Name: Steve

Age: 42

Occupation: Founder/Managing Director of Maximum Solutions Consulting Ltd

Years living with HIV:  8.5 years and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

To help address continued HIV stigma, which in my experience, remains a huge issue. In fact, in recent times, with a proliferation of social media and hook-up apps, it's got worse.

How did you find the photo shoot? 

It felt great to be a part of something that could help address stigma in the community and hopefully beyond. It was a really friendly bunch and I'd be happy to take part again.

Have you experienced stigma because of your status? 

Yes, on several occasions throughout my 8.5 years living with HIV, but not from friends and family, who have always been extremely supportive and shown genuine interest in my health and willing to learn more about HIV. I've experienced stigma when using hook-up apps, which aren't helping when they have few to no control over the challenges and issues we face when I've been open and honest and explained my undetectable status. 

In the earlier years, it was guys wanting to have unprotected sex who would ask my status and then block me, but obviously not always the case. In more recent times, this hasn't been as much of an issue, although I have experienced a lot of guys who said they wouldn't have sex with me because of my status. I guess it's a bit like people discriminating on their profiles about who they'd have sex with. At the end of the day, it's also about personal preferences, which I accept because we all have different wants and likes. That's not to say it's been easy when guys blocked me, ignored me or changed their mind when they knew I'm HIV-positive, especially when it came from those wanting unprotected sex. In reality, they often don't know their own status when they say they're negative and so they're adding to the challenges we face with reducing the spread of HIV and the stigma associated with it.

How do you deal with stigma?

I've had a long time to come to terms with my diagnosis, as well as personal life issues and so I'm comfortable with tackling the issue head-on, when the situation allows me to. From the beginning, I knew I had to take a role of education with some friends and family and that has been a continued theme throughout. I guess it depends on the situation, but recently there was a post going around on Facebook, where I was compelled to put the record straight.  Guys commenting and laughing about HIV and with completely ludicrous ideas and opinions, which shocked me, given I live in London and how things have dramatically changed from the 80s.

Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?

It's difficult to weigh this up, since in some instances it's got better, but with smartphones and hook-up apps now so prolific, I think it's added to the challenges and narrow-mindedness. It actually appalls me to hear stigma from the LGBT community, where judgement, shaming and discrimination exists on too many levels. 

What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?

I'm just like any other human being; I have feelings and I care very much about the world we live in. I'm undetectable and the research proves that an undetectable status means I can't pass on HIV under any circumstances. I'm just like you, but living with a long-term illness, which is effectively managed and has been since a month after I got infected. I'd be happy to educate anyone who has questions and share my experiences to help others.

How do you think we can stop HIV stigma?

Stigma and discrimination go hand-in-hand and given that other forms of discrimination remain (despite legislation), how can we really completely remove stigma? That aside, I firmly believe that we can help reduce stigma by being open, having these conversations and educating everyone about precautions, what it means to have HIV and what it means to be living with HIV and on antiretroviral medication. The more of us that feel comfortable to be open and have these conversations, the more chances we have to bring about change. Social hook-up apps also need to take much more of a lead and whilst they've started to do some work on this, my concern is that it's too little, too late.


Name: Finn 

Age: 31

Occupation: Construction Project Manager

How long have you taken PrEP? 3 months

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

Ordinarily, I would never have agreed to do something like this, but 2018 has been a year of change for me. I've promised myself that I would try new things and push myself out of my comfort zone.

How did you find the photo shoot?

To begin with I was terrified but I kept telling myself that it was all for charity and so, all for a good cause. After the first photo was taken, I was absolutely fine and I actually found it quite empowering. Also, I'd promised myself I would do it and if I had backed out, I'd have broken my promise. I'm glad I did it.

How do you get your PrEP?

I buy my PrEP from Dynamix International which I heard about through the website www.iwantprepnow.co.uk

Why did you decide to start taking PrEP?

Peace of mind mainly.

What have people’s reactions been to you on PrEP?

So far, only positive reactions. I haven't received any negative feedback. Interestingly, when I've mentioned that I'm taking PrEP to straight friends they've not known about it or its benefits. They're always quite surprised that it exists which makes for an interesting conversation.

