For an update on the science, read “ “Undetectable” is a medical term—but its meaning goes beyond lab reports and doctor’s offices.
It refers to suppressed viral load, which is both a key goal of treatment to protect the health of people living with HIV and an exciting new tool for reducing risk of HIV transmission to negative sex partners. Watch our animated video for an easy-to-follow explanation of undetectable viral load and its importance for HIV health and HIV prevention.) So how do we talk about it?
” I think a nice thing to do, from a positive person’s standpoint—or someone in Derek’s position—is to offer a bit of gentle education.
You know, people don’t want to go around on Grindr giving sermons, but I think it’s nice to help the conversation along and move community knowledge forward.
There are still laws about not disclosing HIV status in upwards of 30 states.
So in a “chat” scenario, if you’re talking on a mobile device, like Derek mentioned, I think the immediate go-to is to disclose, or to ask the person you’re interested in sleeping with, “What’s your status? ” Even if it doesn’t lead to something, or even if the person ends up rejecting you, you’re putting the burden of being cool in their court. The first couple of times, it’s probably not going to go well—you’re going to clam up, or you’ll get nervous.
Derek Brocklehurst: In my experience, when a guy says he’s positive and undetectable, that usually is the initial clue to me that he is on medication, he knows his status, he’s taking steps to improve or maintain his health, and he’s taking care of his life. They might expect that I’ll know what all these terms are.
And what does it mean to different people in different contexts?
BETA put these questions to Zachary Barnett and Derek Brocklehurst, two gay men with different experiences of “undetectable.” Zachary is the founder and executive director of the Abzyme Research Foundation, an organization working toward an HIV vaccine, and has written candidly in the Advocate about his experiences disclosing his own HIV status and undetectable viral load.
Not that you’re on the defensive, per se, but I feel there is an obligation to disclose—an ethical one, and in some situations a legal one.
For example, Lambda Legal is taking up a court case in Ohio, where a man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison because he had protected sex with someone, and they found out afterwards that the man was HIV positive.