatory system that it is in any way appropriate to refer to them as “infected”. And in fact, even for those who are so unfortunate to be dealing with a hyperbolic bloom of the virus in their system, this is usually a temporary state, often associated with the earliest phases in conversion (which can easily go unnoticed for many newly converted) or the final stages of AIDS (in which case, they are unlikely to just be out for a casual stroll like anyone else).

The point is that words like “infected” and “infection”, when talking about people who are poz, carries a connotation of uncleanliness, filth, and/or viral transmission — again, medical intervention has actually advanced to the point that many poz people are no-transmissible or even un-detectable (I’ve seen it with my own eyes while working for a doctor whose only poz patient had been non-transmissible for 13 years and started testing un-detectable). You don’t personally have to agree with this argument, but I do, so I will be referring to people as becoming converted (or at risk thereof) unless I’m quoting a source that uses different language, such as the Supreme Court of Canada.

Finally, a major component of anti-poz stigma is when people look at someone who is poz and perceive of their condition first (as though it were a disease, an infection, or otherwise just icky in socially significant ways) and then perceive of the person in front of them after the fact. Many people will see the fact that This Individual Is Poz as more important (or of a higher priority) than the fact that they are an individual. A human being, not just a body that carries a perceived threat of invisible death and some sort of unseen contagious filth. A person. This attitude of seeing some isolated quality before recognizing the full personhood (or even not being able to see past this isolated undesired quality) of the individual concerned is called essentialism. If you’re already familiar with the role of essentialism in racism, sexism/misogyny, homophobia/transphobia, and ableism, among many other forms of systemic oppression, yes I am talking about the same thing here. Essentialism is the driving principle in anti-poz stigma, but bigotry is the behaviour of application of that principle — the line is razor-thin.

Criminalization Of HIV In Canada

Now that I’ve established the terminology you will be seeing in this blog post and likely elsewhere if you choose to look for resources (especially in gay and queer communities, where I’ve personally seen poz and converted/conversion used most often), I can start talking about the criminalization of HIV. I’ve actually known about a law that exists in Canada now for a few years, whereby if a person who is poz engages in unprotected sex without disclosing their status to their partner, they can be tried and convicted of aggravated sexual assault (i.e., rape). I found out about it because, though he had not converted either of two known casual partners with whom he engaged in unprotected sex, a CFL football player named Trevis Smith was being put on trial and his reputation permanently destroyed for not disclosing his status to his partners. To the best of my knowledge, Smith’s wife has never charged him, presumably because she’s not looking at her husband as some sort of infectious pustule. Other people have been convicted on similar charges under similar circumstances prior to and since Smith faced sentencing that marked him a sex offender, but his particular case was what brought this issue to my attention. I’ll be getting to what the law actually states momentarily.

First, for the record, while I personally very strongly disagree with engaging in unprotected sex without first having an honest conversation about STIs and safer sex (no matter what your status), I can fully empathize with someone who can’t quite get the words out until after the first encounter. This is also simply not the same as lying when a partner enquires. I talk about why that is in this blog post I wrote in May 2011 when I found out that a bunch of my friends-at-the-time, who all still claim to be sex-positive, were apparently sex-positive-unless-you’re-HIV-positive. The short version is I have experience not being able to get the words out soon enough, and though that person continued to see me and not use protection for nearly a year, when we broke up, he threw it back in my face — I’m talking about human papillomavirus, which I was exposed to before the first time I consented to sex as a young adult (take all the time you need to think about that). But what I didn’t mention in that post is that I also have experience being directly lied to about someone else’s STI status, and being directly lied to about someone going to get tested. While I can be compassionate to someone who couldn’t find a way to bring it up (assuming we are speaking of someone who is poz and either non-transmissible or undetectable, or someone who knows their poz status and uses a condom to protect their partner), I cannot stand by someone who lies about their status when asked about it or who (regardless of their status) deliberately avoids getting tested and/or practising safer sex. Full stop.

I firmly believe that the media circus around Trevis Smith, and the existing law around non-disclosure, bolstered already pre-existing widespread stigma and a dangerous avoidance of personal responsibility (that really need not be further exacerbated) on the part of people who can’t rest assured of their status because they won’t get tested for fear that they will test positive for conversion. People already avoid getting tested so that they can keep a false sense of security. I dated multiple such individuals and have talked to countless people who haven’t the faintest idea of how to actually practice safer sex (it’s more than just a fucking condom) or who assume that if their prospective partner doesn’t say anything, it’s because they have nothing to disclose (these are people who are recklessly negligent towards themselves). Criminalizing HIV isn’t going to make it go away, any more than not getting tested will reduce your chances of conversion. So what does Canadian law actually say about HIV?

In 1998, R. v. Cuerrier set the precedent for HIV criminalization in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled, at the time, that someone who is poz who is engaging in protected or unprotected sex without disclosing their HIV status to their partner, obtained consent under fraudulent circumstances, and therefore has committed an aggravated sexual assault. The default assumption here is that people who are poz are frightening, are rapists, and unsuitable sexual partners for anyone who isn’t poz. Whether or not the sexual partner(s) pressing the charges was/were converted is irrelevant, as is whether or not the person who is poz even has a sufficiently high viral load that they can convert anyone else; and in fact, as in Trevis Smith’s case, Cuerrier’s two partners were not converted. It’s also unclear whether or not the complainant must demonstrate to the court that they were of HIV-negative status prior to the encounter, although in one case, a failure to demonstrate that resulted in an aquittal. Well, the law changed recently. Very recently. Now you can be charged even if you are undetectable or non-transmissible, if you didn’t use a condom. And you can still be charged even if you did use a condom, no matter what your viral load was at the time. Of course, the media spins it as “now you can be HIV-raped without a condom and you won’t even know it! Clutch your pearls!” Here’s the actual statement in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision two months ago:

“This Court, in Cuerrier, established that failure to disclose that one has HIV may constitute fraud vitiating consent to sexual relations under s. 265(3)(cCr. C.  Because HIV poses a risk of serious bodily harm, the operative offence is one of aggravated sexual assault (s. 273 Cr. C.).  To obtain a conviction under ss. 265(3)(c) and 273, the Crown must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the complainant’s consent to sexual intercourse was vitiated by the accused’s fraud as to his HIV status.  The test boils down to two elements:  (1) a dishonest act (either falsehoods or failure to disclose HIV status); and (2) deprivation (denying the complainant knowledge which would have caused him or her to refuse sexual relations that exposed him or her to a significant risk of serious bodily harm).  Failure to disclose may amount to fraud where the complainant would not have consented had he or she known the accused was HIV‑positive, and where sexual contact poses a significant risk of or causes actual serious bodily harm.

[…]

The evidence adduced in this case leads to the conclusion that, as a general matter, a realistic possibility of transmission of HIV is negated if:  (i) the accused’s viral load at the time of sexual relations was low and (ii) condom protection was used.  This general proposition does not preclude the common law from adapting to future advances in treatment and to circumstances where risk factors other than those considered in this case are at play.”

In other words, if you would consent to sex with someone assuming that they are HIV-negative but doing nothing to either rule out the possibility that they are poz or even protect your own sexual wellness (as any responsible sexually active adult should), but your attitude towards that person does a 180 in the event it turns out they are poz, the Supreme Court of Canada will answer you by registering your former sex partner as a sex offender and sentencing them to prison, for up to a maximum of a life sentence. And yet the Supreme Court of Canada just can’t see how this could possibly be abused. Well, the BC Civil Liberties Association can. So can Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and their coalition of allied organizations, which released this statement on the same day as the Supreme Court’s decision. Because not every person who is poz who dares to have sex with a consenting adult is actively trying to convert HIV-negative people without their consent (again — in that case, I do not stand by his actions and think he should be criminally punished), but the Supreme Court of Canada ruling criminalizes every HIV-positive body in the country; unless, as Michael Vonn says, you freeze and label your used condoms and get signed waivers from all your sex partners indicating that they knew your status before you had sex. Anyone with a bone to pick against a poz sex partner in Canada now has a golden ticket to ruin that person’s life, livelihood, public reputation, and ability to maintain and secure gainful employment, safe housing, or custody of their own children, by dragging them through a guaranteed media circus and criminal court. Race is a significant factor in this, that is already too complex to address even briefly, except to say that the guaranteed majority of people who will be impacted by this are racialized individuals. You can take that to the bank.

Changing The Record

To some people, sex-positivity means sex is a positive thing that you should gleefully embrace at every possible opportunity. If that’s what floats your boat, fine, but sex-negative abstinence “activists” and pro-lifers alike would like nothing more than to paint all sex-positive activists and their ideology thusly. And of course, it is this very slippery misappropriation of the term “sex-positive” that leads the same people who embrace it to recoil in disgust at the audacity of anyone who is poz to have a sex life at all — to say things like “Well if I found out I had sex with someone who was HIV-positive and they only told me afterwards, they may as well have held a gun to my head and raped me, because if I knew they were HIV-positive, I never would have given them my consent.” One of my long-term partners actually posted this online in a discussion led explicitly towards this conclusion by a local self-proclaimed sex-positive activist (who, funny thing, has since used that website and Twitter to repeatedly libel me and multiple others — but especially me, because I’m too poor to hire a lawyer to stop her). I just about barfed on my keyboard when I read the words my so-called friends, allies, and lovers had contributed to this conversation, and when I managed to contain myself, I seriously contemplated spontaneously ending my romantic relationships over it. Amazingly, these are people who rub shoulders with, fuck, and maintain a leather family with at least one person who is terrified to tell anyone too loudly that they have herpes, for fear of being treated like a Pariah. But none of them see the connection.

Sex-positivity is for everybody. It means an approach to sex education that teaches individual people that they have the right to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unwanted sexually transmitted infections, the right to self-respect, the right to say “no, not right now, but maybe later”, and the right to say what they want without fear of being ridiculed or shamed (and to stand up for themselves if they are ridiculed or shamed). It means being aware, up-to-date, and educated about what safer sex means and your individual and general risks of inheriting or transmitting a sexually transmitted infection with any of your sexual partners. For instance, if you aren’t having penile sex, how do you protect yourself (obviously condoms are out) and what is your risk of inheriting or transmitting something like HIV or chlamydia from the different activities you are engaging in? (Hint: enzymes in human saliva eliminate the HIV virus but not chlamydia; some infectious processes such as heat blisters from herpes or aphthous ulcerations from bad oral hygiene or smoking can compromise either your lips or gingiva, increasing your risk of inheriting even infections that your saliva would normally eliminate.) Sex-positivity means not feeling ashamed to be tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections while you’re sexually active (and for a few months after) and even encouraging your primary sexual partner to go with you so you can get tested together (or even immunized where possible and desired, such as for Hepatitis A & B). It also means all sorts of fun stuff like dropping in together at the sex shop down the street from the clinic and picking out a new toy to play with.

Don’t want to be converted? You don’t have to be an anti-poz bigot to reduce your risk of exposure and promote prevention. Both risk-reduction and prevention are critical aspects of sex-positivity. It’s sad that both “sex-positive” activists and the Supreme Court of Canada have left poz people even further marginalized on this issue than they already were. And if you think it’s pretty bleak in Canada but haven’t watched that 8-minute video, I’ve got news for you: it’s so much worse in the states, I might wind up doing a second blog post just about that.

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Comments

  1. says

    The default assumption here is that people who are poz are frightening, are rapists, and unsuitable sexual partners for anyone who isn’t poz.

    Well if we’re going to play that game, then I suppose I could just label your position as “it’s perfectly reasonable and justified to lie to sexual partners because if you told them the truth, they wouldn’t sleep with you”. We recognize a duty for, for example, medical practitioners to provide someone with sufficient information for them to provide informed consent when deciding their medical treatment. I don’t see why the virtue of informed consent disappears when people are too shy to disclose their HIV status (but not too shy to have sex with someone).