Do you think there’s stigma around taking PrEP? 

I have heard that there is a stigma surrounding PrEP but I've not experienced any negativity from anyone myself. If I had experienced negativity, I'd explain PrEP's benefits and the reason why I personally take it. I'd also explain that sex is never without its risks and that one should evaluate ones attitude to the risks involved and act accordingly. PrEP may not be for everyone but, in my experience, stigmatic views in general are usually a by-product of a lack of knowledge on a subject.


Name: Ant 

Age: 40

Occupation: CRM Manager and student of MSc Applied Public Health

Years living with HIV: About 12 and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?
I took part in the first HIV Stripped Bare shoot back in 2014 and really enjoyed it. I even had quite a few compliments about my bum when the pictures were published. A former colleague saved it up until my last day in that job to tell me (over drinks) that she’d seen the photos.
Anyway, when the opportunity came around again, I thought: why not? Also, we don’t see too many gay South Asian faces (and bodies) in health promotion campaigns – I’m mixed race and my Dad is from Mauritius – so here I am!
So much has changed in HIV prevention since 2014. Four years ago, PrEP hadn’t really become a thing in Britain. It’s made such a huge difference to the lives of many of my friends. Although we’d known for years that HIV treatment worked really well for prevention, we needed more data from research studies among serodifferent couples [one partner is negative and the other is undetectable] to prove conclusively that undetectable equals untransmittable. It was so exciting when the results of the PARTNER and the Opposites Attract studies were announced – zero transmissions between the partners. As long as I stay undetectable I know can’t pass on HIV – no ifs, no buts. U=U is scientific fact.
 
How did you find the photo shoot?
I’m pretty comfortable with my body and I’m also a bit of an exhibitionist, so I found the shoot liberating. Chris Jepson is a great photographer, so I wasn’t too nervous.
 
Have you experienced stigma because of your status?
 
Some of the worst stigma I’ve faced has come from two sources who should have known so much better. My first HIV consultant told me that I wasn’t the sort of person he had expected to receive a positive diagnosis. At the time, I let this pass – I’m not sure I knew what to say – but I know now that’s a deeply stigmatising attitude to have. I think stigma is holding back some HIV doctors and nurses from telling their patients about U=U. Just as there’s zero risk of HIV transmission if someone is undetectable and keeps taking their meds, there’s also zero excuse for positive people not to be told about it.
Gay men can often be the worst perpetrators of stigmatising attitudes towards HIV. Yes, I get that you’re scared about getting HIV. I was too when I was negative. But by not informing yourself of the risks, and by treating positive guys – and negative guys on PrEP – like crap, you are the problem – not us!
How do you deal with stigma?
 
I’m someone who likes to see the best in people, and so I think often people only say the wrong thing unintentionally. So, when I’m faced with stigma I try to calmly explain to the other person why they’re wrong. I only get frustrated when the person I’m talking to doesn’t want to listen or refuses to accept scientific evidence.
Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?
I think stigma has got better – and it’s great to see more positive gay role models now. But the sad thing is that stigma around the virus is still so widespread. After all, HIV is just a virus that we can prevent and treat effectively. Anything else is stigma.
What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?
I’m really open about my status – did I say that I’m unashamedly undetectable?! The thing is I know I’m lucky – I have an amazingly supportive and loving family (even though I’m the wayward child), a great circle of friends, and brilliant colleagues at work who don’t bat an eyelid about my status. But not everyone living with HIV who you meet will feel anything like that. They may feel a lot of shame and guilt about their status. Help them to cast off that shame by treating them with love and respect.
For me personally, U=U is so empowering and liberating. I’m currently starting out with a guy who’s HIV negative and we both know that he’s safe from the virus, whatever we get up to between the sheets. He doesn’t have to feel guilty or worried about the sex we have, and I don’t have to feel nervous about it either. The fear about HIV has gone for both of us.
As a student, I can’t think of many areas of public health that are so exciting, where we now have the biomedical tools to make such a difference to so many people’s lives. We just need gay men – HIV positive as well as negative – to take the U=U message to heart.
 
