We Need to Talk About Charlie Sheen and HIV Stigma

Before irresponsible journalism sets us back thirty years, let’s talk about Charlie Sheen.

The Internet has barely recovered from the fallout of widespread ignorance following the Paris terrorist attacks. Headlines appear to be rapidly mutating into fucked up fortune cookie prophecies for the world’s unluckiest person. However, just when it seems everyone with a social media account has made it out of the fog of ignorance, newly christened “legit” news source TMZ, the National Enquirer, that trashbox Gawker, and other illustrious outlets break the news that Charlie Sheen is due announce his alleged HIV positive status on NBC’s The Today Show.

This is, without a doubt, terrible fucking news in a week full of terrible fucking news.

Already TMZ has posted articles deriding alleged assertions from Sheen himself that since he is undetectable (none of this has been confirmed), no one he has banged over the past five years has anything to worry about. Whether or not Charlie Sheen is both HIV positive and undetectable isn’t something anyone here at WUSSY can confirm nor deny. However, we can use this moment in the media to educate.

Spring of last year, PARTNER—a longitudinal study that followed 767 serodiscordant (one HIV positive and undetectable, one HIV negative) couples for two years (the first stage)—observed zero transmissions from the HIV positive participant to their partner. An undetectable viral load means that a person with HIV has less than 200 copies/ml at the time and can only be achieved on antiretroviral therapy. Newer medicines are able to significantly lower viral loads to even less than that number, sometimes as low as less than 20 copies/ml. So while TMZ was somewhat correct to say that Sheen will never be completely free, they almost certainly helped contribute to what is sure to be a relentless attack on the medical phrase “undetectable” by the talking heads of entertainment news and conservative platforms.

There are tons of healthy HIV positive people who do not infect others, and what allows this phenomenon to exist in the face of a terrible disease is the simple tactic of disseminating factual information free from creative interpretation and rooted in science. However, if the current headlines are anything to go by then we are in for a flashback to the early days of AIDS, when fear controlled the reactions of legislators and the constituents they served. It’s practically 100% plausible that for the next month anyone with a social media account is going to be bombarded with conservative blogs discrediting the meaning of an undetectable status and bored townie losers rekindling their fear of the shit they could never possibly relate to.

There are also reports that Sheen has been spreading the virus while knowing he was infected. Cue the stigma train. Even if this were true, refrain from placing the blame on Sheen for hiding his status. IF he did so, yes, he is morally responsible, but he would still be a product of his environment. The burden of preventing catastrophic claims like this from ever penetrating the collective psyche is on society as a whole. Consider a world in which people could talk about HIV as openly as they talk about cancer and you’re guaranteed to understand the implications of shrouding a very real and very destructive virus in fear and secrecy.

So, before you share that Charlie Sheen post and type some asinine rant about him being a plague carrying rat, FUCKING. THINK. Too many died for the world to be where it is today in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and it would be a crying shame if one bad boy actor tore the fabric of reality with an announcement and undid the results of all of that sacrifice.