    There was a case with similar legal issues in which a couple engaged in some erotic asphyxiation, and when one partner passed out, the other partner had sex with hir (with a dildo, I think). The SCC ruled that consent to sexual activity extends up to the point where there was no longer the possibility of withdrawing consent – i.e., if you’re physically incapable of saying ‘no’, then any sex is assault. This seems to be a continuation of this principle – that a person can consent to sex act A, but is not necessarily consenting to acts B-Z, and “embarrassment” doesn’t obviate the right to informed consent.

    The question is whether or not this law applies only to HIV/AIDS, or if failure to disclose any STI is subject to the same penalty. If not, then it appears to be bordering on discrimination. It would be interesting to see if this legal argument crosses over to, say, someone with epilepsy that is being controlled by medication being denied a job as a bus driver or something like that.

  2. michael scottmonje jr says

    I had the same objection as you when I first read it, but it seems a bit drastic to make the charge identical to rape. Not only does it produce side effects which can prove ruinous due to sex offender registration, it begins to bend the definition of rape out of proportion.

    Beyond that, I’m not going to voice too much opinion about the finer points of what should or shouldn’t happen–I don’t know Canadian law well enough to avoid making an ass out of myself.

  3. says

    I suppose I’m asking to be lambasted for this, but…

    No. A thousand times, no.

    I agree that it’s offensive and horrible when people are not treated like people because they are HIV+, but after that point every word about discrimination and improper institutional language shrivels up and dies on one salient point:

    They ARE infected. They carry a virus which is not only dangerous but potentially (and often) deadly. HIV is currently ravaging an entire continent, with millions of sufferers worldwide… etc, I’m sure you’re well familiar with that sad story.

    But how on Earth can you blame the rest of us for not wanting to join them? This is not a simple issue of race or creed or something else that is nobody else’s business and cannot affect them. This isn’t even an example of after-the-fact sexual squicking like what trans people often suffer. Becoming the sexual partner of someone with HIV is a serious, possibly life-threatening risk, and it is COMPLETELY UNFAIR to push the burden of remembering to ask about infections onto the non-infected potential partner.

    When interacting with someone is *medically dangerous*, that someone must bear the burden of disclosure before that interaction takes place.

    I’m inclined to buy Crommunist’s argument about applying this to all STIs, as they all represent a medical danger to varying degrees and it is reasonable to suppose someone might very well withdraw their consent to a sex act based on *any* of them. But HIV is the deadliest STI currently known and arguably the hardest to treat.

    People DESERVE TO KNOW when a seemingly innocuous act actually carries a significant risk of suffering and death. It doesn’t matter how embarrassed or even lonely the HIV sufferer gets, their feelings DO NOT SUPERCEDE the physical wellbeing of their potential partner.

  4. says

    I’m not entirely certain that the penalties as described are entirely appropriate – but I agree with the principle. Sexual assault is sex without consent; consent fraudulently obtained is not consent; and misrepresenting the dangers involved is fraudulent.

  5. says

    Crom:

    Well if we’re going to play that game, then I suppose I could just label your position as “it’s perfectly reasonable and justified to lie to sexual partners because if you told them the truth, they wouldn’t sleep with you”

    I explicitly stated that I completely disagree with this. I also explicitly stated that I disagree with people who avoid getting tested, who lie about getting tested, and who avoid practising safer sex (especially if they also avoid getting tested).

    We recognize a duty for, for example, medical practitioners to provide someone with sufficient information for them to provide informed consent when deciding their medical treatment. I don’t see why the virtue of informed consent disappears when people are too shy to disclose their HIV status (but not too shy to have sex with someone).

    I also recognize a duty to be an advocate for myself — if I’m “brave” enough to have sex with someone, what am I doing not asking them about their STI status? Or the last time they got tested? And what am I doing saying I was raped if they used a condom and I found out after the fact that they had an STI that I didn’t know about because I didn’t ask?

    This seems to be a continuation of this principle – that a person can consent to sex act A, but is not necessarily consenting to acts B-Z, and “embarrassment” doesn’t obviate the right to informed consent.

    Assuming that someone has nothing to disclose because they didn’t say anything isn’t informed consent. I realize my opinion is going to be unpopular among people who are not poz, but please (everybody). Take some responsibility for what you’re doing with whatever you’re packing between your legs. It’s one thing if you asked and they lied — which I flat-out disagree with and think they should be criminally punished in that case — but it’s another thing entirely when you don’t ask (especially when they used a condom anyway) and then get the person registered as a sex offender because YOU failed to take the same degree of personal responsibility as you secretly expected from them (but only if they were poz, because if they weren’t, then you don’t expect them to take that degree of personal responsibility because you don’t)

    THAT’S where the discrimination is taking place here. One standard of behaviour for people who are poz, and another for people who aren’t. Criminal punishment for people who are poz (even with low viral load, non-transmissible status, or undetectable status), but never for people who aren’t. Are people who are poz not entitled to be assured that the person they are about to have sex with is a safe partner, because they’re already poz?

    I find this “informed consent” requirement from people who are poz, but not from people who aren’t (because I guess… why… because they have nothing to disclose, and they’re the “victim” here?) motivated by thinking of HIV/AIDS as how the SCC laid it out: threat of bodily harm. Only it’s not that black-and-white. Low viral load, non-transmissible viral load, and even undetectable viral load, do not present threat of bodily harm.

  6. julianhill says

    As far as I know, it’s a civil matter for other STDs. If you are diagnosed with an STD, you may have to inform your current partner but I’m not sure.

    I’d say that HIV is treated a lot more seriously because it is incurable (though treatable) and deadly.

  7. says

    What about in the case where there is no reasonable risk of transmission? Below some CD4 count, your risk of transmission is near-zero, so we’re asking people to subject themselves to the risk of potentially disastrous discrimination based on a near-zero probability of harm. The risk/benefit calculation seems off there.

    And comparing the fate of poz people in Canada to poz people in parts of Africa is quite a stretch. HIV/AIDS doesn’t carry the same health consequences here, where access to medication that controls transmission is readily accessible.

  8. says

    I explicitly stated that I completely disagree with this.

    So you did. My apologies. I still think your characterization of the court’s decision of making all poz people de facto rapists is extreme.

    it’s another thing entirely when you don’t ask (especially when they used a condom anyway) and then get the person registered as a sex offender because YOU failed to take the same degree of personal responsibility as you secretly expected from them

    Yeah, that seems fair. Maybe it is fair to expect people to ask their would-be sexual partners about their status, rather than just assuming that everyone is non-poz. My discomfiture is in the erosion of consent, but this seems like a specific enough circumstance.

  9. says

    This is not a conversation about “blaming” people for “not wanting to join the infected”. This is a conversation about calling for people to take some responsibility for themselves instead of having people registered as sex offenders and treated as subhuman when they fail to do that for their own safety.

    I’m not “pushing the burden”. I’m saying both parties share it equally, but the law only punishes one of them, because it assumes the other bears all of it, and I think this is wrong. I am not alone in that opinion.

    Don’t want to be poz? Well, neither do I. Do I have to be a bigot who doesn’t have the slightest understanding of this medical problem, and who treats poz people like they are subhuman, and speaks of them like they are rabid animals, in order to protect myself? No.

    But HIV is the deadliest STI currently known and arguably the hardest to treat.

    I think you’ll find this varies based on where you can access medical treatment and where you can’t. As this is a Canadian law, let’s look at Canada. Cite your source for this statement.

    when a seemingly innocuous act actually carries a significant risk of suffering and death.

    IT’S SEXUAL INTERCOURSE. There is nothing innocuous about this behaviour. If you’re so terrified of becoming converted — so terrified of suffering to your last breath and dying of AIDS — why do you claim sexual intercourse is innocuous and the full burden is on the poz partner? Shouldn’t you be enquiring into your partner’s status, to put your mind at ease?

    Or learning about how to practice safer sex?

    Or is it only innocuous when nobody asks about status and nobody has anything to disclose? That’s a Russian Roulette approach to sex if ever I’ve heard of one.

  10. says

    please don’t take this the wrong way

    The “wrong way” to take this comment would be to grant it any legitimacy at all. You can shove your opinion right back to where you pulled it from.

  11. Brandon says

    Most people who are poz aren’t walking around with such an active and excessively contagious infectious process coursing through their circulatory system that it is in any way appropriate to refer to them as “infected”.

    This really doesn’t make any sense. While I have no desire to deliberately use language in a fashion that’s hurtful to people, someone who’s infected with HIV is still infected with HIV, even if the words “infected with HIV” sound unpleasant. HSV-1 lies dormant for quite awhile, isn’t particularly contagious during those times, and yet no one would say, “yeah, well, you know, I don’t have a cold sore, so I’m not really “infected” with HSV-1″.

    Using language in a non-hurtful fashion is great. Telling people to change the meaning of words in a fashion that makes no biological sense to avoid inadvertent stigmatization is not.

  12. says

    True, the fates are very different. But that doesn’t really change the argument.

    I could buy the ‘chance of transmission’ thing… but I don’t think there *is* a lower threshold for chance-of-transmission that would lift the burden of disclosure. Why? Because whether or not that risk, low though it is, is accepted by the potential partner should be the *partner’s* decision to make. Creating a threshold like that creates a risk below which it’s okay to strip the partners of their agency in making the decision. This I take issue with.

  13. says

    To use an absurd example, let’s say that I suffer from night terrors. I have been on medication and haven’t had an episode in over a year. I hook up with someone, but don’t tell her I have night terrors. I suffer an episode and end up fracturing her jaw (while asleep). Is that sexual assault, justly punished by a lengthy jail sentence and registry as a sex offender? I would think not, even though there was a risk that I did not disclose to the partner.

    Now obviously a fractured jaw isn’t the same as HIV, but the argument and principle are still in the ballpark. There are some things that are risky, and sex is one of those. At some point it is reasonable to expect people to protect themselves, which requires a discussion about STIs and stuff like that (including, I guess, night terrors).

  14. Mr Dank says

    It doesn’t matter what the viral load is. Infected is infected. The person who is infected had a responsibility to their partner to disclose such potentially life threatening infections. If one passes on the infection to another person without their knowledge and consent, they should spend some time in jail. To think that someone would argue otherwise is sickening.

    Hmm, what’s worse? Not getting laid because you are HIV+, or not tellin, getting laid and potentially killing someone because you didn’t want to be ‘discriminated’ against? Seems a bit self-centered to me.

  15. says

    It doesn’t matter what the viral load is. Infected is infected

    It actually matters very much what the viral load is, and while it’s fun to throw around assertions as though they mean something, you’re going to have a hard time persuading anyone if that’s your preferred tactic.

  16. says

    It’s interesting that you should bring up HSV-1.

    I’ll bet you didn’t know that approximately 80% of the human population has been exposed by the age of 10 years old, and statistically a majority of those carriers live the rest of their lives asymptomatic but still occasionally transmitting to other persons, such as children. The most common vector of transmission is saliva, and medical science has no real understanding of why only some carriers exhibit occasional symptoms such as oral/genital heat blisters or ulcerations of the eye (among other, though markedly less common symptoms).

    There is also HSV-2, which is classified as distinct merely by the characteristic of where on the body its symptoms manifest first.

    Are you starting to see how easy it is to talk about someone carrying an infectious agent in their body, either in an actively contagious state or a dormant one, without referring to that person as “infected”? Have you also noticed I don’t need to “change the meaning” of anything, but simply point out to you that there are various alternatives with virtually unchanged meaning, that are simply a lot more accurate if not also not nearly as malicious?

    Can you just do me a favour next time, and when you get the urge to refer to someone as infected because of their HIV status, say it in as deliberately frightening a tone of voice as possible, and then tell me if you’re still OK with using this language.

  17. says

    Don’t want to become converted? Start asking your partners about their status before you have sex. Start educating yourself about how to practice safer sex for those times when the heat of the moment would be spoiled, or you don’t have time to ask. Start asking your partners to go with you so that you can get tested together.

