The handsome native New Jersian and former star of Who's The Boss?, Danny Pintauro, revealed a secret to Oprah Winfrey on telephone that he is HIV positive for the past 12 years. Oprah seemed more confused than surprised given that having HIV is not shocking in an era of PrEP and the superficial acceptance among the public. I understand Oprah's reaction, but at the same time, Oprah is the not person experiencing the actual social stigma that is generally compounded by being a gay men in this country. I don't minimize Oprah's experiences as a black women who was poor and abused and certainly oppressed; however, what the public does not realize is how difficult it is to disclose your status and what are the underlying implications of it.
It took Danny Pintauro 12 long years to speak the words on television and he was one of the unfortunate gay men who were "outed" by the National Inquirer in 1997. He still had a hard time conjuring up the words simultaneously getting emotional while admitting it to Oprah. I felt my heart jump as he bravely announced he was HIV positive since 2003. Can you imagine holding onto such a secret that affects all parts of life: the monitoring of illness, taking medication consistency, telling potential partners about it and their reactions, and dealing emotionally and mentally with the label of a "disease" requiring treatment by professionals. We all can think these issues have disappeared -- certainly that is a lie we tell ourselves!
Gay men who are HIV positive are constantly under pressure on how to manage and cope with the same realities of three decades of historical oppression, with now the amplified version of having multiple stigmas to contend with. We can easily cast them aside and say that's a private issue to deal with and it's not our business to place judgment on the choices they make. That logic is illogical when you analyze the realities of the social situations HIV positive gay men encounter daily. Be it at the gym, work, social activities, events, a mere talk with an acquaintance, they are not only criticized, they are stigmatized and labeled as deviant, dirty, irresponsible, unhealthy, and deserving of a future of hell.
They are slut-shamed by the LGBTQ community, meaning they are blamed for not wearing a condom during intercourse and possibly being under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The slut-shaming normally occurs behind closed doors because I have been witness to first-hand accounts of these stories: they have made me mortified to identify proudly as a gay man, knowing the psychology behind the judgment is self-hatred redirected to vulnerable members of our community. And it is not only the LGBTQ community that has these feelings toward gay men who are HIV positive, the straight community sits with their crosses and rosary beads condemning it, while they hypocritically engage in plenty of unsafe sex.
Although I am not HIV positive, I have had my share of experiences of sleeping with HIV positive men. My initial reactions were of fear due to exposure to HIV, but it forced me to educate myself on transmission through reading articles in newspapers, magazines, and learning from other gay men. Sadly, if children were to learn a sex positive education in school, perhaps there would not be decades and decades of individuals who were uninformed of the risks of unsafe sex and engaging under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, our education system has failed us by leaving out AIDS activism and history, which centers on reclaiming gay symbols and words and other identifies as positive, and how to teach others that gay sex is the not equivalent of a diseased ridden sodomite.
I commend Danny Pintauro for taking the time to disclose his status to the public. That type of courage and strength of character deserves respect because he has the ability to influence new generations of gay youth who need a role model. To you, the reader, this may seem like a ploy for Danny to get our attention, but to me, this is a victory for gay men to speak truth to the lives they live. I will always be on the side of the individual who has had to face the daunting reality of stigmatization. And we need to have these stories told as many times as possible until attitudes and minds are changed, which will allow for greater humanity.