Editor's Letter #151 By Ian Howley | @ianhowley

Last year we asked a bunch of gay men living with HIV to strip naked for us and be part of our first ever naked issue. Why a naked issue? Well isn’t it the gay law that every gay magazine must have a naked issue? Nah, just kidding. Here’s why...

Just over a year ago I sat down with two young men who had just been diagnosed with HIV. They talked about their fears and worries about what it was like to be newly diagnosed. Lots of their worries were very similar but the main one that jumped out at me was that both were worried they were not going to be attractive to men any more. That somehow being HIV-positive made them feel less attractive. It made me wonder is this a common thing for HIV-positive men? Why should living with a condition make you feel less attractive?

This I felt was not acceptable. Everyone wants to feel wanted, to feel sexy, to have a healthy sex life. The fact that some HIV-positive gay men suddenly feel like no-one will want them because they have HIV is not good enough. Last year the models told us it was liberating, that they felt special, desired and it increased their confidence. And this is why I asked gay men, living with HIV, to get naked for FS again this year.

Everyone you see in our ‘HIV stripped bare’ feature and special photo shoot is living with HIV. Some have been living with HIV for decades, some for only a few months, but all decided to get naked because they wanted to show you that HIV doesn’t stop them from being who they are.

But there was also another serious reason why these men got naked. They wanted to expose the stigma they experience. Many said that the stigma they encounter is mostly is from other gay men. Men with HIV have been treated like a disease, a virus, a plague, and a danger to other gay men. They have been bitched about, have had stories made up about them and have faced rejection from the gay community. These guys have balls: the balls to stand up, strip off and tell everyone that HIV is just a virus. It’s the stigma that goes with it that sucks the most.

Here’s some news for you: stigma has never stopped anyone from becoming HIV-positive and never will. What stigma does is create a fear – a fear for both HIV-positive and negative gay men. And fear is a bitch! Why? Because it stops people doing the correct thing.

Let me give you an example. There are many gay men out there who have never tested for HIV. These men may have put themselves at risk at some point in their lives but haven’t tested because they’d much ‘rather not know’, even though they may think they have HIV. This does not help anyone.

Undiagnosed HIV-positive men are responsible for around 80% of new HIV transmissions. So a fear of finding out they are positive is stopping these men from getting tested and going on medication that will stop them from getting ill and from transmitting HIV to other people.

So this is why reducing stigma is a big issue for you, me and every other gay man. If we can change attitudes towards HIV then it can help us stop HIV transmissions. It will also help with the overall health and well-being of every gay man in the UK today.

This is why I’m asking you to be the solution, not the problem.

Read this feature, open your eyes, change your attitude, educate others and help us to stop HIV stigma. It’s easy when you think about it.

Until next time,

Ian Howley, Editor, FS