It is an important time for sexual health in mainstream media. With Charlie Sheen’s recent announcement that he is living with HIV, the world has, arguably, its most notable, living figure on which to ponder the meaning of such a medical diagnosis. Sure, there have been other celebrities just as big as Sheen that have been noted to live with HIV, including Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Eazy E and others. But, sadly, in most instances their status has not been known until after they pass.
HIV in the public eye
Of those who are with us, Hall of Fame basketball player Magic Johnson is, possibly, the most notable public figure with HIV. Since he revealed his status, he has been in the public eye and has done many things to attempt to erase the stigma of living with HIV. That stigma is a vicious and terrible burden born of ignorance, fearmongering and a refusal to acknowledge the differences in people when it comes to sex, sexuality and other activities. Sure there has been an increase in safer sex practices, but, let’s not forget that sex is not the only way to come in contact with HIV.
But, there’s Charlie Sheen. After he revealed his status in a heavily-watched interview, the hatred began to flow across the Internet. Because Sheen has had a colourful history of violence, substance abuse and his infamous #winning meltdown, people feel inclined to make whatever judgement and snide comment they want of him. Not only are folks piling on with comments about his sex life, which he has long acknowledged involves the hiring of sex workers, they are also attacking his general personality and noting that he “deserves” to live with HIV.
So, really, by degrading Charlie Sheen, you’re also demonizing sex workers, people who use substances, people who perform in porn (some of whom Charlie has had relations) and possibly even people who deal with mental health issues. All because of HIV? Have we not gotten past the idea that HIV is a sentence handed down because of a life lived poorly.
HIV is just another illness. It does not choose who contracts it, it doesn’t care. It can be a difficult thing to live with, and it can be managed. It is as complex as every single person who has ever lived with it. And that’s the thing to remember - everyone’s story is different. Everyone who has and ever will have HIV is a different individual who will deal with and handle and live with their medical situation in the way that is best for them.
And nobody deserves the ridicule and jokes that are being lobbed at Charlie Sheen. You may not like his life, what he has done with it and how he has lived it. But at the end of the day, he’s a person. He’s a person just like all others who have had and who do have HIV. The chances are increasing that we’ll all know someone who lives with HIV, and we hope they’ll treat us like good people. Let’s ensure we do the same for them.