The Hierarchy of HIV

Published 18, Jan, 2018
Author // Michael Yoder

Michael Yoder: "We pay a lot of lip service to the equality of people living with HIV, but a lot of times we don't actually practice that vision."

The Hierarchy of HIV

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Oscar Wilde

I may catch shit for this article, and it's clearly my own personal thoughts and observations, but I believe there's a hierarchy in the HIV "community" and especially among gay men. This is me at my cynical worst, so take that as a warning...

We pay a lot of lip service to the equality of people living with HIV, but a lot of times we don't actually practice that vision. I read an article a long time ago that suggested that if you aren't open to dating a person of a colour other than your own, you are racist. In the same vein, I think that the ladder of HIV is as discriminatory as those HIV-negative people who just want us all to go away.

At the top of the ladder are the young. Lithe or buff gym bodies with perfect hair and big cocks; these guys are the most desirable. We live in a sub-culture that values youth and beauty and being poz and young makes you that much more interesting.

Next are the attractive, outdoorsy types in their 30s and 40s. Way back in the 1990s, when Protease inhibitors came out, there were ads showing healthy younger men and women in sailing ships - I suppose the new medications turned one into an adventurer. These images didn't reflect everyone with HIV only the ones who are desirable and youthful.

Lower on the ladder are the "daddies": older men who have regained their youth through working out and being that "ultra-masculine-straighter-than-straight" guy who turns heads in the bar. Desirable and yet still poz - which means they continue to face the discrimination of the fearful negative population.

Lower than those men are the old men in their 60s and older, long term survivors and more newly diagnosed, but they're "old", and the gay sub-culture doesn't like "old".

At the bottom of the ladder are those of us who are living with lypo-atrophy or lypo-dystrophy. The ones who are not young and pretty and buff, the ones who "look" sick, even though we may be undetectable and have great CD4 counts: none of those facts matter if you aren't ideally "handsome". We are the HIV rejects - undesirable and unwanted no matter if we have sparkling personalities and creative minds.

I truly believe it's hypocritical to suggest that we are all "equal" under the HIV sun - we aren't. We are judged and viewed by others (including those with HIV) based on our looks - humans do that. If you don't fit a particular form of beauty, then you don't fit. Except as a friend - rejects make good "friends", but not desirable partners. And god(dess) help you if you're old and have lypo; that's a double whammy. I guess that part of the rejection by others comes from the fact that we remind people that they're poz - and no one likes to be reminded of that.

I suggest that there's a such a thing as "lypo-free priviledge" - those people who avoided D drugs and those who have the money to "fix" their faces or remove their buffalo humps. Those people are able to "pass". They fit the beauty mold - and if they hit the gym a lot they scale their way up the rungs to a better place on the ladder.

I don't honestly believe that any of this will change. It's the nature of people to judge, no matter how "non-judgmental" we claim to be. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that somewhere here we'll be a little more understanding of those who don't conform to our vapid ideals of beauty and we'll begin to value and find desirable the whole of a person - not just their skin.

About the Author

Michael Yoder

Michael Yoder

Michael Yoder currently works with POZitively Connected, a project of Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV AIDS Society. Positively Connected provides social connection and support to gay/bi men living with HIV. He has previously sat on the board of directors of the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS), and has been involved in the HIV/AIDS movement since 1987. He worked with CAS in development and writing of the One Foot Forward Series of self training modules for people living with HIV and other work. Michael is always available for writing work, workshop development/presentation as well as public speaking.

Michael's social media connections are @michaely1961 on twitter and on Facebook here.