[The Sexuality Blog] Aren’t we tired of equating sex and sexual minorities with HIV?

This morning on Twitter, the conversation – as it is wont to – roved on to sexual minorities. Trans people in particular, have been the focus on many twitter arguments, no thanks to President Donald Trump’s new law that bans the sexual minority from serving in the United States Army.

This morning’s conversation however, was about trans people disclosing their divergent gender to prospective sexual partners. The vast majority couldn’t understand why a trans person wouldn’t want to disclose their identity to prospective partners and called it some kind of deception, which is wrong but understandable. Predictably, it wasn’t long before the age old false equivalence reared its ugly head.


It is a little ridiculous that anyone would even equate disclosing one’s HIV status with disclosing one’s gender identity. Apart from the fact that both might involve sex, they are completely different scenarios.

But  before we even get into this, we have to understand the long history of equating disease and death with sexuality.

Before the HIV epidemic began, the sexualities of women were policed under the banner of religion and the insinuation that any sex outside sanctioned scene (usually in the institution of marriage) were a one-way ticket to premature death through the transmission of disease.

Before anti-biotics were discovered, many preached that syphillis was a direct consequence of sexual promiscuity in women and equated sexual desire with perversion. This trend continued well into the mid 90’s when industrialisation freed many women from having to marry as a way to secure their financial futures and as such, could stay single longer and marry for love. In the 1950’s, women were regularly committed to mental asylums for ‘promiscuity’ and denied their rights until they chose to marry a man and settle down.

In the 70’s at the height of the Gay Rights Campaign and the start of the HIV epidemic, homosexuality began to be equated with HIV, for decades much needed research was stunted because HIV was considered the ‘gay’ disease and a punishment from God for ‘deviance’. Some people still feel that way till today, but you can’t change everyone.

That stigma is the reason many African American homosexual men refuse to come out, or check their status, preferring instead to be called ‘DL’, or ‘Men who have Sex with Men (MSM)”, keeping heterosexual partners on the side as a way to throw off the scent.

So to see someone start to equate Transsexuality with HIV is both a tired narrative and triggering as well. A huge part of transsexuality is the phenomenon of ‘passing’. Passing is being able to present as your preferred gender without it being questioned. For many trans people, the first time they pass is a huge part of their transition to becoming their inner selves, and is often very emotional. But to truly pass would be get expensive, irreversible gender affirming surgery and many trans people, ostracised by their families and communities, simply cannot afford to pass.

Therefore, the average trans person is very visibly trans. They do not pass, cannot deceive anyone that they are anything other than who they profess to be. This causes them a lot of anxiety, especially in public situations where strangers stare and some catcall  and the vast majority ignore. The average trans person tries very hard to get through their day without attracting the wrong kind of attention or have their transness questioned or thrown in their faces. To equate this very real and present concern with HIV, which is a disease that is often not physically discernible before, during or after intercourse is again, disingenuous and tired.

Trans people are tired of being equated with life threatening viruses. Trans people are first and foremost people, and it is insulting to inherently pit people living with HIV who have to suffer stigma of their own with another marginalised group in a battle of who is ‘worse’.

Let’s not.

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