[TW for homophobia, AIDS-related death, slut-shaming, etc.]
In the last week or so, I have encountered a phenomenon that is not entirely new, but is still entirely reprehensible. I've named it the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic as a nod to the AIDS epidemic (although according to my research, it is now officially classed as a pandemic) that has swept the world. For those of you who are unaware of the story, AIDS was first officially reported in mid-1981, and it was given the name GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency) and 4H (standing for Haitian, homosexual, heroin and hemophiliacs, the four groups "most likely" to get the disease) before being properly named. Misinformation and stigmatization abounded; it was believed that you could get AIDS from holding hands, sharing a drink, kissing, even simply breathing around someone with the disease. For a very long time, research into the spread and prevention of the disease lagged, if it was even being done at all, because people believed that the disease only affected certain groups of people, people that they didn't care enough about to help. It was only when people realized that it wasn't a "gay disease" that they started paying more attention.
My first encounter with the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic occurred when I was still in middle school, long before I became a feminist and an LGBTQ activist. We were discussing the AIDS epidemic and one girl in my class proclaimed that (I'm paraphrasing due to the fact that I don't remember what she said word for word) AIDS was God's way of saying that homosexuality is wrong and that LGBTQ people deserved to get it. I was absolutely aghast. I don't remember what the reactions of the class and the teacher were towards this statement, but I remember them being mostly negative, thankfully.
Another experience I had with the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic involved Facebook (shock and awe!). I had watched a Biography special about Queen a few nights ago, and being the HUGE fan that I am, I was feeling a bit depressed about Freddie Mercury's untimely and incredibly unfortunate early death. I posted an innocuous status about the whole thing, ending with a melodramatic, half-joking "WHY FREDDIE WHY?!" The response came in the form of a Facebook friend's comment: "Because he liked to have sex?" And therein was my enlightenment! Mercury hadn't died because he had been exposed to a debilitating disease; it was because he just HAD to open his fucking legs! This poor person was not aware of the fact that having a lot of sex (even with multiple partners) does not mean you will automatically contract a deadly illness. It also does not mean that you deserve said illness. My friend and I attempted to educate this deluded soul, but alas, as with most instances of this type, it was to no avail.
The most recent experience I had with the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic was on Investigation Discovery, a cable channel that broadcasts crime shows. I was watching a show, "20/20 on ID," about a man named Philippe Padieu, a man who had seduced and knowingly infected his sexual partners with HIV. Padieu's defense attorney argued that Philippe was under "no obligation to disclose his HIV positive status" to his sexual partners, and to that I cry "BULLSHIT!" If you're intimate enough with someone to have consensual sex with them, especially unprotected, then you're intimate enough with them to disclose your status. The defense lawyer went on to blame the women he had had sex with (anyone surprised?), saying that it was their responsibility to protect themselves (it wasn't Philippe's responsibility to prevent himself from giving them HIV?!), and that it takes two to tango, resulting in the implication that these women got what they deserved by contracting the virus. I think that one of the women said it best when she said, "Yes, it takes two to tango, but it only takes one to pull the trigger, and that's exactly what Philippe did."
It is important for this part of the post to note that all of his sexual partners were white, middle to upper-middle class, presumably straight women, and at one point in the show, they were sitting in a group and talking to the host (also a white woman) in an interview. When asked why they allowed Philippe to have sex with them without a condom, the women replied that they had not received the education that is available to people today and so they were unaware that they were at risk. This is the same logic that I had used when arguing Freddie Mercury's case. However, they then went on to say that the reason that they didn't feel they were at risk was because they weren't intravenous drug users or prostitutes and those things just didn't happen to women like them. The host said, and I quote, "You weren't women about town!" And the women replied, "No, we were not," the implication of course being that if they were prostitutes, they should have expected to contract HIV and would have somehow deserved the diagnosis that they received. It really saddened me to see these women so readily putting down other victims of the disease, arguing their case under the presumption that there are actually people out there who deserve to get AIDS, while suffering from the disease themselves.
The argument that someone's sexual appetite and/or behaviors, sexual orientation, occupation, etc. is to blame for their deaths is asinine at best and incredibly hateful at worst. My friend said it best when she said that "Blaming someone's sexual appetite for their [AIDS-related] death is like blaming someone who enjoys long walks for getting hit by a car." It isn't someone's sexual appetite and/or behaviors that kills them; it's the AIDS virus that does that. The only thing that kills people with AIDS is AIDS and the related diseases that come along with it. Attributing one's death to their sexual behavior is tantamount to slut-shaming and arguing that they deserved to die because of it. The bottom line is this: nobody deserves to get AIDS. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you have a voracious sexual appetite. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you've had one partner. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you've had more than one partner. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you've had a THOUSAND partners. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you're a prostitute. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you use intravenous drugs. You don't deserve to get AIDS for ANY REASON.
The last thing that people with AIDS need is other people living outside of the reality of the disease judging and condemning them for the horrible prognosis that's facing them.