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How I Embraced Being a Truvada Whore

 

It was one thing to come out publicly about my decision to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (“PrEP”). After all, I had worked most of the past twenty years as a psychotherapist and safe sex educator in both New York and California, and had always believed that it is important to be transparent and descriptive when discussing anal pleasure and risk reduction.

But it wasn’t until I was sitting on the Huffington Post Live set on November 8, 2012, with a surprisingly large camera pointed at my face, that I began to panic: “Are you really going to talk about barebacking for the whole world to see? Do you really want everyone to ask if you’re taking loads from positive guys? Won’t this ruin your professional career and reputation?”

The initial reactions to this segment were affirmative and supportive. Then, a few days later, the same publication printed a follow up piece infamously titled, “Truvada Whores?”, with the clear connotation that use of PrEP is frivolous, indulgent, and in the author’s own words, “irresponsible” and “disgusting.” Over the next year, as I continued to discuss PrEP in media, I began receiving angry and aggressive emails and messages that accused me of being a “drug pusher,” “sex addict,” “corporate shill” and even a “passive murderer.”

For the first time in my life, my personal decisions were subjected to a level of public scrutiny and stigma for which I was not prepared. I realized that I either had to find a way to cope with receiving this anger, or drop out of speaking about my decision to take PrEP altogether. Since the latter option went against my principles as an activist and as a human being, it seemed I was going to have to brace myself for the potential onslaught of negativity and irrational hate coming my way.

I found that when I slowed down and asked three simple questions, I could remove myself from the pain of being targeted and stigmatized. Those three questions are:

1. Does any part of you, consciously or unconsciously, agree with what is being said about you? When I am called “irresponsible,” or “disgusting,” it invokes in me a flush of anger, fear, and shame. Why is that? Because a part of my societal learning is that being gay and having anal sex is “wrong” or “dirty.” It taught me, “You shouldn’t be having anal sex, much less enjoying it, much less talking about it openly.” These messages are insidiously delivered to gay people, often from other gay people such as the writer from Huffington Post, and our minds absorb them like sponges. So when someone from outside our own mind says something that reflects these beliefs, it takes on a whole intense level of adrenaline, heart racing, increased defense and anger.

How to change the agreement? Slow down. Breathe. Recognize the kernel of agreement with what the other person is saying. Try asking, “Is there any part of me that agrees that there is something dirty or wrong about being who I am? Was I ever taught, directly or indirectly, that gay sex is bad and I shouldn’t enjoy it?” Observe where there is any fragment of agreement or an old “button” being pushed.

2. Do I want to give my power away to this person? When I find that there is some tacit agreement with the person who is trying to condemn or shame me, my next question is, “How much power am I giving him? Why does this person get to have authority over my own experience?” I know that if someone calls me “reckless,” that is fundamentally not true. My life and my approach to pleasure has usually been mindful, methodical, and responsible. Yet like many gay men, I have found myself willing to abandon my own inner truth in favor of battling some big bad “enemy.”

So how do you keep your power? Come back to recognizing that you are the determiner of your experience. Remember that no one has power over your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, unless you give them that power. It is very helpful, especially when confronting stigma, to have a spiritual framework to fall back on in order to keep “authority” in perspective. Whether you believe in God, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or Gaga, having a trusted higher power provides a buffer from the ignorant and cruel attacks from others.

3. Is what they are saying rationally true? This is where removing the emotional piece and focusing on the actual content is helpful. So when someone calls me an “irresponsible sex addicted drug pusher,” I go through the first two steps. Do I agree with any tiny part of that? Am I giving my power away readily to someone who doesn’t deserve it? And then, is any of that rationally and objectively true? In this case, their evidence doesn’t hold up. PrEP is a scientifically proven strategy for staying HIV negative. It is a responsible, sober, choice. I do not push drugs, I encourage information.

Once I have gone through these three steps, I find I am much calmer, more centered, and more effective in how I decide to handle the “attack.” I’m not saying these three steps completely take away my hurt feelings, nor will they cure you of yours. But I can affirm that these three steps have enabled me to access my thoughts and feelings in a way that allows me to learn, grow, and then gain the strength to be the fighter I want to be in the world.

Whether you are open about your PrEP usage or out about your HIV positive status, you can use these steps as well in your own life any time you encounter stigma. None of us ever have to live in agreement with cruelty, or give power to ignorance.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York who has helped hundreds of couples and individuals create joyful, peaceful, and pleasurable relationships. He is the author of the books, “Rational Relating” and “Absolutely Should-less.” His trainings have helped thousands to learn practical skills for living an empowered and fulfilling life. To speak with Damon about counseling, speaking engagements, or media appearances - please contact him at Damon@DamonLJacobs.com, call 347-227-7707, or visit www.DamonLJacobs.com

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