    There’s no need to make a double standard against all people who are poz, as if they are somehow infinitely more responsible for this burden than you are, even though anyone who isn’t poz is not proportionally held as responsible in your eyes for making sure you can rest easy about their status.

  18. says

    I’m not “pushing the burden”. I’m saying both parties share it equally, but the law only punishes one of them

    Ah, but you ARE pushing the burden, right there in this sentence. People do not equally share the burden of disclosure; that would be impossible. Every person shoulders the burden of disclosing anything about themselves that is likely to materially damage their partner – in EVERY case, not just sexual intercourse and STIs. Doing otherwise is ‘getting away with it’ because you found a loophole; it’s the ‘you didn’t ask’ bullshit which is a common feature of poorly-written sitcoms.

    I assert that it is a sign of no respect to use a loophole to do something in a relationship that you can be fairly sure the other person would object to if they knew. Triply so when the thing they do not know actually CAN hurt them.

    Do I have to be a bigot who doesn’t have the slightest understanding of this medical problem, and who treats poz people like they are subhuman, and speaks of them like they are rabid animals, in order to protect myself? No.

    Asserting that in a relationship, the only one of the people who knows of a dangerous risk is the one with the burden of disclosing this risk is not doing any of these things.

    Cite your source for this statement.

    The difficulty of treatment and deadliness of the untreated effects has nothing to do with the law. Canadian sufferers have a much better prognosis than most other places because of the availability of the treatments, not their nature.

    Here is one source, presenting a list of common STI’s; it’s an American source, but that’s irrelevant to the difficulty of treatment, merely its availability. While it’s not the only STI with no cure, it IS the only one that requires an intensive, strictly scheduled course of medicines, and it is the only one that leads to death if untreated.

    You can find lots of other sources that generally agree with this, and since the relative effects of and treatments for common STI’s are commonly known, I find it a touch intellectually dishonest for you to demand this source.

    IT’S SEXUAL INTERCOURSE. There is nothing innocuous about this behaviour.

    In and of itself, sex is not a dangerous activity, unlike, say, flying a plane or base jumping. Unless, I admit, you’re having the sex WHILE doing this sort of thing.

    If you’re so terrified of becoming converted — so terrified of suffering to your last breath and dying of AIDS…

    I ALSO object to this abuse of the English language. You’re not being ‘converted’, you’re getting INFECTED. Literally, by the precise dictionary defintion, it’s not a slur, it’s the actual event.

    Shouldn’t you be enquiring into your partner’s status, to put your mind at ease? Or learning about how to practice safer sex?

    That’s victim blaming. Taking precautions is all well and good, but placing the onus on the clear partner is the same as claiming that it is a rape victim’s fault because she should have known ‘not to go to that part of town’.

    Nobody can be held responsible for knowing someone else’s medical status!

    Or is it only innocuous when nobody asks about status and nobody has anything to disclose? That’s a Russian Roulette approach to sex if ever I’ve heard of one.

    This doesn’t even faintly resemble my arguments.

  19. says

    Have you ever had unprotected sex with someone who was not, at the time, a virgin? Congratulations. You’re INFECTEEED with HPV, and your body can now INFECT your future partners with a virus that could kill them with cervical cancer over roughly the same time span in the absence of treatment as untreated HIV typically becomes AIDS and takes a life.

    Shouldn’t you be telling all your partners about your status? After all, you’re potentially killing someone by having sex with them.

    HPV is even transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, so either one of you wearing a condom doesn’t protect you. And if you think oral sex is your way out, think again. That’s how people get throat cancer from HPV.

    You can change the way you talk about this subject matter, or you can continue to expose your bigotry, at which point I’m sure you’ll talk yourself straight out of prospective sex partners in just a matter of time. At this point, I sure wouldn’t go near you or anyone else who talked like you. I couldn’t reconcile my clitoral erection with the urge to spontaneously projectile vomit.

  20. Brandon says

    I’ll bet you didn’t know that approximately 80% of the human population has been exposed by the age of 10 years old

    You’d be betting incorrectly. I used HSV-1 as an example precisely because most people are infected with it. We don’t pretend that it’s not an infection because it might make people feel bad.

    Are you starting to see how easy it is to talk about someone carrying an infectious agent in their body, either in an actively contagious state or a dormant one, without referring to that person as “infected”?

    I have no idea how listing information about HSV is supposed to persuade me that this is a better approach.

    Have you also noticed I don’t need to “change the meaning” of anything, but simply point out to you that there are various alternatives with virtually unchanged meaning, that are simply a lot more accurate if not also not nearly as malicious?

    [emphasis mine]

    The entire point is that they’re not more accurate, you’ve simply fabricated that. Someone who is HIV+ really is infected with HIV. That’s a 100 percent accurate use of the word “infected”. There’s literally no possible way to use the word in a more accurate fashion.

    Can you just do me a favour next time, and when you get the urge to refer to someone as infected because of their HIV status, say it in as deliberately frightening a tone of voice as possible, and then tell me if you’re still OK with using this language.

    You seem to have taken the exact opposite meaning from my comment as what’s actually there. The point is that the word “infected” is just another part of the English language, and it’s a medically correct use of the word to refer to someone that has a pathogen as being infected with that pathogen. It doesn’t have to come with a stigma, but it surely will if people insist on using it in as frightening a fashion as possible.

    Refusing to use a word in a correct and appropriate fashion on the basis that someone else uses that word in a nasty and demeaning fashion doesn’t help much of anything. If someone personally chooses to not use “infected” because they think it’s demeaning, that’s their call, but someone who uses the word correctly and appropriately shouldn’t be taken to task for doing so.

  21. says

    Crommunist:

    In your night-terrors example, I would think that the differences are that 1) the hypothetical you actually believed yourself cured, and 2) oddly, the example is kind of off target because night terrors does not make consenting to HAVE SEX with ‘you’ any more dangerous: it makes literally SLEEPING with you dangerous. So it’s pushed out of the realm where consent is generally considered relevant.

    I guess that’s more of an argument of ‘that’s a bad analogy’ than actually addressing the point. It’s not easy to grapple with.

  22. says

    HaifischGeweint @3:

    See below. Not a ‘double standard’, because it’s fundamentally unfair to make anyone responsible for divining someone else’s medical status.

  23. says

    It doesn’t have to come with a stigma, but it surely will if people insist on using it in as frightening a fashion as possible.

    Danger, Will Robinson. The whole “it’s just a word, and it won’t be offensive if you stop giving it power” argument isn’t exactly a super-popular one around these parts.

  24. says

    People do not equally share the burden of disclosure; that would be impossible.

    Fuck sake. The burden of talking about STI status. Are you deliberately trying to be this obtuse, or do you just do that naturally?

    Canadian carriers have a much better prognosis than most other places because of the availability of the treatments, not their nature.

    Corrected that for you, since a lot of poz Canadians aren’t suffering much, if at all, and I don’t pity them for taking care of themselves with our universalized medicine and free HIV/AIDS programs. Of course, that DOESN’T mean that they don’t suffer because of the bigoted attitude you and others in this conversation are throwing around — they still very much do, and I think this is wrong.

    Here is one source, presenting a list of common STI’s

    Would it really be so hard for you to find a legitimate source? Like this one? Or like, ANY source that doesn’t use such outdated terminology and information?

    While it’s not the only STI with no cure, it IS the only one that requires an intensive, strictly scheduled course of medicines, and it is the only one that leads to death if untreated.

    This statement is so loaded with ignorance, I can’t even.

    In and of itself, sex is not a dangerous activity

    Maybe if you’re doing it as slowly and quietly as possible so your parents downstairs don’t hear you, on your virgin wedding night, in the dark, in missionary position, without even taking your onesies and petticoats off first.

    That’s victim blaming.

    Yes, asking you why you aren’t starting conversations with your new sex partners about their STI status, or taking them to get tested for STIs with you, or asking you why you aren’t getting educated on safer sex so that you can protect yourself when you can’t get tested or have that conversation first, is exactly the same as telling you that if you didn’t want to get raped, you shouldn’t have worn such a short skirt. Fuck you very much.

    This doesn’t even faintly resemble my arguments.

    Yes, actually. Yes it did.

  25. says

    Most people don’t know that most people are carriers of HSV-1, because most people don’t know that you can still have it and still give it to someone else, even if you don’t occasionally experience heat blisters.

    It’s really, quite frankly, dishonest of you to pretend otherwise.

    Definitions don’t list connotations. You can argue until the cows come home about the definition of a word like “infected” in various schools of thought, but none of that answers to THE CONNOTATION IN COMMON USE OF THE WORD.

  26. says

    HaifischGeweint @2:

    No, this reply contains way too many ad hominem attacks and far too much frothing fury for me to address it.

    Your replies to my argument have not taken the shape of counter-arguments, but rather what seems to be an attempt to shame me for thinking differently. This is inappropriate and deplorable in general, much more so here on a skeptic site, more again since you were the one originally posting what is a strongly emotional and not immensely rational article on the sits.

    I think you are not arguing in good faith, and decline to engage you further on this topic.

  27. says

    OIC. I have to be dosile, pleasant, and submissive to you, sugar-coating everything as the faery nymph you expect me to be, while confronting your bigotry, ignorance, and double-standards, or you’ll get impatient with me and compare me to a rabid dog because you don’t know whether it would sting enough to call me a bitch.

    That’s nice.

  28. says

    Just out of curiosity, if someone (call him ‘Rob’) infects someone else (say ‘Jane’) with an STI, without her prior consent or knowledge, then should Jane have any legal recourse if she failed to protect herself by asking the right questions or using the best possible barrier methods?

    Does the answer change if we replace STI with pregnancy?

  29. Brandon says

    I don’t think either of those replies addresses what I’ve actually said. I understand the perspective that it’s not ideal to stigmatize individuals with HIV and that using the word “infected” has the potential to do so. However, it’s still a technically sound term that’s useful for discussing epidemiology, viral transmission, and anything else that has to do with the biology of the infection.

    Danger, Will Robinson. The whole “it’s just a word, and it won’t be offensive if you stop giving it power” argument isn’t exactly a super-popular one around these parts.

    Snipping a single sentence out of context and then distorting the meaning of even that sentence is a disingenuous tactic. I didn’t say it won’t be offensive if someone stops giving it power, and the sentence I wrote doesn’t remotely suggest that this is my stance. The snipped sentence indicates that someone can use “infected” in a pejorative sense, but that there’s no particular reason why it must be a pejorative word.

    As someone that works in immunology, it’s just a weird argument for me to have about whether people that are infected with a virus can be described as infected or not.

  30. Ysanne says

    Have you also noticed I don’t need to “change the meaning” of anything, but simply point out to you that there are various alternatives with virtually unchanged meaning, that are simply a lot more accurate if not also not nearly as malicious?

    They’re not. Seroconversion, the thing that “converted” refers to, means the development of detectable antibodies in the blood serum. This happens a significant time after the actual infection with HIV.
    This absurd dance to avoid using the medically correct term “infected” actually obscures more than it clarifies.

    Other than that, I think the classifcation as sexual assault is just wrong, because the problem is not the sex act per se. It’s negligently endangering someone’s health and life by knowingly withholding information about not a very real but not immediately obvious risk which would be trivial to avoid if only one knew about it.
    Doing this by having unprotected sex while HIV infected is no better or worse than any other way, so it doesn’t deserve specific and extra-harsh punishment.

  31. says

    In what world is Jane having unprotected sex with people like Rob, not knowing she could very well get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection?

    Why does this attitude change simply because it’s HIV this time and not, say, pubic lice?

  32. says

    When you’re discussing immunology, go ahead and say “infected”.

    When you’re discussing matters of discrimination against carriers of a particular infection, that’s another matter all together.

    Why is this so hard for you to wrap your brain around? Have I spelt it out for you in language you can comprehend the meaning of yet? Have I stumbled upon the magical access code this time?

    Can we perhaps move on from this absurd idea that the common layman understands infection the way a fikkin’ immunologist does?

