Growing up as a young, same-gender loving (SGL) man of color, I heard a lot about HIV. I heard family members make jokes about it, I saw peers stigmatize others in the community for being positive, and I knew how widespread the HIV epidemic was within the black community, especially for SGL men of color.
Fast forward to today… I have been on the other blue pill, known as Truvada, for about three months. This oral antiretroviral preexposure prophylaxis is a preventive drug also known as PrEP, which virtually prevents HIV infection if taken once a day as recommended. Before going on PrEP, there were three reasons I had for considering it as a precautionary measure for my health:
- According to the Black AIDS Institute 2012 report Back of the Line, 25 percent of black gay and bisexual men will have HIV by age 25; about 60 percent of black gay and bisexual men will have HIV by age 40.
- I’ve always wanted to donate my organs and body for the higher purpose of scientific research, which some laws and policies would prevent me from doing if I ever became HIV positive.
- Through the years, I’ve seen one gay relative and close friend after the next become HIV positive, which to me made it feel as though HIV was ringing at my doorbell. The statistics were simply too real!
I never thought that initiating a dialogue with my partner about considering PrEP would breed distrust or suspicions of infidelity, but it did. Despite my partner’s reservations, I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment to explore PrEP further. Before agreeing to prescribe the drug, he made sure to educate me regarding all of its pertinent information, as well as conducted labs and completed screenings for HIV, STIs, and kidney/liver health.
When the time came to discuss the drug’s cost, my doctor informed me that it would be expensive but that most insurance plans provide coverage to assist. Upon leaving the doctor’s appointment to pick up the prescription, I was nevertheless flabbergasted when the pharmacist informed me that the price would exceed $500 dollars — and that was with my insurance. After extensive research, I learned of the Patient Assistance Network (PAN), a program available for individuals with such gaps in their insurance coverage. Thanks to PAN, at my second visit to the pharmacy, my prescription cost was zero.
Full disclosure? Surprisingly, my earliest experience taking the medication wasn’t so pleasant. Although most people who take PrEP report no side effects, for me there were two major ones that kicked in by day three: nausea and dizziness. I was relieved to learn that studies had shown that such side effects typically diminish after three weeks of use, and even more relieved when everything was indeed back to normal for me by then.
As a same-gender loving man of color who works in the field of HIV prevention, I understand that I have a platform and a responsibility to lead by example. Since taking PrEP, I’ve embraced my subsequent influence among peers and clients, guiding them through prudent decision-making about whether PrEP could be a good idea for them in addition to other risk reduction strategies including condoms, seropositioning, sexual exclusivity, and/or regular testing.
Three months into taking PrEP regularly, I am sure that the drug is revolutionary for the peace of mind it brings, instilling not only hope but also assurance to same-gender loving men who once felt doomed to succumb to the self-fulling prophecy that, “It’s not a matter of if you get HIV, it’s a matter of when.” In the end, PrEP isn’t just a pill. It’s an intervention.