This week, WORLD celebrates National Transgender HIV Testing Day! We celebrate this day, April 18, because everybody deserves to know their status and have accurate health information; no one should live in uncertainty or fear.
However, we know that trans people are often given misleading health information and shamed for their sexuality and gender expression. Mainstream culture pathologizes trans people, especially trans women, and especially trans women of color. This is evident in the ways that even the most well-meaning institutions discuss trans people and HIV- including explicitly woman-centered, anti-bias organizations such as WORLD.
When we, as members of the HIV service community, talk about transgender people and HIV testing, we often use the terms “risk,” and reference “risky behavior.” Articles published note that trans people are more “at risk” of contracting HIV than other populations, and lament that, despite this “risk,” they don’t get tested at the same rates that gay men (for instance) do. The argument presented, implicitly or otherwise, is that trans people should get tested for HIV at rates that are proportional to their “risk” for contracting the virus.
Of course, we should know that all sexually active people are at risk of contracting HIV, and that everybody should get tested. So what are we really saying when we talk about trans people, HIV, and risk? We imply that trans people do not have agency. We imply that trans people represent a public health threat. We imply that trans people are, themselves, a risk. Even when we acknowledge that trans people are pushed into “risky behaviors,” such as condomless sex work, through marginalization at the hands of cisgender institutions, we still assign them a profile of “riskiness”- that is to say, danger and mistrust.
We at WORLD embrace National Transgender HIV Testing Day because we are empowered by the recognition of trans people as embodying valuable and beautiful lives that deserve to be lived to the fullest. We disavow the notion of human beings as “risky;” we recognize that HIV is a disease that feeds on stigma, silence and shame. We refuse to stigmatize, we repudiate shaming, and we will never be silent!
We encourage all trans people to get tested for HIV- not because they are at risk, but because they have the right to live happily and safely in their bodies. Knowing your status is just another step (albeit an extremely important one) in taking care of yourself and living your truth. When you do get tested, know that a diagnosis does not mean anything about who you are intrinsically. Neither a positive nor a negative HIV diagnosis says anything about the kind of person you are or the value you have. And no matter what, you are not alone.
WORLD is happy to support a national division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s affinity group FLUX; FLUX aims to raise the profile of the trans and gender-nonconforming community by leveraging social events, creating safe spaces, and innovative advocacy initiatives. Janelle L. Vinson, WORLD’s Outreach & Linkage Specialist, leads the Bay Area Chapter of FLUX. Reach out to her and to WORLD.
In addition, please join us as we help FLUX host a free community mixer for National Transgender HIV Testing Day! This mixer will be at Humanist Hall (390 27th St) in Oakland today, April 18, at 5:30 PM.
And no matter who you are, get tested- this Wednesday, or today! #knowyourstatus
This post was written by Molly Roberts, WORLD Office Assistant