How do you think we can eradicate HIV stigma?
I’m really hopeful about HIV and HIV stigma. People living with the virus are people at the end of the day – we just happen to have a virus that means we need to take daily medication to keep it under control. The day I got my HIV diagnosis back in 2007 I didn’t suddenly become a completely different person. The virus did lead me over time to try to improve things for others – that’s why I speak out about HIV and why I get my kit off from time to time! You can do something to make our community the best it can be.


Name: Neal

Age: 32

Occupation: Bookseller

How long have you taken PrEP? Almost 5 months

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

I wanted to be part of something the helps stop the stigma against those with a HIV-positive status. With the treatment available today HIV is much less of a threat than it used to be but there is still a lot of prejudice out there against HIV-positive people. I want to help in any way I can to get the world to see how unfair it is to judge someone living with HIV and if that means doing something as small as stripping off for a magazine shoot then so be it!

How did you find the photo shoot?

I love being naked so I wasn't too fussed about getting my kit off, but I was a little nervous as I've gotten a bit out of shape lately and wasn't sure how I would look in the photos.

How do you get your PrEP?

I was lucky enough to get on a trial, but I was considering buying it myself before I got the call to start the trial.

Why did you decide to start taking PrEP?

I wanted to protect myself against HIV. I think it's incredible that we now have a pill that stops the transmission of HIV, why wouldn't you want to take it?! It is just another way of being responsible and protecting myself and partners.

What have people’s reactions been to you on PrEP? 

Most people think it's great that I'm taking action to look after myself against something. I've had some question how I know it works for sure and ask why I would want to take it, but usually when I explain a bit more to them they understand.

Do you think there’s stigma around taking PrEP?

Definitely! And I fail to understand why. Taking PrEP is just another way of taking precautions when it comes to sexual health. It doesn't mean I'm a slag who sleeps around with everyone. It means I'm a sensible guy looking after my own health, and yours for that matter. This drug stops you catching HIV. Why would you not take it if it was offered to you?! I get told that I should just stick to condoms. But even condoms fail against protecting against contracting HIV. PrEP doesn't.


 

Name: Mark

Age: 47

Occupation: Retail supervisor

Years living with HIV: 22 and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

I am a patron of a HIV charity in Berkshire and always like to do something for World AIDS Day. I think doing anything that helps reduce stigma is a good thing.

How did you find the photo shoot?

Nervous and excited at the same time.

Have you experienced stigma because of your status? 

I was fired from a job for having HIV and I received stigma when I owned my own café - customers thought they could get it from my cooking.

How do you deal with stigma?

I take it on the chin, I always think I am better without that person in my life. I used to do school talks with our charity to help reduce stigma.

Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?

It is about the same, its all about ignorance at the end of the day.

What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?

That you can live as long as someone who is negative if you are on treatment. Undetectable means you can’t pass the virus on.


Name: Steven

Age: 36

Occupation: Neuroscientist/Adult entertainer

How long have you taken PrEP? One year

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot? 

To help raise awareness of PrEP and HIV.

How did you find the photo shoot?

Naked with a bunch of hot boys? It was fun!

How do you get your PrEP?

I order it online through www.iwantprepnow.co.uk.

Why did you decide to start taking PrEP? 

For the protection it offers with little to no side effects. I was satisfied with the available evidence about its efficacy and safety.

What have people’s reactions been to you on PrEP?

Overwhelming positive and curious. Mostly people want to know more about it.

Do you think there’s stigma around taking PrEP?

Unfortunately yes there is. Some people are understandably cautious but others are outright negative, which is unhelpful. I find it's best to start from our common ground: we all want to stay healthy and prevent disease. So if we all agree on that, nobody should be made to feel bad, and we can have sensible conversations about the risks each of us is prepared to take.


Name: Phillip

Age: 36

Occupation: Office manager and burlesque performer

Years living with HIV: 11 and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

One of the main statements made to me when I tell someone I have HIV is “you don’t look like you have it!”. And this has been a statement that I have challenged a lot, and especially since winning the title of Mr Gay England, I’ve been lucky enough to be given a platform where people are paying attention,

How did you find the photo shoot?

