After publishing my op-ed in the New York Times, “What Jonathan Van Ness’s Story Teaches Us About the H.I.V. Epidemic,” I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Jonathan Van Ness on his podcast, Getting Curious. One of the things that I observed in our discussion was JVN’s warm and generous spirit and his deep commitment to reflecting upon his prior understandings of things as he shared his current thinking around HIV, privilege, and inequality. I loved engaging with JVN because he is so eager to know and learn for growth, understanding, and connection. (What a world it would be if more of us had his sense of curiosity!)

Here are some of the major takeaways from my research that I shared with JVN:

  • HIV is an epidemic of intersectional inequality. The likelihood of acquisition is higher if you are living in a context of social & economic vulnerability due to your race, class, gender, sexuality, and other marginalized statuses.
  • Indeed, HIV finds society’s pockets of vulnerability and exploits them.
  • Unfortunately, systems and institutions are trained to attend to those with resources rather than those most in need.
  • Fortunately, the HIV community has built and continues to build structures within the larger social system to serve as buffers and protective spaces for healing.
  • As stories from my book show, women living with HIV have to “fight like hell to live.” The beauty of the HIV community is that you don’t have to do the work of carrying the load by yourself.

As JVN beautifully understood, combating health crises, especially global health crises like the HIV epidemic and the current COVID-19 pandemic, require an understanding of the ways that inequality and privilege operate to disproportionately harm some communities while protecting others. My wish for the HIV safety net and for other safety nets is that they are present wherever they are needed. The work continues, and the work is necessary.

For more about these issues, please check out Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality, available through Amazon, IndieBound, The University of California Press, and other booksellers.