  33. says

    Until you’re converted, you don’t test positive. So UNLESS you’ve converted, you won’t know you’re positive, even if you’ve been tested.

    A quick internet search will reveal to you that conversion can occur within a week or a few months, which is why testing isn’t accurate until at least six months after suspected contact (and thus, repeat testing is advised).

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t see this as inconsistent with what I’ve stated anywhere above, and still don’t get what’s making this aspect of the conversation so difficult.

  34. lirael_abhorsen says

    @Mr Dank

    Interesting that you should put “discrimination” in quotes. I volunteer for a hotline that provides legal information and referrals to queer and poz people who are facing discrimination or other harm or have questions about their rights. And I am not allowed to give specifics about people that I’ve talked to, but I can assure you, that discrimination against poz people is not about whether they’re getting laid that day. It can mean employment discrimination, police harassment, vandalism, violence, and more. And I live in one of the most liberal states in the US.

    I have concerns about the idea that the burden should be on the non-poz person to ask – I think that sort of asking is the ideal to aspire to, but I also think the idea that the words are hard to get out can go in both directions. But I don’t agree with failure to disclose on the part of the poz person being rape. And, well, the consequences of the stigma around HIV (the whole discrimination/violence thing I referred to in the previous paragraph) contribute to poz people being reluctant to disclose to their partners, even though I think that people with STIs should disclose.

  35. says

    I’ll tell you what. Ask me something that is in any way meaningful, and I won’t answer it with more questions.

    Your questions introduce significant issues of agency, in that I don’t know how in the world someone could not know about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections before consenting to unprotected sex, unless they’ve been raised in a cage locked in a dark room by a sex-negative caregiver who isn’t using them as a sex slave in addition to seriously violating all their other basic human rights.

  36. says

    “I don’t know how in the world someone could not know about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections before consenting to unprotected sex…”

    Evidently, you are living in some sort of paradise of sexual privilege where everyone is given a sound sexual education prior to reaching puberty. It may surprise you to learn that not all of the world, not even the Anglophone world, is quite so lucky.

  37. says

    “Why does this attitude change simply because it’s HIV this time and not, say, pubic lice?”

    Last I checked, the mortality rate on pubic lice was really quite low. Practically negligible, in fact.

  38. says

    Still waiting to hear whether Jane gets to bear the burdens of STI and/or pregnancy alone, or whether Rob should be held liable in any way.

  39. Brandon says

    Until you’re converted, you don’t test positive. So UNLESS you’ve converted, you won’t know you’re positive, even if you’ve been tested.

    That’s incorrect. Nucleic acid based tests can detect HIV in individuals that haven’t developed any detectable antibody production.

    In an effort to avoid using the word “infected”, you’re spreading inaccurate information.

  40. Brandon says

    Shockingly, being as condescending as possible and insisting that people are just too ignorant to be able to use the word “infected” correctly isn’t terribly convincing to me, no. I’m surely convinced that using “infected” as a pejorative is wrong and directly harms HIV+ individuals. That’s why I don’t do it, and I’d encourage others not to do so. This is insufficient for me to attempt to play word games where describing someone as infected is entirely technically correct.

    A reasonably informed layman should understand infection to have the same meaning as an immunologist does, which is the colonization of a host by a pathogen.

  41. says

    It may surprise you to know that this blog post is about Canadian law in particular. You know. The country where kids are taught in public schools that if they have sex, there’s a chance they could get pregnant or an infection of some kind.

    I can’t speak of course for kids who aren’t in public school, because their mileage on this subject matter may vary (and hopefully so with significantly less emphasis on abstinence-based education).

    However, you seem to just prefer to pretend that it’s common knowledge that there are simply utterly tons of people walking about in this country, regularly consenting to unprotected sex without even the slightest idea that this could cause an unexpected pregnancy or an unexpected infection of some kind that is generally transmitted through sexual contact.

    That, to me, just seems plain ignorant.

  42. says

    Pray tell, then, what the difference is between a nucleic acid test and the standard blood tests that are used when you go to the centre for disease control. Say, like when someone tests a false positive on the Western blot test, and goes back for a different blood test to rule out the possibility that they are now converted.

    And please, be sure to include how exactly I’m responsible for “spreading inaccurate information” by virtue of that one comment on this blog post, which is ACTUALLY ABOUT PEOPLE BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST ON THE BASIS THAT THEY ARE HIV-POSITIVE, IN CASE YOU FORGOT.

  43. says

    No, I am not arguing that people are “too ignorant” to use the word “infected” correctly. I am arguing that people use this word, loaded as it is, to connote and project all sort of assumptions about the person so described as being contagious, dirty, filthy, icky, unsightly, creepy, and unworthy of respect and dignity.

    If you agree that talking about poz people like one talks about a rabid dog is a bad thing, then why are you here debating how an immunologist uses the word “infected” when they are discussing the spread of disease?

  44. Brandon says

    Pray tell, then, what the difference is between a nucleic acid test and the standard blood tests that are used when you go to the centre for disease control. Say, like when someone tests a false positive on the Western blot test, and goes back for a different blood test to rule out the possibility that they are now converted.

    A NAT tests for the presence of viral RNA. This has literally nothing to do with seroconversion. Insisting that converted rather than infected is the correct verb is getting the biology wrong.

    And please, be sure to include how exactly I’m responsible for “spreading inaccurate information” by virtue of that one comment on this blog post, which is ACTUALLY ABOUT PEOPLE BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST ON THE BASIS THAT THEY ARE HIV-POSITIVE, IN CASE YOU FORGOT.

    Spreading inaccurate information is spreading inaccurate information, regardless of whether it’s in a comment or in an original post. That you’re the originator of the blog entry is exactly the problem – readers are likely to view someone presenting as having expertise on a topic are likely to take their pronouncements seriously.

    In a quest to avoid using a word that you don’t want to use, you’re getting the actual facts wrong.

  45. Brandon says

    No, I am not arguing that people are “too ignorant” to use the word “infected” correctly. I am arguing that people use this word, loaded as it is, to connote and project all sort of assumptions about the person so described as being contagious, dirty, filthy, icky, unsightly, creepy, and unworthy of respect and dignity.

    I know that you’re asserting that, and I’m telling you that people use the word infected without that connotation, and insisting that they shouldn’t do so isn’t fruitful.

    Shifting into some gear where you assert that only professionals use a word in a technically correct, non-loaded sense is still unsupported. You’re reading malice in where it’s just not there. People that are directing malice at someone based on their HIV status should be called out, but insisting that using “infected” somehow indicates that the speaker thinks the person using the words thinks the infected individual is a zombie or rabid animal is just incorrect.

  46. Brandon says

    I apologize for starting new strings. I must somehow not be loading the reply box correctly, sorry about that.

  47. says

    You know something? At this point, I’m more annoyed by your insistence that everybody ever uses the terminology you’ve chosen because of your profession, no matter what connotations those words carry, than I am interested in learning whatever the fuck you think it is you have to teach me on the subject.

    Why don’t we all just start using terminology used within forensic anthropology, to talk about racial discrimination, while we’re at it? That would pass your test for factual accuracy, would it not? Who cares who it hurts or what connotations in lay usage those words carry with them!

    You seem to have COMPLETELY missed the point, because you just HAVE to be right about this one issue, that, in all seriousness, very few people outside you profession would have a mind to enquire into.

    Congratulations, you’re a scientist and I’m not. Gee, you sure proved me inferior!

  48. says

    I already said it in the post. If you disagree, fine. Go ahead and disagree. But I’m using that language for this post.

    Now please stop badgering me about how you disagree because you come at this topic from a completely different paradigm. I’ve had enough of it.

    You’re not coming off as malicious. You’re coming off as though you have a complex that compels you to prove your superiority, and I’ve had enough.

  49. Brandon says

    You probably shouldn’t get bent out of shape when someone corrects you about something you’re flatly wrong about. Remember, this started with you asserting that it’s not “in any way” appropriate to refer to HIV+ people as infected. That’s just plain wrong. If you want to say that it’d be best not to, that’s a totally separate argument, and I’m basically agnostic about it.

    What a petulant conclusion though. Really, is it that fucking hard to admit to being wrong a term without trying to get in a jab?

  50. says

    The process of becoming infected with anything is described as becoming infected. But a person living with HIV/AIDS isn’t just an infection.

    If you weren’t so insistent that your knowledge is objectively superior to what I have to say, I might not be getting “bent out of shape”. If you weren’t commenting publicly on this blog, which already receives a lot of trolls, specifically for the express purpose of showboating what an amazeballs scientist you are, I might not be getting “bent out of shape”.

    But you don’t seem to have any respect for either myself for people actually living with HIV/AIDS (again, some of whom are my friends), and the simple request that for this conversation about the discrimination they face (ESPECIALLY in law), we don’t refer to them the same way wetalk about rabid animals.

    So have fun patting yourself on the back for correctness, OK? Just go do it somewhere else and stop badgering me. You’re not just insulting — you’re condescending about it too.

  51. Rinus says

    Some people are too poorly educated to fully grasp the risks that accompany sex (particularly, I should think, in certain areas of the U.S. where sex education is abysmal). Some people are so caught up in the heat of the moment they don’t think to ask.
    Even if I were to grant that it’s the responsibility of every person to ask beforehand about potential STDs, I don’t think I could simply shrug off responsibility and think “well, they didn’t ask”.

    I don’t think it’s your decision to make for the both (or more) of you. Non-zero risk is still a risk, and you should allow your partner to make an informed decision for themselves. I think you should -want- them to make that decision for themselves.

  52. Rinus says

    Can we perhaps move on from this absurd idea that the common layman understands infection the way a fikkin’ immunologist does?

    That’s a rather telling statement. Presuming the person infected with HIV has a far better understanding of the risks involved, shouldn’t this mean the burden of responsibility is shifted somewhat more to their side, and the ethical thing to do would be to inform “the common layman” of said risks?

  53. katiemarshall says

    Wow, you’ve really stirred the pot here. You’ve given me some food for thought, and I’m still working on it. I’m posting to aid my digestion, and I may be entirely wrong.

    I think the arguments I see above about terminology are a red herring. And I agree–labelling someone a sex offender for this is completely unnecessary and dilutes both the meanings of “sex offender” and “rape”.

    I still see two issues with your analysis though.

    1. Sero converting, I think, still does harm to a person. Even in Canada with excellent drug therapy, I think there is evidence that long-term drug therapy can cause harm in itself (http://ccjm.org/content/68/9/804.full.pdf). This isn’t my field, but if I’m right, I think it’s worth keeping in mind.

    2. Lack of discussion about something doesn’t imply consent.

    But… it becomes much trickier when we get into probabilities. The probability of transmitting HIV through sex is pretty low (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/law/transmission.htm) and is especially low if the person is treated and has a low viral load. People suck at understanding probability. I don’t have numbers, but my guess is you have a higher risk of dying in a car accident by accepting a ride from a friend than becoming converted after having bareback sex with a person who is poz and treated (http://www.ccmta.ca/english/pdf/collision_stats_03_e.pdf).

    So…I think I agree with you in broad strokes. But to be honest, I found it hard to get here the way you wrote your piece.

  54. sc_8a7c315edc3d46ff4ddd1e23af953f65 says

    This is entire article is a pretty shallow attempt to excuse cowardly behavior. Withholding important health information from a partner is a moral failing. Reasonable people can disagree about what level of punishment is appropriate, but it does not make someone a prude (or as you say, not really sex-positive) for demanding people be upfront and disclose that information.

    Bravo to abbeycadabra for making a well-reasoned reply. This entire post is a flimsy.

  55. peachbraxton says

    As the HIV- partner of someone who is HIV+, I must say that it never ceases to disgust me how fear can erode the rationale of otherwise logical people. And that’s what I’m seeing a lot of here in the comments: fear, which generally stems from ignorance. Case in point:

    “It doesn’t matter what the viral load is. Infected is infected.”