The shoot was great, I’m used to being somewhat naked with my burlesque, but being in a studio without fuming first and my trusty liquid confidence (baby oil and glitter) was a little scary for all of a hot second, then doing the duo and group pics were fun, the other guys were lovely and we all loved that we were all doing our bit to break this misconception that if you are HIV-positive you are sickly or unattractive. The boys were all fit!

Have you experienced stigma because of your status? 

I’ve dealt with stigma on many occasions over the years. I've seen things change a lot in 11 years, back then most guys wouldn’t even want to kiss someone with HIV, whereas now those that are aware of what it means to be undetectable and the U=U message are more open-minded. Sadly I don’t think it’s an uncommon response on apps and online for some of the following: “urgh your riddled”, “disgusting”, “I don’t touch people like you”, “whore”, “you should just kill yourself”. Even the latter may seem unacceptable but I have had that gem more than once over the years.

How do you deal with stigma?

Being HIV-positive, you end up developing a thick skin, and it takes a long time to realise that if someone judges you or won’t get to know you because of something you can not change, then they are not worth your time. I’ve just spent the past few months filming a documentary broaching this very subject and is called “Jus+ Like Me” - this will be released in honour of World AIDS day on the 1st December.

Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?

I think that more people are now educated but then I find that this is somewhat London-centric as the information is disseminated more freely it seems. I still receive some of those age old gems that I mentioned earlier. I think that each person no matter their sexual preference need to take responsibility for their own sexual health and that includes knowing about other STI’s. What’s the old adage? Knowledge is power, and ignorance is not hot!

What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?

I would like a negative person to know that I am Just like you. I just take mediation so it is scientifically proven to not be able to pass on the virus, this is the most important thing to know.

How do you think we can eradicate HIV stigma?

I think education and a touch of empathy. There is a quote from the film MILK that I’m obsessed with, and it’s: “They need to know they know one of us” which means that if you know just one person from a minority group you will be more aware of the struggles and plight that they face. Just by reading these articles or following an organisation like GMFA online you will know more and be aware of what we face.


Name: James

Age: 47

Occupation: Self-employed

Years living with HIV: 22 and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

I was ashamed of my HIV status for many years, until I started treatment and became undetectable two years ago. Since then, I have resolved to be open about my status in order to reduce stigma and ignorance. For me, this photoshoot is a celebration of how comfortable I am with my status.

How did you find the photo shoot? 

It was really good fun! A bit weird at first, but the photographer was really good at putting us at ease. I really love the fact half the guys are on PrEP. I thought it was a great message.

Have you experienced stigma because of your status? 

The most overt stigma I've experienced is from other gays guys: "are you clean?", "DDF", etc. However, the worst stigma I've experienced is what I put myself through for twenty years, until I started treatment and became undetectable. I hadn't realised until then how much shame I was carrying about my status; feeling guilty, dirty, and unloveable.

How do you deal with stigma?

Becoming undetectable and knowing I can't pass it on has really helped me resolve my negative feelings about being HIV-positive. I now live openly and without shame, and this has had an impact on how other people respond when I tell them. Instead of "disclosing" my status with embarrassment and shame, I now "share" my status with confidence.

Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?

Definitely better. More and more people have heard the U=U message and are educated about what options are available for them to protect themselves.

What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?

We all have a responsibility to stop HIV. I'm doing my bit by being on treatment and maintaining an undetectable viral load. You can do your bit by testing regularly, and considering PrEP if you know your condom use isn't always consistent. (That's nothing to be ashamed of, by the way... you're not a "bad gay" if you choose to fuck raw. Get yourself on PrEP and let go of the guilt you feel around that).

How do you think we can eradicate HIV stigma?

I came out in 1987, when I was 16. I believed then - and still do - that stigma is tackled best by living your life openly and without shame. The more visible we become and the more we spread the messages that treatment works, PrEP works, and U=U, the less stigma there will be.


