Prince Harry should be commended for taking an HIV finger-prick test live at a sexual health centre, part of Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital in London. If the results of such a test were positive, the patient’s blood would be sent for further testing. Harry’s test (negative – or you’d probably already have heard about it, or never heard about it, as the case may be) was done to raise awareness about the number of people in Britain who are unaware that they’re HIV-positive (estimated at 11,000).
For those who are old enough, it would have sparked memories of his mother, Diana, reaching out to people, back at a time when many still feared that the “gay plague” could be spread via the merest contact.
Now, we have Harry, continuing her work, and what a prince indeed: a red-blooded royal hottie! While William completes his metamorphosis into a staple husband and future King. Harry gets the playboy prince role. It was fitting that the royal poster boy for rampant heterosexuality should take the blood test, to drive it home that thinking of HIV as a “gay disease” is a dangerous mistake that, even today, in 2016, many straight people make.
Too many heterosexuals still seem stuck in a kind of finger-crossing/wistful thinking zone, or suspended in blissful oblivion about the possibilities of HIV infection. It’s a complicated fog of stupidity, denial and inept fear-management that I recognise only too well from my own experience, years ago, when I took my first HIV test.
(Article via Barbara Ellen at The Guardian)
I recall going to a clinic quite nonchalantly (probably making some smug pompous point about being sensible – perhaps expecting a medal), and then becoming increasingly unnerved as the counsellor and I totted up what I shall delicately refer to as my “risk factors” (I’ll spare you the gory details). At which point, it felt as though it would be a blessed miracle if I wasn’t infected.
To say it was stressful waiting for the results (and for the results of the confirmation test later) is an understatement. I ended up ringing the Terrence Higgins Trust hotline, bothering the kind volunteers (brilliant, by the way) with my relentless paranoid chuntering, which was embarrassing enough at the time. Years later, my shame intensified when I came to know people who were HIV-positive, and handling it with a lot more grace.
Looking back, it was a classic case of belated hetero-panic, doubtless aggravated by not taking the threat seriously enough in the first place.
I can’t help but wonder whether this is what a lot of straight people are still like about HIV and Aids – a bit thick, blinkered and naive (just like I was, strutting into that clinic)?
It seems odd that, from the initial peak-hysteria of HIV/Aids (hospital staff in biohazard suits, Aids adverts full of nightmarish crashing tombstones), the heterosexual mindset so swiftly segued into the blandly mainstream conviction that HIV had little to do with them – the exact kind of attitude that sees heterosexual people ranking among those prone to seeking out HIV tests and treatment late.
I’m not saying that heterosexual HIV-infection is special or that gay HIV-positive people are a more standardised group. Nor do I mean to ignore those infected by non-sexual means.
The point, as Prince Harry said, is for everybody to be tested. However, another point is that these tests, horribly daunting for everybody, may still verge on alien for people who’ve been deluding themselves that they aren’t at risk. That’s why it made so much sense for the heterosexual – perhaps this time more important than his being a prince – Harry to be shown taking that test.