    This is just patently false. A viral load *does* matter. It means that the virus is not replicating itself in that person’s system. If it’s not replicating, it’s not doing.. well.. anything. The virus is still there, however, hiding in the person’s bone marrow. But that poses virtually no threat to anyone else. (I use the word “virtually” because I refrain from speaking in absolutes when it comes to science. Just as lesbian sex yields virtually no threat of transmission of HIV, it would be foolish to state that it is definitely impossible to contract the virus in this manner.) This puts this particular HIV+ individual in a completely different category than that of a person who is not on HAART, because the likelihood of that person transmitting the virus sexually is as low as anyone else’s status. So… should such an individual be charged with sexual assault for not revealing his/her status to a sex partner? A full, resounding NO.

    With that said, if a person turns his/her body and disease into a weapon and uses it maliciously against others with such depraved indifference, then the conversation moves into a completely different direction.

  56. says

    In a nutshell, my heavily-decried argument is that with something as important as HIV, not disclosing *is* depraved indifference: it strongly suggests that you don’t care what happens to your partner – or rather, that you care about their health less than your own discomfort in disclosing. Most of HG’s arguments sounded to me like making excuses for making it okay to not disclose.

  57. medivh says

    HaifischGeweint, you’ve changed my mind and opinions about how to deal with HIV in the community. I was unaware that treatments for poz people were good enough to render HIV uninfectious or undetectable. This changes everything, trolls in the comments be damned.

  58. JimmyV says

    What kind of irresponsible piece of shit human being completely disregards the potential well being of a sexual partner like this?

  59. says

    When I was not-really-but-really-diagnosed with HPV, I didn’t inherit an automatic endowment of understanding and knowledge about what that means. It took me ten years to learn as much as I now know about it.

    I don’t think becoming converted is any different — nor is one required to become poz in order to learn about it.

  60. says

    Not knowing how to practice safer sex or how to start talking to your prospective partner about their STI status (instead of waiting for them) is not the answer to this “moral failing”.

  61. says

    Maybe you weren’t paying attention:

    A lot of people.

    I mean, like, A LOT. of people.

    People who avoid getting tested because they are afraid of testing positive for something (Why? Are people who have an STI treated poorly or something?)

    People who don’t go back for testing after a few months, because they’re satisfied that being tested right away and getting rubber-stamped “clean” was all they needed to do.

    People who don’t know how to practice safer sex, and don’t even understand how complex HIV is, now that drug treatments are effective to the point of preventing transmission in many cases in North America.

    People who say things like “HIV is the deadliest disease and the only STI that kills people without treatment” (apparently they haven’t heard of hepatitis).

    And on and on and on.

    The problem isn’t HIV, and the solution isn’t criminalizing it. The problem is seriously problematic dominant social attitudes and bad sex education in public schools.

    Oh yeah, and pro-life groups doing everything they can to shut down or interfere with safer sex resources like Planned Parenthood and Options For Sexual Health.

  62. says

    The comments section here showed me what I already knew: a majority of people want all the sex they can get their hands on, with none of the responsibilities for reaching out and grabbing it.

    I really appreciate your comment, peachbraxton.

  63. says

    I agree with Crommunist above, about “the erosion of consent”. Though what stuck out to me as I was reading this was that it is so hard to prove rape that false rape accusations are basically ridiculous…unless the accuser has other social factors on their side: in this case, an assumption that no non-poz person would consent to sex with a poz person.

    So, I guess, we can’t say that making laws is ever clear-cut, but I don’t really think that fixing these effective criminalizations of HIV would have even a small effect of worsening rape culture.

  64. says

    “don’t take this the wrong way”

    You mean, “but do realize that my expressed opinion is an obvious effort to make someone feel inadequate, while pretending to be nice so that I can act injured if anyone objects”?

    Okay.

  65. says

    Brandon, come on, try stepping back from your immunologist role for a sec and see why HG is saying what he is saying.

    You are familiar with the use of the word “infection” in contexts of medicine and biology. Fine. But immunologists do not have control over the connotations of how “infection” is used by lay people, in social contexts. If “infection” is a word that carries a stigma, then as someone who has studied these issues in society, HG would know that and you should listen when he suggests alternatives for social contexts.

  66. medivh says

    Well, as I said, the kicker for me was the fact that medicine has gotten good enough to as-near-as-makes-no-difference nullify transmission risk. Making HIV undetectable in poz people was the bold-underline-highlight over the top of that. I’m not sure if it’s the same in Canada, but that kind of information is severely lacking in penetration in Australia. If it was more widely known that catching HIV off someone who’s poz requires not only having sex coupled with some bad luck, but some serious risk to the poz person’s own health (in that they’re off antiretrovirals and willing to risk being vulnerable to any cold or flu hanging around in order to convert others), then fear might well go down.

    I seem to be a little weird in being able to let go of the whole HIV=AIDS=death equation. I think that forcing people to make the distinction between “HIV positive” and “has AIDS” might help because, as far as I understand, AIDS really is a near death sentence purely on the basis of being so severely immunocompromised. Making a distinction might help with that perception, maybe? This kind of thing needs to be wrapped up in some adult outreach sex-ed. Again, I’m not sure about Canada, but Australia doesn’t really do much adult sex-ed and our in-school program isn’t all that great to begin with.

  67. says

    I had no idea there were so few programs, advocacy services, etc, to disseminate updated information about stuff like how HIV doesn’t automatically mean death anymore.

    What’s the healthcare situation like over there? It doesn’t cost anything to start a Facebook page or a petition, or to write up a press release to start getting the word out (such as if you decided you had plans to do a single public demonstration, or if you found out what the law states in Australia about HIV/AIDS and found it was a similar situation as here, or if you wanted to start petitioning the government to do an overhaul on public sex education). Maybe there are sexual health clinics and services, and they just aren’t very well-known? It would be a good start in any event to try and find them first.

  68. says

    And as with anything, individual mileage may vary with drug treatments, but the point is that drug treatments have actually advanced to the point of making people who were previously converted virtually undetectable, non-transmissible, or at extremely low/impossible risk of transmission even without a condom.

  69. BitPhr3ak says

    So I guess we could also call a background check on a childcare worker as a bigoted action as well?

    I mean, who am I to ask another adult if they have been convicted of sexually abusing a child; after all pedophilia is a disease, and the childcare worker who is inflicted with this disease is still and individual.

    Why should they have to disclose something that might stigmatize them in the face of others.

    Like the sexual partner of someone who has HIV/AIDs who doesn’t disclose this information to said sexual partner why should we care if the well being of children are at risk.

    Yeah, sure, seems legit, if you’re a Solipsist :(

  70. says

    You know what’s really fucking stupid about the “your responsibility to ask them” argument, as applied to this circumstance?

    They might lie, or they might not know.

    “You clean?”
    “Totes”
    “A’ight, let’s bareback”

    …that’s NOT an example of safer sex practices.

    The partner who HAS the STI is the partner who also carries the burden and responsibility of KNOWING.

    That’s what makes most of the difference to me.

    The rest of the difference comes form the questions of harm, informed consent, and putting someone at risk.

    One might make the comparison to trans-status disclosure, but that isn’t, in itself, going to hurt anyone… and if some “emotional harm” is caused, that’s a byproduct of the cissexist baggage that partner was carrying with them into the bedroom.

    HIV, however, isn’t a social system like cissexism, it’s a biological system. It’s not relativistic, and it doesn’t give a fuck about our perceptions of it. And it’s NOT reasonable to consider someone’s desire to protect themselves from “conversion” (a term I usually only see in “bug chaser” contexts… what the fuck?) to be merely an issue of cultural baggage. While many people have illegitimately exaggerated or bigoted perceptions (“infected is infected!”), the basic assumption that your sex partner isn’t going to knowingly put your health at risk just to spare themselves from hypothetically negative reactions ISN’T unreasonable to make.

  71. says

    I think you’ll find if you were paying attention, rather than looking for what every dissenting voice apparently wants you to find, that I specifically stated that I stand opposed to people who avoid getting tested, and I encourage people to actually educate themselves on what safer sex means (instead of assuming, as many people I very strongly oppose do, that if you don’t have say anything say, it’s because you don’t have anything).

    Again, no matter how much I encourage safer sex, here you are (like so many other people I’m sure you’ve noticed) addressing me as if I’m encouraging people to knowingly take risks with their own safety and say “fuck it” to safer sex. This is just not what’s going on here. I’m challenging a law that puts people in prison when they have sex while poz, because their partner blew a fit when they found out after the fact, after taking no safer sex precautions at all for their own safety.

    And I can’t even make heads or tails of the last statement you tacked onto the end there.

  72. says

    Btw, if you want to talk about “looking for things to argue with” or whatever, or “finding what you wanted to find”, maybe consider why you assumed this was addressed at you at all?

    Honestly, Jamie, I… I don’t even know how to describe my perceptions of your rhetoric and your approaches and how you deal with people in a way that wouldn’t be hostile. I just don’t know how to deal with you anymore, other than pure anger and exasperation.

  73. says

    Well if you’re going to repeat the same garbage you’ve read all over Twitter or someone else’s blog, rather than engage with what I’ve actually written here, I’m not going to address your concerns as if, say, you were actually engaging what I’ve said.

    Pretty simple equation, though I’m sure that that means the opposite somehow by tomorrow, and I’m a bad person for saying it (even though I said the opposite).

  74. says

    Hey there. You left a comment not directed at anyone, on a blog post I published.

    One that resembles a lot of the comments in this comments section on this very same blog post, in which a lot of people did the exact same thing.

    But I’m supposed to know you meant to address someone different, so that you don’t get mad at me for responding to you as though you were addressing me just like everyone else who did the exact same thing?

    OK, then. Get mad.

  75. No Light says

    OK, hypothetical scenario time. It’s Friday night, and you want to unwind. You occasionally use pot, you’ve taken MDMA before, so you call up a friend.

    Your friend arrives with a bottle of pills. No label, no identifying info just little orange pills. Friend hands over the bottle to you, and what do you do?

    a) Ask what they are.

    b) Ask what they are, how to use them (swallowed, sublingually, buccally), how many to take, what to expect, what to avoid (like alcohol, prescription drugs, becoming dehydrated) and what possible risks there are.

    c) Grab the bottle, open it, tip the contents into your mouth, then wash them all down with a swig of vodka.

    If c is your choice and your entire body turns purple, leading to discrimination and volleys of hateful invective, is it your friend’s fault? Do you call the police and tell them he’s a dealer to get revenge?

  76. medivh says

    Healthcare in Australia is “universal” in as far as that goes. Through a government organisation called medicare, I have access to the basics for free, but if I need surgery to reduce pain rather than being strictly life-saving I have to come up with 66% of the cost, last I checked. Mental health is a new addition, if and only if you need less than one session a month, and dental health is soon to be covered. All in all, there are worse systems but I’d make a massive raft of changes were it in my control.

    There are sexual health clinics that bulk bill. Basically, they take your medicare card number and deal with the government for their money leaving you free to pretend that no money changed hands. They’re not as common as in the US, though, as Australians tend to use their primary care physicians (we call them GPs in the great aussie tradition of shortening everything) as the jumping off point for everything medical. Were I in need of STI tests, I’d probably go to my GP and get her to get my blood off to a lab. Unfortunately, GPs are almost the extent of adult sex-ed as well; I haven’t seen any information on STIs that wasn’t either from the internet or from my GP since about grade 10. The last thing any Australian government had to say on HIV was this scary mofo of a TV commercial back in the 70s or 80s.

    Typing this out is making me think more and more that I should be trying to make some noise about this. And I know people who are in feminist advocacy organisations that I should be able to get at least pointers from. I’d also have to speak to people in other parts of the country – I don’t know how widely spread Sydney’s reputation is but Australia impression of Sydney is a mix between New York and San Francisco, and I don’t live there so I don’t know how well the San Fran part of that reputation does with STI information. Still, I have a place to start.

    With the drug/treatment bit, I guess I was a bit flippant and generalising on a topic that’s really too sensitive for that. Sorry for that one, I’ll do better next time.