Name: Andrew

Age: 65

Occupation: Retired

Years living with HIV: 26 and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

To show that even us oldies are still around! I was on the first ever clinical trial for combination therapy and without it, I would not be here today.

How did you find the photo shoot?

Enjoyable.

Have you experienced stigma because of your status? 

Yes. I eventually had to stop contact with my father due to the stress he was causing, leading to my developing shingles. In general, I have not told many people about my status in order to avoid potential problems. I do not live in London and in a smaller town people are not so well informed as they do not come into contact with HIV-positive (or gay) people on a day-to-day basis.

How do you deal with stigma?

It's their problem, not mine. But it can still hurt.

Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?

In general, it's better, but there's still a long way to go.

What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?

They should get to know all of me, not just my HIV status. HIV is less contagious than a lot of other things.

How do you think we can eradicate HIV stigma?

By being more open and informing the population. In the same way that cancer is now not subject to stigma.


Name: Vojtech

Age: 28

Occupation: Administrative Assistant

How long have you taken PrEP? Five and a half months

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

I always struggled with how gay men are portrayed in advertising of any kind, and I was aware of how underrepresented and alienated by most of it I felt. I wanted to go and be a part of the campaign to give visibility to people who do not fit the standards of modern beauty that surrounds us. It is important to me to show that everyone can take PrEP and that there is no shame in it, that we are all part of our community no matter how we look.

How did you find the photo shoot? 

It was great fun. I was very quickly put at ease. I enjoyed being naked a lot, it was empowering and made me feel confident about myself and my body. Overall the experience was exciting and I would definitely love to do something like this again.

How do you get your PrEP?  

I get my PrEP from the trial that is run by Dean Street. I was actually very lucky, as I have managed to secure my place at the last minute, when they were offering the final spots that have opened up this year.

Why did you decide to start taking PrEP?

Coming from Czech Republic, there was no education or support available about HIV, so I grew up with slight fear of HIV mainly due to non-existent awareness of the issue. I was quite aware of me carrying this unease about sex for years, but never fully having an idea how to deal with it. I have managed to conquer it by going on PrEP, which has lifted all of the pressure away. I finally feel like I can go and have sex without this voice at the back of my head. This has ultimately made my relationship far better, and it allowed it to be open and remain healthy for me. But the main thing is, despite all my personal reasons, I am part of the generation that has the way to defeat HIV once and for all, and I carry huge pride in that.

What have people’s reactions been to you on PrEP? 

My partner took it perfectly fine, since we are in open relationship he fully supported and understood my decision. My friends have been very supportive as well, as quite a few are on PrEP as well or are undetectable. I have spent lot of time gathering people around me who I fully trust, and who are of the same mind like me in this matter, so I never even for a moment thought any of them wouldn't be supportive. My family has been slightly different case. I have told my mother, and her immediate reaction was that it would be better to be simply faithful to my partner, and my grandparents just stared at me without saying anything, and moving conversation away quite quickly.

Do you think there’s stigma around taking PrEP?

The reactions of my family clearly shows one side of stigma, which comes from lack of education not only about PrEP, but of how we have surpassed traditional form of relating to each other. People can love each other very much, and still go and have sex with others if their relationship is healthy. The fact of missing education definitely created an idea in them that PrEP equals cheating. This is one of the reasons why I am telling my family about it, to educate them and to involve them in conversation about the way things are improving and changing.

I have come across people who thought being on PrEP means they are sluts, constantly fucking bareback and spreading diseases. I challenged most of them, as being on PrEP does not mean that one stops using condoms; I always expect the guys use condom with me. I argued that they take charge of their health more then others, being responsible and thinking not only about themselves, but about our community as hole to stop HIV. A lot of them did not listen. Some of them did, and I feel like I might have planted a seed of change into their minds. It is a fight that will be going on for a while, but I will keep promoting and educating people to my best ability, because I am not taking PrEP just to be on it, I am taking it change the world for the better.


Name: Johnnie

Age: 51 (and a half)

Occupation: Brand & Communications Consultant

How long have you taken PrEP? 3 years

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?                       

