So to continue with my complaints about how, in a world where nuance is dead, we’re unable to tell the truth, here’s a piece from Gawker’s Dayna Evans going after Vine star and moron Nash Grier for an ugly video in which he says the word “fag” and suggests that HIV/AIDS is “a gay thing.” Evans writes that Grier “endorses the wrongheaded and homophobic idea that HIV is an issue that exists primarily in the gay community.” The comments, meanwhile, are filled with people arguing that of course, everyone is at equal risk of getting infected.
This kid, clearly, is an idiot and a jerk. And indeed, the idea that only gay men have to worry about AIDS is simply wrong: there are many heterosexual men and women who are infected with HIV, and no one is truly without risk. That said: it’s simply not true to suggest that men who have sex with men are not at significantly higher risk of getting infected with HIV, outside of the unique epidemiological conditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Here’s a chart of HIV infections in the United States from 2010 from the CDC:
Now, does that change the part where this kid is a dumb jerk? Of course not. Does it mean straight people have no risk? Of course not. Does it justify any kind of homophobic reaction, or acting like AIDS is a less important public health problem, or saying that people with HIV “deserve it”? Of course not. There is absolutely no contradiction in saying
1. HIV/AIDS remains a major public health risk, particularly for those without access to combination therapies;
2. Everyone should be smart and careful in their sexual practices, thanks to a variety of STDs, not just HIV;
3. We have a pressing moral responsibility, as a society, to confront HIV/AIDS;
4. In the developed world, men who have sex with men, and intravenous drug users, face far higher infection risks than the public writ large.
That all seems sensible and respectful to me. But I so often see educated, liberal people insisting that there isn’t any difference in risk factors, or reacting with anger to suggestions that different populations are at different risk. And it just gets back to this sense that we’ve made politics so much about signaling your tribal allegiances that you can’t speak with a modicum of nuance or care — either you’re on the team that thinks AIDS is a plague sent by god to punish sinful gays, or you’re on the team that thinks that everyone is perfectly equal in their risk because life is perfectly fair that way. Everything is this way now; you’re never allowed to believe the things you say, but rather have to lard every political statement with a litany of the things you expressly don’t believe, or else get sorted into the camp of the Evil People and get accused of believing things that you haven’t even suggested. It’s exhausting, pointless, and utterly childish, and it makes it so tempting to quit talking about politics entirely.