  77. medivh says

    No Light:

    What if, to extend your hypothetical, your choice was C. You turned purple, you got discriminated against and you suffered volleys of hateful invective.
    1) A bad decision, once, invites discrimination? Invites hateful invective? If you think yes, I’m wondering where your compassion and your conscience have disappeared to.
    2) Even granting 1)’s answer as yes; continue on the hypothetical. You get treated, your skin clears up and while you’ve chopped a few time units from your life with a bad mistake, you’re indistigusable from someone who didn’t make that mistake. Are you saying that you still deserve discrimination and hate? If so, I’m having a hard time picturing you as human and still saying that. Because that is a monsterous opinion to have.

  78. says

    No, you’re a bad person for being repeatedly inredibly hostile, condescending and demanding that everyone give you the benefit of the doubt while YOU immediately jump for the jugular at the slighest provocation. You’re a hypocrite, and you’re UNBELIEVABLY toxic for every community or space you ever step foot in, and frankly, I don’t know why I bother engaging.

  79. Mr Dank says

    Spot on Natalie. Thank you. The bug-chaser/gift giver terminology is stomach turning. With allies like that, who needs enemies.

  80. Nepenthe says

    how much I encourage safer sex, here you are (like so many other people I’m sure you’ve noticed) addressing me as if I’m encouraging people to knowingly take risks with their own safety and say “fuck it” to safer sex.

    You can promote safer sex until you’re blue in the face, but you’re still basically saying “don’t have education about STIs? Fuck you.” Don’t know how to have safer sex, don’t know how to get tested, don’t know how to negotiate with sex partners? In an abusive relationship with an HIV+ partner? Well fuck you then if your partner decides to expose you to infection–excuse me, “conversion”–with a deadly* disease because you should have known better. You’re screwed and the HIV+ person is at status quo.

    I don’t think I have to explain how heavily that boot falls on the most marginalized HIV- groups.

    *I enjoy the assumption that everyone is healthy enough that an additional infection of HIV is no big deal.

  81. Nepenthe says

    unless, as Michael Vonn says, you freeze and label your used condoms and get signed waivers from all your sex partners indicating that they knew your status before you had sex

    Shades of the MRA rallying cry “feminists want us to get signed waivers before having sex!”

  82. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Mr Danksworth is a slimepit denizen who is using transphobic slurs there about people here.

  83. says

    Well that sounds like a great start. I find that a lot of people seek out the blood testing and sex ed advice from their GPs here, too. A couple of problems with that approach:

    – a lot of people don’t know enough about the blood testing paperwork, that they can specifically know to ask for certain tests if they see that the GP hasn’t checked it off or written it in (and here, anyway, GPs will avoid checking off certain tests unless they are specifically requested, because testing is expensive and it is seen as unnecessary, even for something for which 98% of exposed individuals are asymptomatic for at least the first 8 weeks — and I’m talking about chlamydia here, the most contagious and widespread STI out here).

    – a lot of people don’t have any idea how little training GPs receive on gender and sexuality in med school. It’s about 2 days here.

    So I empathize very much with your situation. I would actually recommend contacting the guy whose video I linked to in this blog post, and ask him about whether there are HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations in Australia, or if he does not know, from whom you might find out. I sent him an email asking for any information about US law he could share with me, and I am delighted to report that he sent a boatload of information back (including this website: http://www.seroproject.com which has a lot of US-specific information on it but also links to other organizations).

    He may be able to recommend speakers you could contact in the event you wanted to get the help of any one of those feminist organizations, to put on a community forum.

    It made me cringe, reading that the last thing the government had to say about HIV/AIDS was a commercial from the time of the original panic outbreak and actual beginnings of the epidemic, when people still thought it was dangerous to even shake hands with someone who is poz.

  84. says

    I don’t think that individual is arguing in favour of discrimination and hate against anyone.

    In fact, I think if anything, they are arguing that discrimination and hate against poz people, for the self-neglect of people who are not poz while engaging intimately with them, is wrong.

    From something I received yesterday on this issue:

    “Prosecuting the failure to disclose values the “right” to an illusion of safety over the privacy rights of those with HIV.”

  85. says

    I’m challenging discrimination against people who are poz who aren’t going around misleading, lying, or otherwise deliberately misinforming their sexual partners, and your entire argument hinges upon a magnitude of ignorance that flies in the face of everything I’ve just said.

    Forgive me if I don’t take seriously that you want to change the entire premise on which my argument is written, so that you can have a completely different conversation instead of engaging with the issue of how poz people who are doing nothing wrong are still being treated like they are subhuman.

    Here’s an idea: if you want to engage on the issue of people who are poz and their responsibility to educate their partners about safer sex, why don’t you write a blog post about it?

    Could it be because most people who are poz, who are taking care of themselves, are actually already doing MORE to protect their partners by educating themselves and their partners as much as possible, than most people who are either not poz or who currently avoid getting tested so they can pretend they aren’t?

  86. says

    OH, see, this is just brilliant of you. Comparing anyone who is poz to a men’s rights activist TOTALLY dismantles existing anti-poz bigotry that equates being HIV+ with being a rapist!

    Even better yet, comparing organized online hatred to a not-for-profit organization that advocates for individual people AND for the entire country, against all levels of the Canadian government, when it is clear that the government has instituted a harmful and/or discriminatory double-standard that strips away the rights of the country’s ordinary citizens!

    You’re just full of win, aren’t you?! I can see my work here is done. Time for popcorn.

  87. Nepenthe says

    Comparing anyone who is poz to a men’s rights activist TOTALLY dismantles existing anti-poz bigotry that equates being HIV+ with being a rapist!

    You missed a euphemism there. Shouldn’t that be “equates being poz with being a rapist”?

    Maybe I’m just a bigot, but I’m missing how one “with this law in effect we can never prove consent and our partners will change their minds later and say we raped them, zomg hatred” group is different from another in this particular instance.

    And seriously, how is this not cribbed directly from any MRA site about false rape claims:

    Anyone with a bone to pick against a poz sex partner in Canada now has a golden ticket to ruin that person’s life, livelihood, public reputation, and ability to maintain and secure gainful employment, safe housing, or custody of their own children, by dragging them through a guaranteed media circus and criminal court.

    “Nuh-uh” does not constitute an argument. Nor does yelling the word “bigot”.

  88. says

    The most acute difference between MRAs and people who are poz is that people who are poz are actually hated (even if they seek treatment and education about their condition to prevent new conversions) and have been treated since the arrival of HIV as though they are dangerous to even shake hands with or share a drinking fountain with; whereas men are socially privileged (even if it is true that MRAs are also hated and considered dangerous — although that is invited upon them the fact that they are a hate movement).

    Of course, I shouldn’t have to explain that to someone who prides themselves on what a critical thinker they are, because they would be able to determine this conclusion independently instead of seeking the answer from me after raising the comparison in the first place.

    HIV/AIDS is also an intersectional problem of stigma, as the population most disproportionately condemned by it and anti-HIV law (i.e., men of colour — especially gay men of colour) are already most disproportionately condemned by unwarranted attention from law enforcement and the greater (in)justice system. Whereas MRAs seem to think white supremacy doesn’t exist either, and tend most often to be straight white men.

    I already stated I’m not going to address the racial issue here, but HIV/AIDS is also linked historically to LGBTQ history, as it was first referred to as gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome, and it was thought straights were socially immune.

    But you know. Just keep throwing around whatever radically loaded analogy you can, to shut me down out of guilt, because you’re so personally offended that I think it’s bigoted to treat or talk about someone who is poz as if they were a weapon of mass destruction. I’ll just keep writing about it, not relying at all on the same kinds of analogous reasoning and silencing tactics while I do.

  89. Nepenthe says

    Well, thanks for pointing out the difference between men and HIV+ people, but that’s not what I asked. I’m asking why the rhetoric is the same and the reasoning is the same–it’s critical that people get to have sex without necessarily procuring enthusiastic consent and are protected from other people changing their minds and crying rape–but it’s okay when it’s used for HIV+ people and obviously ridiculous when used for men.

    As you point out HIV is an intersectional problem. 85% of women who are infected in the USA are infected through heterosexual sex. Male-to-female transmission is significantly more likely to occur than female-to-male transmission, making a single encounter with an infected person significantly more damaging to a female person than a male person. Add in the delight of coercion in male-female sexual relationships and I see you have yet another way to screw over women, particularly any group of women more likely to be unable to negotiate for safer sex. But please, don’t bother to address them if that would silence you.

    Just keep throwing around whatever radically loaded analogy you can, to shut me down out of guilt, because you’re so personally offended that I think it’s bigoted to treat or talk about someone who is poz as if they were a weapon of mass destruction.

    Guilt? Personally offended? Seriously? The only thing that personally offends me about you is your wanton abuse of the English language. But feel free to project whatever you like onto me; I couldn’t give a fuck.

  90. says

    I’m asking why the rhetoric is the same and the reasoning is the same

    Applied at opposite ends of social inequality, it is not at all the same. This is such a basic principle of social justice and understanding a concept like privilege, that without this point of unity, a conversation can’t happen.

    it’s critical that people get to have sex without necessarily procuring enthusiastic consent and are protected from other people changing their minds and crying rape

    Frankly, I find it icky to think that anyone would prefer a reluctant partner. For what is sex without enthusiastic consent, but sex with someone who is reluctant? People express their enthusiastic consent variably — this is not the same thing as informed consent (a concept which a statistical majority of lay persons will not understand as well as they may claim).

    I find it icky that someone would expect informed consent from a particular group of people, while operating under the default assumption that no one they consent to is ever going to be from that particular group of people, and thus not advocating for the informed consent they expect until after it’s too late (at which point, it’s all that other person’s fault).

    making a single encounter with an infected person significantly more damaging to a female person than a male person

    either in the event of unprotected sex with someone who doesn’t know their status because they avoid getting tested so that they will have a legal defense if they are criminally charged, or in the event of unprotected sex with someone whose viral load is sufficiently high as to present the likelihood of passing the virus on to another person.

    It is simply not true that this single encounter is damaging if the individual’s viral load is too low to pass the virus on, yet said individual can still be subject to criminal charges. And while it is true that this single encounter is damaging if the individual does not know about their status because they’ve been avoiding testing, it is not true that it is somehow more damaging to a female partner than to any other person said individual may have exposed while they didn’t know their status. Higher probability (which I think you will find is hard to demonstrate when comparing penile-vaginal sex to penile-anal sex) is not the same as higher damages. But guess what? Not knowing is a legal defense where non-disclosure is criminalized, so people are motivated to not get tested!

    I couldn’t give a fuck.

    If only the evidence was consistent with this sentiment.

  91. Nepenthe says

    This addresses the gendered nature of HIV transmission–that women are overwhelmingly infected by men–and how that ties in with rape culture how? (Yeah, two can play the social justice jargon game.)

    (Somehow it seems telling that one of the plaintiffs for the new court ruling was a man who raped a 12-year-old.)

    Could you rephrase the following in a coherent way so that I could respond to it?

    I find it icky that someone would expect informed consent from a particular group of people, while operating under the default assumption that no one they consent to is ever going to be from that particular group of people, and thus not advocating for the informed consent they expect until after it’s too late (at which point, it’s all that other person’s fault).

  92. says

    How exactly do you think these men are becoming converted themselves?

    If you can’t decode Obvious Double Standard Of Consent For Poz People, then I’m not going to do any more work to help you.

  93. says

    And by “help you”, I mean “engage you in this conversation assuming that you are attempting to engage sincerely on your own behalf, rather than attack someone for calling out bigotry you apparently want to keep to yourself — Oh, until that is, you find out they are poz.”

  94. Nepenthe says

    How exactly do you think these men are becoming converted themselves?