To promote awareness and understanding of PrEP and HIV-Undetectable. Until more people engage in facts, and those who take PrEP or manage HIV feel able to promote understanding with less fear of negative judgement, opportunities to reduce HIV transmission are forfeited.

How did you find the photo shoot?  

It was terrifying at first and then remarkably fun. (Thank god the most generously equipped guy on the shoot session got undressed after we’d all finished).

How do you get your PrEP?

I started buying in via www.iwantPrepNow.co.uk. I’m now on the IMPACT Trial under the awesome care of the team at Dean Street Express.

Why did you decide to start taking PrEP?

After a couple of scares resulting in A&E visits for urgent PEP treatment – a split condom, lost time and unexplained lube after a drunken tryst – I decided that I’d rather protect my children and friends from legacy terror over what it means to be HIV-positive.

Living in the Middle East in my teens and early 20s, I took Chloroquine daily to avoid contracting malaria. I see PrEP as no different, it’s my active choice to protect myself and others from infection. It doesn’t matter if you choose to live in a city or a swamp; the fact that you take it means that you are doing your bit.

What have people’s reactions been to you on PrEP? 

Mostly intrigued – I have adult kids and a former “straight” lifetime of heterosexual friends and always take the opportunity to talk about it and educate.

Do you think there’s stigma around taking PrEP? 

Yes, the judgement and disdain shown by some people is terrifying. Ignorance and prejudice remain key factors in driving HIV infection. I address it head on, I never hide that I’m on PrEP – my tube card holder shouts “I love PrEP”.  My Grindr saved phrases address the bigots who specify “HIV free” or diss PrEP takers.


Name: Benjamin 

Age: 41

Occupation: Community administrator

Years living with HIV: 10 and undetectable

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?

Because I believe education is key to eradicate HIV stigma.

How did you find the photo shoot?

I found it liberating as I've never done anything like it before.

Have you experienced stigma because of your status?

I personally have not experienced any stigma in regards to my HIV status.

How do you deal with stigma?

I hope if ever I encountered stigma, I would be able to face it head on by standing strong.

Do you think stigma against people living with HIV has got better or worse over the past few years?

I think that the lack of HIV awareness in mainstream media has contributed to stigma still being an issue for many. I believe eduction is key to unlocking stigma. 

What would you like a negative person to know about you and your status?

My name is Benjamin I am HIV-positive. I am a person not an illness.

How do you think we can eradicate HIV stigma?

Education. Keep HIV in the limelight. Becoming complacent is not an option. 


Name: Ashley

Age: 32

Occupation: Sales Assistant at Clonezone, Soho

How long have you taken PrEP? 11 months

Why did you decide to take part in the photo shoot?            

I was emailed the link to apply by my partner who thought it would be up my alley. He knows me very well and is well aware I’m not known to be shy when it comes to getting naked.

How did you find the photo shoot? 

It was a blast. I’m a bit of an exhibitionist, so I’m completely at ease with getting naked in front of others and the camera, plus as it’s in aid of a good cause. It was a no-brainer.

How do you get your PrEP?

I’ve been getting my PrEP via the IMPACT trial for about 11 months now. I signed up at Mortimer Market clinic last December.

Why did you decide to start taking PrEP?

I’m not the biggest fan of condoms but will use them if asked, but I always prefer to bareback. Taking PrEP as well as regular testing, I believe gives me an additional safety net in reducing the chances of contracting HIV.

What have people’s reactions been to you on PrEP? 

I haven’t received any negative reactions when telling my friends/family that I’m taking PrEP, they are clued in when it comes to HIV prevention and are happy I’m taking additional steps in reducing the risks I take.

Do you think there’s stigma around taking PrEP? 

I do think there can be a culture of “slut shaming” when it comes to PrEP, which is ridiculous as the fact your interested in or have begun to take PrEP shows you care about your sexual health and want to reduce the risks you face.


 

Name: Sadiq

Age: 28

Occupation: Circus artist

Years living with HIV: 5 and undetectable


Name: James

Age: 30

Occupation: Adult entertainer 

Years living with HIV: 8 and undetectable


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