Stigma comes in many different forms, and from many different directions. Most of us as gay men have faced it simply because we’re gay. Those of us who are HIV-positive do, too. So do those of us who are people of color, often trapped between getting rejected and being objectified. Stigma comes from outside our communities, and even from inside them as well.
The anonymity of online life often makes it easier to communicate what you want sexually. But that same anonymity also makes it easier for site and app users to come up with a long list of whom they don’t want to have as partners: “no blacks, no Asians, no fatties, no femmes…” To specify that they don’t want to hook up with someone who’s HIV-positive, some HIV-negative guys use the word “clean,” as if HIV-positive guys are somehow dirty. (This video by Kevin Musclebaked explains how users can look for guys online without making others feel terrible.)
Stigma can also harm our health. It can make it harder for someone to reveal that they’re HIV-positive. Some people who are on PrEP also feel uncomfortable telling others because they’re worried that others may think they’re having sex with too many partners.
Many sites have already taken steps to reduce the fear of rejection that can make it hard to talk about your own sexual health strategies or HIV status. By inviting users to clarify whether they want condoms, PrEP, or are HIV-positive and have an undetectable viral load, they can help promote a norm of open communication and pride in taking care of their own health, and their partners’.
Beyond profile options, some sites have taken other pro-active steps. For example, Mr X encourages men to state openly whether they are open to dating someone of any HIV status. Users who agree get a badge on their profiles that states they “live stigma free” next to an icon from “Mr. Friendly.” Mr. Friendly is a non-profit working to reduce HIV stigma.
BHOC would love to hear about other sites’ efforts to reduce stigma, and welcomes all ideas about what else we can do to fight it. Contact us to submit your idea.