    Presumably by having sex with other men or by using intravenous drugs, neither of which involves a power gradient. The numbers don’t exactly work out for even rates of female-to-male and male-to-female transmission. So, not only are women less able to protect themselves from HIV by insisting on safer sex practices or even insisting on consent period, they are more likely to be infected by men (with every STI I’m aware of, not just HIV). But apparently this is understandable, because a HIV+ man is less powerful than an HIV- woman and plus she might cry rape later… or something. Maybe the anti-false rape rhetoric only applies between gay men, I’m really not sure on this point.

    you are attempting to engage sincerely on your own behalf, rather than attack someone for calling out bigotry you apparently want to keep to yourself

    Seriously, what the fuck. Words mean something; sentences are not games of 52-card pickup. I want to keep bigotry to myself? Does the “on my own behalf” imply that I’m only allowed to engage if I’m having sex with HIV+ people, or am a woman, or maybe HIV+ myself?

  95. says

    I asked you how exactly you think all these poz men are becoming converted in the first place, because while you’re so busy advocating for women who aren’t even becoming converted to be able to lock those men up in prison and have them registered as sex offenders (in some instances, I agree that this is appropriate, but those instances are rare), you don’t seem at all interested in advocating for the same punishment against the men who converted all those poz men who you seem to believe are running around exposing as many hetero women as they can.

    It’s almost as if you don’t believe men who are already poz deserve the same legal rights as people who might be at risk of exposure by enthusiastically consenting to unprotected sex, assuming by default that the person they are consenting to is “clean”.

    You know. Just a quiet little double-standard that the entire original post is actually all about. In case you forgot.

  96. Nepenthe says

    you don’t seem at all interested in advocating for the same punishment against the men who converted all those poz men who you seem to believe are running around exposing as many hetero women as they can.

    I really dunno how you came to this conclusion. Yeah, the feminist thing does mean that I tend to focus on women, especially since you left us out of the picture, but HIV+ men who have sex with men are just as much culpable.

    I like your flippant dismissal of how HIV is transmitted to women. And by “like” I mean “find vaguely nauseating”.

    It’s almost as if you don’t believe men who are already poz deserve the same legal rights as people who might be at risk of exposure by enthusiastically consenting to unprotected sex…

    No one has the legal right to expose someone else to a deadly infection. There is no positive legal right to sex.

    You still have not address the salient point. As Rinus points out: “Some people are too poorly educated to fully grasp the risks that accompany sex (particularly, I should think, in certain areas of the U.S. where sex education is abysmal)”. Add to that the power differentials that mitigate consent, especially for women. The person who is infected already knows the risks of sex; saying that they have no obligation to their partners is a big ol’ fuck you to those who can’t, for whatever reason, “take some responsibility for what [they]’re doing with whatever [they’re] packing between [their] legs.” Maybe Clato Mabior’s 12-year-old “partner” should have taken responsibility for her genitals.

  97. says

    Ah-huh. Dismissed women, huh. Left them out of the picture, huh. I’m done addressing you any further. I’m sure I’ll be waiting for baited breath for your blog post on the subject.

  98. John Morales says

    HaifischGeweint:

    Most people who are poz aren’t walking around with such an active and excessively contagious infectious process coursing through their circulatory system that it is in any way appropriate to refer to them as “infected”.

    This is a ridiculous assertion.

    (Yes, I have read the previous comments)

    The point is that words like “infected” and “infection”, when talking about people who are poz, carries a connotation of uncleanliness, filth, and/or viral transmission — again, medical intervention has actually advanced to the point that many poz people are no-transmissible or even un-detectable (I’ve seen it with my own eyes while working for a doctor whose only poz patient had been non-transmissible for 13 years and started testing un-detectable).

    Maybe so, but utterly denying the straight-forward meaning of a word as you have done carries a connotation that you’re a bullshitter.

    (Also, if it’s undetectable in someone, upon what basis do you make the claim that someone is poz?)

  99. Germanguy says

    Holy comment rage explosion, Batman!

    I’m not sure if I am understanding all this correctly, so I’ll summarize and hope to be corrected where applicable:

    SharkCried’s positon: “HIV+ individuals that for whatever reason except malice or what one might call malicious ignorance of their HIV status expose an HIV- person to their genital secretions and/or anal mucosa are not the only ones at fault for this exposure, since the other partner should have asked. Thus, no specific legal punishment.”

    A random synthesis of what’s in the comments: “As it can be reasonably expected of HIV+ individuals to at least slightly inform themselves about HIV and thus be more aware of the risks involved, it is primarily their burden to ensure that the other person knows about their infection. Thus maybe punishment, but not as rape.”

    An Offer from my little Kraut mind: Do not punish simple neglegient ignorance of HIV status. While everyone being smart and all is a nice ideal, you can’t fault stupid people for being stupid, or scared people for being scared. Gross neglegience is different.
    However, DO punish those who bring others into contact, or cause others to be brought into contact with, HI virions, whether via sexual relations, syringe, or thrown semen-coated rock*. Separate the act of (possible) infection from the sex, at least legally. Is there a legal construct along the lines of ‘actions likely to cause bodily harm?’ Use that then.

    *Emergency snark injection, had to do it. Carry on.

  100. says

    Dictionary definition =/= connotation.

    Inappropriate to say (because connotation) =/= changing the meaning of the definition of a word.

    Poz means you are a carrier. Whether you are contagious or not is a separate distinction.

  101. says

    I’m going to address a couple of things you said there, with the highlighted passage being my focal point in each event.

    HIV+ individuals that for whatever reason except malice or what one might call malicious ignorance of their HIV status expose an HIV- person to their genital secretions and/or anal mucosa are not the only ones at fault for this exposure, since the other partner should have asked. Thus, no specific legal punishment.

    You seem to have indicated here that I’m perfectly ok with people who avoid getting tested so that they have a legal defense in the event they are criminally charged for converting another person. I am not. See the original post, where I explicitly stated that no matter what your status, I strongly disagree with avoiding STI testing and/or safer sex with people whose STI status is not known at the time.

    Then there’s this part:

    HIV+ individuals that for whatever reason except malice or what one might call malicious ignorance of their HIV status expose an HIV- person to their genital secretions and/or anal mucosa are not the only ones at fault for this exposure, since the other partner should have asked. Thus, no specific legal punishment.

    Exposure to what? To their genital secretions and/or mucosa, which they were consenting to be exposed to if they opted out of safer sex, either by not insisting on it or by literally opting out when asked? Or do you mean to say perceived threat of HIV transmission, even in the event that HIV transmission is impossible because they are non-transmissible, or even undetectable? These are two different things, I am careful to distinguish.

    Then this:

    HIV+ individuals that for whatever reason except malice or what one might call malicious ignorance of their HIV status expose an HIV- person to their genital secretions and/or anal mucosa are not the only ones at fault for this exposure, since the other partner should have asked. Thus, no specific legal punishment.

    They should only have asked if they actually believe that they expected informed consent. No one can honestly believe in their own head that they expected informed consent if they didn’t ask, because they were operating on the default assumption at the time that no one they are going to get it on with has anything to spread except their legs. This “informed consent” issue is a rationalization in hindsight if there was no conversation about STI status or safer sex. Unless your default approach is to start that conversation about STI status and/or safer sex with all your sexual partners, you can’t possibly believe that you actually expected informed consent.

    And finally, this part:

    Thus, no specific criminal punishment.

    Corrected that for you. Being poz isn’t a crime. Daring to have sex while poz shouldn’t be either.

    You also seem to have a much more optimistic interpretation of how other people are responding to this issue.

  102. John Morales says

    [1] Dictionary definition =/= connotation.

    [2] Inappropriate to say (because connotation) =/= changing the meaning of the definition of a word.

    [3] Poz means you are a carrier. Whether you are contagious or not is a separate distinction.

    1. Yes, thus my “maybe so” — I’m granting your point, arguendo, that these connotations may exist.

    2. Your claim was that it was not “in any way appropriate” to use the term “infected” to refer to someone who harbours a virus; this ineluctably implies that you reject its canonical sense — that is, what the dictionary (and the medical literature) indicates it means — and therefore it must mean something else to you.

    3. “Infected” also means one is a carrier, and “infectious” means one is contagious. These are quite ordinary terms, and to substitute other terminology such as “converted”* does not change the semantics.

    As an aside, from your own link above I note that “Seroreversion is the opposite of seroconversion”, from which it follows that were you consistent, you’d refer to those whose poz status is undetectable as the “reverted”.

    * I note that ‘converted’ also has connotations. They are hard to avoid.

    PS I refer you to the concept of euphemism treadmill.

  103. John Morales says

    Ah, I think get you now. You meant ‘morally inappropriate from [your] social justice perspective’ when you wrote “in any way appropriate”.

    (I presume you don’t dispute that it’s medically appropriate)

  104. says

    The ONLY thing I am going to address out of all of that is that it seems to me that to refer to someone who is poz but with an undetectable viral load as reverted rather than converted or poz is equivalent to saying they are in remission, or in many people’s minds, even cured.

    People who don’t even know that this is effectively possible in some cases with successful treatment received soon enough, which apparently is a majority of the people who contributed comments here (not surprising, considering it will be a majority of the general public too), certainly aren’t going to know about that either.

    That’s part of the problem. When people can’t even accept that not being contagious is a part of reality, someone can be for all intents and purposes cured from the medical problem of being poz, but that will not cure them from the social problem of being considered poz and all that HIV+ status connotes — never mind the fact that if they stop taking the medication, the medical problem comes back. Would it be appropriate to say reverted? At this point, I’m inclined to say no.

    Never mind the fact that I haven’t seen or heard of anyone referring to “reverted” status (yet “becoming converted” and “poz” are at least in common use within certain communities).

  105. Nepenthe says

    To their genital secretions and/or mucosa, which they were consenting to be exposed to if they opted out of safer sex, either by not insisting on it or by literally opting out when asked?

    ZOMG, not everyone has the ability to insist on safer sex. Not everyone has the ability to give meaningful consent period. This is, like, Life in Kyriarchy 101.

  106. No Light says

    Mediv- I worded that so badly. I do not mean that anyone with any
    condition deserves hateful invective. I meant that in a
    kyriarchy that delights in taunting the other, such an outcome is
    sadly inevitable.

    I get this fourfold, so no, I would not wish it on anyone.

    I want work done to educate and eliminate stigma over sexuality/gender
    identity/disability and chronic and mental illnesses/race and cultural
    identity/physicality/socioeconomic status.

    Unfortunately none of that benefits the kyriarchy. It’s easier to
    enact legislation that demonises, than to effect measures that
    equalise. Sadly, my own efforts (at direct action through education)
    were cut brutally short. Luckily it was a group resource, so it’s
    going on without me. It’s making a dent though, and girls and women
    are really benefiting from it.

    As to the HIV thing, I’m too close to it, and my clumsy analogy showed that.

    I had to learn how fucking pathetic the UK system is, when someone
    very close to me managed to get to end-stage HIV without a single
    medical professional offering a test to a non-monogamous sexually
    active gay man, who had been ill for a year with classic signs of
    initial HIV seroconversion. If medical professionals are so ignorant,
    then everyone else is fucked. There hasn’t been a mass media campaign
    since “Don’t Die of Ignorance” (’85?) and so people are dying of
    ignorance

    . Add to that, a partner who was bizarrely devastated that he
    hadn’t contracted it (I know. He had a history of factitious
    disorders, and he always craved medical attention, so seeing C getting
    so much of it enraged him )and then threatened legal action against C,
    saying he intended to tell police that C was aware of his status, and
    had tried to infect their other sexual partners. That’s why the
    legal angle spooked me. I wasn’t objectively looking at it, I was
    reliving the results of the actions of one very disturbed individual.
    I say that even as someone who’s worked in a forensic hospital, that’s
    how unbalanced he is, and unfortunately C is still with him. Alive
    and well thanks to HAART, but living under the shadow of an emotional
    terrorist.

