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How Should We Promote Gay Men’s Health?

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Hey there Guys,

Over the past few months I have been following video blogger HIVMan1000 who has been sharing his experience about living with HIV with the YouTube community. It’s a brave move and I applaud his open attitude to sharing his experience.

One of his most recent videos left me cold when he discussed how he had been supporting a young man who was struggling with his recent diagnosis of HIV infection. One night he was talking with him and the next day he received a phone call saying that the man had taken his own life.

Despite all the amazing work we have done there is still a huge stigma, discrimination and prejudice expressed to those living with HIV or even just perceived to be living with HIV. While part of this is associated with ignorance, homophobia and bigotry, sometimes I wonder if the old “scare campaigns” of the past are still looming. If you are from outside Australia you may very well have missed the way HIV/AIDS was introduced to Australia. Let me introduce the Grim Reaper campaign circa 1987:

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Basic take home message? “You’re dead if you get AIDS and you need to protect yourself against those who have it.” Sadly if you are living with HIV, well ummm, hang on let me look at that clip again. Hmmm…there was no message of support, no message of hope, nothing. Just “if you get ‘it’ you’re dead.”

Thankfully we have moved forward. Advances in medications allow for HIV to be considered a chronic, manageable disease. Of course it would be better for there to be no HIV at all but for many people who live with HIV, they are able to work, play and enjoy a pretty normal life.

My question is though, have we as a community been able to emotionally advance with this change or are we still stuck in the Grim Reaper stage?

Currently I have a concern that a dichotomy has been created. On one side we want to support, love and care for people who are living with HIV. Yet on the other we are working hard to reduce HIV infection rates world wide through campaigns and advertising to encourage safe sex, HIV testing and new additions like PEP if there has been potential risky exposures.

When I put this to the members of The Healthy Bear Facebook page there was some great discussion. One very astute reader noted:

There is a fundamental flaw in the debate about HIV these days that is never discussed. The public discussion about living with HIV is pretty much always about what an awful thing it is, when, for most gay men who seroconverted in the last ten years, life has gone on as usual, they haven’t been sick, they haven’t stopped work, they haven’t had side effects from their meds, but if you try to say that, it’s ‘sending the wrong message’, on some assumption that people are stupid and have to be scared into looking after themselves. Meanwhile, thousands of gay men with HIV are left on their own to work out for themselves how to live their life and plan a future.

If we look at the majority of the health messages that are currently aimed at gay men you start to notice a pattern. Pretty much all are aimed at either not becoming infected with HIV, or if someone is living with HIV making sure that nobody else becomes infected.

When was the last time you saw a healthy heart message aimed at gay men? God forbid talking about healthy eating, depression, anal cancer or even ingrown toenails. Surely HIV is not the only medical issue gay men live with! Don’t get me wrong, HIV is very important, however if a young gay man is depressed and can’t imagine living beyond the age of 25 why the hell would he care about safe sex? “HIV takes 10 years to kill you doesn’t it? I’ll be dead by then.”

Today I want to make a suggestion. If we continue to offer safe sex messages without acknowledging that there are other health areas the community lives with, we are doing a huge disservice to our people.

All gay men can benefit from being free of depression, diabetes other chronic diseases. All gay men can benefit from learning the basics of healthy eating choices. All gay men can benefit from 30 minutes of movement every day.

HIV positive or negative we can all benefit from these sorts of messages.

If you have HIV, being free of depression and diabetes with healthy diet and movement helps make a massive impact on keeping viral loads down and your immune system ticking. You can feel great and reduce the chance for complications to arise.

With a community that moves it’s focus from fear, separation and disease to a spirit of health, kinship and care, can you imagine the impact? This is an impact I want to be part of. Do you?

The good news is that the tide is already changing. Take the guys at Bear Men Of Adelaide. Every week they have a Zumba class. Heaps of fun and great for health. Does you local community have some healthy options you could enjoy? Please share your events and suggestions below. Who knows, we could even start a directory of healthy fun activities!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yours in good health.

Dr George

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