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Matthew Ebert Headshot

Kissing Doesn't Kill

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Why can't we all just get along? Hell if I know. Everyone seems to be shit-talking. Slut-shaming over Truvada, mad about the rainbow, feeling the class-ass-en masse divide? Yeah -- me too.

Face facts -- Truvada will be in everyone's bloodstream in about 15 minutes, so why argue over it? A year from now we won't need this essay -- burn after reading. Some might not even need this essay now, but on two fronts we assault this virus -- the POZ and the NEG, the dirty and the clean, the U Be Too -- can we cut the crap and get in one line? We're at war with an epidemic, not ourselves, so slit the jugular on your judgement because that old hood is still looking pretty good. Condoms, I mean. The PrEP rally too. And faster access to the tools, earlier treatment, testing everywhere. Let's pile off each other in this moment, unless of course a group pileup is your fling -- sex it up, homosexuals. If we smack-down on two fronts then everyone fits in the pool. We have a mission to get to the other side -- end AIDS, period.

How we do it -- faster, better treatment for those infected and the newly seroconverted, better access to testing, ARVs, PrEP, PEP and FREE condoms -- the science of survival, people. Oy, I know those tired condoms are making you snore -- but hey, let's keep them sexy for the uninsured, the guy who has no access to Truvada. Plenty of MSM have zero health insurance, many are still closeted and can't get it up to ask their doctor for PrEP, maybe it's just not financially or readily available to them, or they are too young to go to their parents and say "Mother may I?" Condoms are cheap and easily available at any drug store, any clinic, and the last time I checked you could find them in bars. They are still effective when used properly. I think the reason they don't get used enough is because we're all so damn fatigued, we're tired of fucking in a rubber sock. But we should promote them, promote it all, because our sexual health matters more than our breeding ground strategy. It matters more than the Grin Doctor, Scruffy, and your local sex shop. Your health matters to all of us -- I speak for myself, it matters to me.

One thing I do love about the Truvada debate is that, well, it's a debate. And debates very often generate knowledge. Knowledge is your friend. Get educated, find what works best for your body and mind, then take time to engage a pal. Don't rat fink them, don't put them on full blast when they disagree. Instead, try listening and searching for the data that matters most, because the data is out there. Another thing I like about PrEP -- for the first time we are finding common ground between the sero-sorted. Or did I just dream that?

When I became HIV positive in 1995, I felt like I moved from a lifeboat to the Titanic. When I started taking antiretrovirals, I was an ARV guinea pig. No one knew what the hell was going to work or not work. My body was a battleground -- it still is. But it did work, 20 years later and I'm still here. Many of my boyhood pals, not so much. Many lay in red fields with their wounds wide open, many died, and as their comrade I still suffer that loss. So ease up, it's reason enough to stop slamming and shaming each other. The epidemiological trauma was quite thorough -- we need to shoot down the rhetoric of hate, stigma and shame.

I am so imperfect. I am writing this to myself as much as I am to you. Anger issues? You bet. So, I write in big letters to myself each day -- get along little doggie. And ask yourself, do we really need so much infighting right now? We are on the cusp of a social revolution. When in history has our community made so much progress in Western society? Maybe, just maybe, that little light at the end of the tunnel is not a locomotive bearing down on us. Maybe it's the end. I tell you, I was 16 years old when AIDS came into the pleasure dome. That was 33 years ago -- two-thirds of my life has been shit-smeared with AIDS. Will I jump in the streets like a wild man when and if we get those rates of transmission head down -- Hell yes! Will I mourn still? Yes, I will. But my joy at the drop-off will not be sung like any other song -- it will be sung like an anthem. I will be so grateful for the good fight to end our community scourge. I will hug a younger gay and say, "Brother, welcome to less fear, may your life never know it as I did."

AIDS -- fuck you. That's who I'm mad at. Rightly so -- the epidemic took them all. My yearbook is empty. It's as if all the signatures were written in invisible ink, just vanishing before my eyes. There was blood on the walls, the ceiling cracked and caved, and when that bomb went off I was standing in Sheridan Square counting KS lesions and wondering -- Am I next? Answer: nearly next. 1996 happened, and that multi-colored "cocktail" left me with an afterglow. Promote the Malcolm X line "By Any Means Necessary" when confronting AIDS. If you're having sex, your body is a battleground too. Arm up, when a spree killer like AIDS comes into the room you grab the first thing available and stab it in the brain like you would a zombie apocalypse.

There was an old public service ad you used to see on buses in NYC during the height of the epidemic. It read: "Kissing Doesn't Kill: Greed and Indifference Do." It still does, so I think it's time for a bus stop revival. Remake that poster for a new generation because stigma, shame, hate and ignorance kill too. I sit on that bus -- I look out and up from my window and the sky is blue. I look down, the road is rolling right past me. I can see the white dashes slide by on the asphalt. I can see the trash cans, the homeless, and the cigarette butts. I can see I'm on the local, not the express.

March yourself to the nearest search engine, look up that old '80s poster, then imagine like John Lennon -- AIDS is over, if we want it. To get there, we need only step off that disturbing curb and get out of our own way. Memo to self -- cut the blank chatter and aim that canon where it matters most; live AIDS-free or die, don't tread on HIV. Kissing is far better than killing each other, so after the debate hug your neighbor. Some of us never got the chance to say goodbye. I'm here to tell you regrets don't get better with AIDS. We support each other with kindness, or we go down with that iceberg, and the choice is ours to make. So, why not give peace a chance?