    I think that’s why
    I’m uneasy about the motivation behind using legal means to curb
    infection rates. Then, remembering my first life, among people who
    can easily get through life and multiple pregnancies without ever
    hearing words like ‘sex’, ‘vagina’ or ‘penis’, I realise how
    insurmountable total educational coverage is. The small amount of
    privilege that escape afforded me had temporarily clouded my vision.

    I don’t know what the solution is. Mass, in-depth, long-term
    education is the only answer (here in the UK),, and combined with the
    fact that there are free clinics to ensure that testing is always
    available, and to supply barriers of all kinds, real progress could be
    made.

    Then I remember that there are whole communities that would never
    allow the education, where sex is taboo and restricted harshly even
    between married couples, so totally uneducated, sexually ignorant men
    resort to whatever sex they can get for free or very cheaply.

    They go back home, back to their wives, convinced that prayer and
    ritual bathing keeps them safe. Only completely annihilating that way
    of life can put a dent in the harm done. I have a sneaking suspicion
    that these communities are hiding more than a few cases of HIV and
    other STIs

    In these cases neither education or legislation will help. Accidental
    ignorance can be resolved, but deliberate, determined, stubborn
    ignorance is incurable.

    I don’t even know what to think anymore. I almost feel relieved that
    I’m out of the sexual health education game, because it seems
    catastrophically hard to tackle.

    Sorry for rambling. This has kept me up. When I get back on my
    wheels I may have to discuss it with my friend. Till then I’ll have
    to chew it over on my own.

  107. Mr Dank says

    strange gods before me ॐ
    December 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm (UTC 0) Link to this comment
    Mr Danksworth is a slimepit denizen who is using transphobic slurs there about people here.

    *Citations needed.* If you are going to make accusations, at least link to a screen cap or something. Yeesh.

  108. strange gods before me ॐ says

    My purpose in commenting was to inform others here who they are dealing with. (Aside: D4M10N upthread is a pitter too, but off the top of my head I don’t recall him using any transphobic slurs.)

    I do not want to cause anyone here unnecessary stress, by relaying the specific content of your slurs, simply to serve your ego. If an FtB blogger asks me for a citation, then I will provide one.

  109. Mr Dank says

    That’s a pretty weak excuse for not being able to find any of these supposed ‘slurs’. Feel free to come on over to the Pit and share your knowledge.

  110. Mr Dank says

    Feel free to back up your assertions. If not, you have just participated in a nice useless ad hom attack based on nothing. Typical FTB behavior. Is it meant to discredit the point that, regardless of where I post, it is the common consensus that one should probably inform their partner if they are HIV+, and to not do so is the height of selfishness and stupidity.

  111. says

    The issue, ultimately, concerns the role of the criminal law in the context of sexually-transmitted pathogens. To the extent it does have such a role, it should be informed by:

    1). State of mind; did the person have a malicious intent to harm another?

    2). Degree of risk present; what was the actual chance of inflicting a harm?

    3). Was there a harm inflicted, namely, transmission of a dangerous pathogen?

    4). Like harms must be treated alike in the law. You can’t single out one virus or prosecution because it is associated with an outlaw sexuality, or people of color or people who use drugs.

    I’ve not yet seen a conviction in the U.S. for a sexually-transmitted infection where the person was found to have had a pre-meditated intent to harm. There may be one (or some), but I haven’t run across the case.

    Reading the comments brings nothing to mind as much as an “arrogance of the well” who carry some sense that their HIV negative status is a right all others are obligated to protect, even at the expense of the dignity, privacy and safety of the other party.

    No one should knowingly put another person at risk of harm. But bringing the law into sexual relations between consenting adults (consent = willing) is a slippery slope. There are all sorts of things potential partners might share with us before becoming intimate that we might find relevant or that might affect our decision to bed them or not. Mandating such disclosure by law, at least in terms of HIV, does not make anyone safer, or have the effect of reducing new infections or facilitating disclosure.

    If people with HIV should be locked up for not disclosing, then shouldn’t others with other pathogens? Hepatitis? HPV (which killed 40,000 women in the US last year)? Many readers might say the flu shouldn’t count because it “isn’t deadly”, but it might be to someone with HIV or who is otherwise immune-compromised. Are their rights to such protection by the state inferior to those whose principal fear is HIV?

  112. says

    I’m not operating on the assumption that being poz would make someone a rapist by default, thanks.

    Most people who learn their status are better at insisting on safer sex, sharing information about risks, and doing what they can to mitigate/eliminate those risks (i.e., what would be considered “informed consent” in terms of sexuality), than those who avoid getting tested for fear of testing positive for anything.

    Criminalizing non-disclosure means more people will avoid testing or even treatment — after all, your only legal defense in that case is not knowing at all. And I will ask you again, how exactly do you think all those individuals are becoming converted in the first place?

    Where are all the angry advocates insisting that the people responsible for converting them, while not knowing they were poz, are thrown in prison too? Or is it because it’s now too late, that they don’t deserve the same rights as people who operate under the illusion of safety?

  113. says

    Let’s not play that game, thanks. Speaking as a trans person, I’d rather not have to deal with screen caps of some other website where someone is allegedly writing transphobic shit.

  114. says

    I’m in agreement that informing is the ethical thing to do. I’m not in agreement that failing to inform for any reason OTHER than deliberate malice, deserves the vilification you have appointed it here.

    Especially with people who claim to have expected informed consent in the event of actual or perceived threat of exposure to HIV, but who did absolutely nothing to protect themselves or advocate for the level of consent they would expect from a heart surgeon.

  115. says

    Seems perfectly clear to me that the Supreme Court of Canada assumes no one would ever knowingly consent to someone who is poz, and therefore the fact that rape occurred is evidenced by the fact that the poz individual successfully had sex at all.

    I am astounded to learn that a lot of US HIV-specific statutes are significantly less bigoted, even if they are still problematic. But I’m also flabbergasted by the fact that HIV-positive US citizens have been successfully convicted of acts of terrorism for Spitting While Poz.

  116. says

    @ Crommunist (December 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm)

    A recent study (Politch) published in AIDS showed that 25% of MSMs that had undetectable viral load in blood plasma had HIV in their semen, up to a copy number of around 2500.

    While having an undetectable viral load reduces the risk of HIV transmission substantially, I think it is worth being careful to not give the impression that an undetectable viral load in blood plasma completely eliminates the risk of HIV transmission. That could contribute to a false sense of security.

    Politch JA, Mayer KH, Welles SL, O’Brien WX, Xu C, Bowman FP, Anderson DJ. (2012). Highly active antiretroviral therapy does not completely suppress HIV in semen of sexually active HIV-infected men who have sex with men. AIDS. 26(12):1535-43.

  117. says

    Allow me to clarify before what I’m sure will turn into another wave of hand-wringing, name-calling, accusations, and panic:

    It’s great to talk about these risks with doctors, or nurses from the center for disease control, and so on, with your partner. In fact, I encourage it. That said, despite the existing difficulty of passing hepatitis through sex (I readily concede, not at all the same as passing untreated HIV through sex), people generally blow up the same “OMG A THREAT ON MY VERY LIFE” proportions when responding to the idea that they just had sex with someone who is currently medicated for hepatitis.

    What never ceases to amaze me is that no one seems concerned at all about the civil rights violations of the people they were just exposed to — i.e., how did they become converted in the first place? — because what matters more is that they’re scared of people who test positive for anything, no matter what the actual risk of transmission.

  118. says

    It’s telling that the few supportive comments in this thread analogized not telling a sexual partner that you are a carrier of HIV to night terrors and popping pills blindly. Terrible analogies for a terrible stance.

    The constant mutterings on the theme of safe sex are hardly relevant. People who are informed on the issue (of safe sex) accept that there is no such thing as 100% safe sex. You can take precautions, but nothing is a sure fire guarantee. Because of this, we make a risk assessment. A couple who are planning on having children at some stage but not YET might have unprotected sex, and if they get pregnant so be it. Two people just fooling around might accept the risks of pregnancy while having sex using a condom because the risk is considerably lower. You’ll notice I’m talking about pregnancy, and that’s because that should be the only assumed risk of sex.

    STIs change things.

    Say condoms are 99% effective (I don’t know the actual number). You might take that 1% risk of pregnancy (especially if you have the option of abortion), but it’s hardly unreasonable to say you’d rather not take a 1% chance of getting an STI. Especially an incurable one.

    In all the talk of transmission and “viral-load”, I keep seeing the word “virtually” pop up. “Virtually no threat”, “virtually undetectable”, “virtually unable to pass on”, etc. Is it 100% guaranteed to not pass on? Can a carrier of HIV be sure that their partner will not become infected if whatever protection they are using fails? If not, who are you (the infected party) to make that risk assessment for them?

    Everyone should practice safe sex, but if you know (obviously wrong to punish someone who didn’t know they were infected) you have an STI, it is YOUR responsibility to tell a partner, not their’s to ask. It may feel crappy, and you may have been f*cked over in the way you came to have an STI, but that’s your problem, not your partners.

    Nobody said life was fair.

  119. says

    Does a sex partner’s race and gender politics matter to you as much as their STI status does? If you have consensual sex with someone who isn’t a carrier of an STI, and you find out after the fact that they are a white nationalist or their favourite pass time includes punching women in the face, have you all of a sudden been raped?

    I highly doubt you would claim the same sense of violation over another person’s bigotry as you or the apparent majority of people would over their own. The fact of the matter is that if you consented to unprotected sex or even safer sex with someone whose status is unknown to you (be it their STI status or any other feature of their identity), this consent is not negated by the actualization of the risks you assumed through your own actions after the fact. It may have been ethically ambiguous or even unethical for someone who is a carrier of some transmissible illness to not disclose to you before you fuck them (depending of course on whether or not this person can even transmit their illness; AND whether or not the two or more of you take ANY precautions whatsoever, which a majority of people DON’T and don’t kid yourself on that either), but it is point-blank NOT RAPE just because you have regrets about your decision, and it is point-blank NOT exclusively the responsibility of that other person to protect you simply because of THEIR status. You have a status too — as someone who is negative for STIs — and it is your responsibility to mitigate your risks of exposure. That simply does not change just because someone you fuck is a carrier of an STI.

    HIV/AIDS is the only STI currently remaining in mention in the Canadian Criminal Code, despite the fact that everything we know about the disease and its treatment has changed since the time it was added (and yet the law has not been changed to reflect that). No one has any business involving the police and justice system over self-neglect and an accompanying sense of regret for it.

  120. says

    Your analogies are flawed. If I slept with someone whom I later found out beat women, or did something else I find abhorrent, it’s not the same as sleeping with someone who was carrying an STI (any STI), and especially one that is incurable. There are mitigating circumstances regarding risk of transmission, etc, but those mitigating circumstances should come up in conversation and be agreed by both parties. If I had a particularly low sperm count and it was very unlikely I could impregnate a woman, would I be justified in not telling her I hadn’t put a condom on? The risk of pregnancy is low!

    As for the rape situation, I tend to agree, but that conflicts with a lot of FtB thought school. I disagree because I feel defining rape as anything other than sexual intercourse with someone who has not consented dilutes the meaning. In contrast, I have seen it claimed that “luring” a woman into bed by, say, lying about yourself to impress her is technically rape due to fraudulently obtained consent. If that is the standard for rape, then your only defense would be that the HIV carrier is not “lying”, they just aren’t disclosing voluntarily. It would be a poor defense, however, because we can probably say with almost certainty that anybody who is not a carrier would prefer to not become a carrier, no matter how manageable the infection is.

    Again, it is their risk assessment to make, but they can’t make it without knowing that their partner is a carrier, and, unfair though it may be, it should be the carrier’s responsibility to disclose that they have an STI.

  121. says

    I suggest since this is clearly so important to you, that you take the initiative to start that conversation yourself. WHICH HAS BEEN THE SOLUTION ALL ALONG — not this bigoted attitude upheld by outdated law that if you failed to do anything to protect yourself, you’re the victim of a deceitful and predatory person who owes you.

    No one owes anybody anything. If you want something, it’s up to you to make it happen.

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