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#TruvadaWhore Goes Viral

The most common message I receive on Facebook or Twitter these days is “Where can I get one of those #TruvadaWhore t-shirts?” I never thought I would become a t-shirt salesperson, but that’s just how things go, I suppose. I’d much rather receive copious messages from guys who want to stick it in my butt, but I’ll take what I can get. I am very happy to sell t-shirts, especially a shirt that is raising awareness about a new and undeniably effective tool to prevent HIV. Science is my homeboy, and I could talk all day about nucleoside reverse-transcriptase inhibitors, but let’s get down to what this is really all about: Sex.

But before that, let’s start from the beginning. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Truvada for HIV prevention in July 2012. Misinformed conservatives in the gay community were convinced this would increase sexual risk taking. On November 12, 2012, freelance writer David Duran coined the term “Truvada Whore” in a Huffington Post piece, in which he disparaged PrEP users as irresponsible “barebackers.” He received a lot of heat on the issue and eventually changed his mind. I got in touch with him through Facebook and we started talking about the possibility of a follow-up piece. On March 27, 2014 he officially recanted the term in another Huffington Post article, “An Evolved Opinion on Truvada.” In the piece, he praised the t-shirts and all the work I was doing through social media to raise awareness and fight stigma associated with PrEP.

After the Huff Post piece, #TruvadaWhore really started to take off in the gay blogosphere. People kept reaching out to interview me for this and that blog or newspaper. It was completely exhausting, but I kept at it. Everything was happening so fast and I kept having this intense internal battle centered on whether or not I was entirely comfortable disclosing all of this information. But I knew I had to do something, because my generation needed a voice, and I was tired of waiting.

At the peak of this emotional roller coaster, I found myself on a red-eye flight to New York City for a PrEP Rally at GMHC. Soon after that, I was interviewed and photographed for a New York Times article that ended up on the front page on May 14, 2014. This was the same day that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officially recommended PrEP for HIV prevention. A lot of people read that article and saw my photos. Yes hunties, I was serving you New York Times HIV prevention realness.

People always ask me how I thought of the t-shirt. It was really more of an afterthought. I kept the design for the shirt super minimal, as the primary message was about the term “Truvada Whore.” While reclaiming a disparaging term, the hashtag also creates a memorable and accessible route to get information about PrEP through social media and the Internet in general. It was never just about me. Anyone can use social media to share their opinions and experiences with PrEP by using the hashtag. The t-shirts often start a conversation that social media can finish by connecting people to reliable sources of information. From start to finish, the process of starting PrEP is a long one. It requires a lot of research and work and I wish I had the #TruvadaWhore campaign around when I first started PrEP.

I started taking Truvada in October 2012 with the San Francisco PrEP Demo Project. In the year or two prior to enrolling, I did a lot of research on the topic of PrEP because, as an HIV test counselor, I have to know my stuff. With increasing frequency, I found myself talking to guys who were waiting for their test results about how they and their sex partners just didn’t like condoms.

And I totally get it. Old school, natural, sex without condoms is kind of amazing. I think fun and fulfilling sex should be valued and celebrated, but when you’re constantly thinking “What if?” or “Maybe he’s not negative anymore?” that can transform sex into a fear-inducing chore. With or without condoms, taking Truvada every day can eliminate all that anxiety, because you know that you’re taking your pills, and those pills work. It is called science and it’s as simple as this: If you take Truvada every day like you’re supposed to, you’ll stay HIV negative.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to those affected by HIV/AIDS. It’s an issue that is very dear to my heart. But let’s be real, it’s 2014, not 1986. Sex without condoms is fun. HIV positive guys know this. And now, with the increasing availability of PrEP and with the FDA and CDC behind us, PrEP guys like myself know this too.
I know what you’re going to say next. And no, PrEP isn’t for everyone. Some dudes like condoms. That’s fine. It’s a personal choice that an individual has to make. Pros and cons have to be weighed. Personally, I can think of very few cons, and many, many pros. In a manner similar to what happened with birth control pills, this cultural shift will take some time. The PrEP conversation is just starting. Trust me, we have loads to talk about.