Homo Part of the Problem
posted by June 27 at 12:31 PMon
So this campaign, according to Dom’s post earlier today, is a good example of effective HIV prevention education:
But Dom hadn’t seen the fine print on the full-page ads running in the Stranger and elsewhere that are part of this campaign when he sat down to write about these sidewalk stencils. Here’s the ad from the back of the official Pride Guide, which reproduces the copy above (“IT’S THE LITTLE PRICK YOU CAN DEAL WITH: It’s just a swab or finger prick to know your HIV status”). I have two issues with the ad.
First, the small one: Local HIV prevention educators have been telling us for, oh, fifteen years now that their primary mission is boosting the self-esteem of gay men. Raise gay men’s self-esteem, they’ve argued all the way to the bank, give gay men accurate and non-biased information (which has meant, perversely, giving gay men information that isn’t biased against dangerous and unhealthy behaviors and people), and gay men will start making better choices about sex, condoms, safety, etc. But… uh… what about the self-esteem of gay men with small cocks? You know, all the men out there with pricks other gay men presumably can’t deal with? Won’t seeing this message on sidewalks and in newspapers and pride guides all over town increase feelings of worthlessness in the non-hung community?
Second, the big problem: The fine print that isn’t being stenciled on the sidewalks but is in the full-page ads in the Stranger, on the back page of the official Seattle Pride Guide ‘08, and in the SGN:
What message does the fine print send? Here’s the intended—and confused—message Public Health no doubt means to send: If you’re the kind of gay man that isn’t using condoms for anal sex over and over and over again (“No condoms?”), be sure to get tested over and over and over again. Because, you see, once the inevitable happens and you find out that you’ve finally succeeded in getting your dumbfuck ass infected, then you’ll be motivated to start taking precautions! Because, hey, even though you failed to use condoms to protect yourself from HIV, you’ll surely want to start using condoms to protect others after you’re infected. Right? Um, hello? Anybody listening?
No, those guys aren’t listening.
Here’s what this ad really succeeds in doing: It further confuses testing with safety in the minds of many in its target audience. Some HIV prevention campaigns do this far more explicitly (“Stay Safe: Get Tested.”), but this ad campaign helps drive that message home. Years of hammering away at the “stay safe: get tested” message has left a number of gay men with the impression that they’re somehow being safe if they’re getting tested regularly (“test often. test often. test often.”), as if the test magically provides them with some sort of retroactive immunity. It doesn’t. Being safe means taking all reasonable precautions—which means, for neg guys, yes condoms for anal sex with partners whose HIV-status they’re not absolutely certain of—and taking those precautions consistently.
Sure, test often—know your HIV status. But testing isn’t safety and regular testing is no substitute for consistent condom use. Public Health shouldn’t create ad campaigns that imply otherwise.