A Letter to Louise Hogarth from Kim de St. Paer
As supervisor of Anonymous HIV Testing and Counseling at Laguna Beach Community Clinic, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for reaching out to the world with your vital and very relevant message about HIV infection and the need for stepped up and revamped prevention messages. I, too, have been scared by what I have seen in some of our testing clients. One young man who just tested HIV positive fits your portrayal of “bug chasers” exactly. He had knowingly been having unprotected sex with other positive people, and he even chose to share needles with some. In fact, in a need to “belong” somewhere, he already was attending support groups for positive men when he came in to test. Yet, the shock of the reality of finding out he actually had become HIV positive, and all that will entail for the rest of his life, hit him only after he learned his results. Suddenly, despite the support group and his friends, he felt completely and utterly alone; now it was his body, his life, and no friend, no group could live his fears for him or take the meds every day, or wonder how long he would live. Your film beautifully brings out this tragic reality.
At the same time, you present the horrific reality of the bare-backing parties and those who actually encourage others to throw all caution, all sincere healthy care for themselves and others as human beings, aside. Tragically, I have spoken to much more than one HIV positive person who not only had to have the courage to reveal his status to a new potential partner, but then was threatened with mental or physical punishment when the new potential partner argued that they should NOT use condoms, when the positive person insisted on it. Thus, the HIV positive person carried the full burden of disclosure and prevention because they chose to live with integrity. Some, clearly, do not remain so strong, or falsely think if their viral load is low, they will not infect others.
I am so grateful that you included the wise “coyboy” who reiterated this crucial fact, as another problem we see at the clinic is positive clients whose viral loads begin to soar, even though they had been doing well on their treatment, because they are having unprotected sex with other positives. Last week, alone, I spoke with three positive men whose virus has now become resistant to most HIV meds and are facing very frightening consequences; they too were having unprotected sex with other positive partners.
Lastly, I thank you for the scenes in which the HIV positive men explain their trials and their concern for those who are no longer being careful or aware, or who are insanely going wild as they try to escape the reality of HIV in one way or another. I know of no positive people who would not reverse their status if given even the slightest chance. It is terrifying that trying to end the stigma against those who are HIV positive, and creating respect and hope for them through providing images of those who do well, has has a reverse effect of making HIV and AIDS desirable for one reason or another. At the same time, today I hear people say there is no need for prevention messages anymore because everyone already knows about HIV and AIDS.
Because even the N.Y. Times article about your film had such an impact on me because of the reality you so clearly describe, I have been giving copies of the article to clients who come to test. Many have been deeply moved by your portrayal of the problem we face today and, through your work, they are becominig dedicated to reawakening a serious concern about HIV and AIDS.
Please keep your message out there. People need to have the reality put in their face. Even now, with HIV infection rates on the rise, our testing hours are being cut because some believe there is no longer a need for an honest prevention message. The need IS there and you awaken people to that need. Too many continue to try to find reasons for being complacent and for not being their brothers’ keepers.
I wish you the best; and thank you for YOUR GIFT.
Kim de St. Paer
Supervisor, Anonymous HIV Testing and Counseling
Laguna Beach Community Clinic
Laguna Beach, CA 92651