Frisky Rant: No One, Including Charlie Sheen, Deserves HIV

I never thought I’d say this, but I feel sorry for Charlie Sheen. On one hand, I understand that the actor, who just confirmed rumors that he is HIV positive, should have disclosed his status to anyone he had unprotected sex with – but on the other hand, I can understand his desire to keep that information private, given that I know what it feels like to have others saying you “deserve” HIV.

In August 2013, I did my first adult film. Shortly after, there was an industry wide moratorium after a female starlet, Cameron Bay, and later, her boyfriend, a gay porn star named Rod Daily, were diagnosed with HIV. To be clear, there hasn’t been an on-set transmission of HIV since 2004 and adult performers are tested every 14 days to make sure it stays that way. It was clear in this case that Bay became infected with HIV from someone outside the industry. Unfortunately, the narrative in the media when it comes to the porn industry is that it’s basically a leper colony, and adult performers are often treated as if they’re STD-ridden. Because my first movie was shot with the same actor that was in Bay’s most recent scene, it was widely reported that I was “exposed” to HIV. Almost immediately, my Twitter mentioned exploded with random people telling me that I “deserved” HIV, that they hoped I would die a slow and painful death, and that, if I was “lucky,” I would at least lose some weight. It was truly one of the darkest times in my life. Google “Sydney Leathers HIV” and you’ll see results like this:

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That’s a hard pill to swallow when, over two years later, clearly I’m still HIV negative or I wouldn’t be able to continue to shoot porn. If it has been hard for me to live with the stigma of this, I cannot even imagine how Charlie feels considering he is HIV positive. And now with it being public knowledge, he has to live with and manage both the virus and society’s judgment, much of which is based on fear-mongering misinformation, for the rest of his life. Charlie Sheen is far from a saint. He should have disclosed his status to his sexual partners. But because he participated in “risky” sexual behavior, because he’s done drugs, because he’s cavorted with sex workers and porn stars, people will say he deserves HIV. He doesn’t. No one does.

Just think for a moment about how would you feel if it was you? Or someone you cared about, like your little brother or sister, or your friend? I highly doubt you would have harsh words for them, that you would tell them they had done something to deserve HIV. There is already so much hateful energy and snark on the internet. Is it really necessary to throw that at a person, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, in what is probably their darkest hour? Can’t we all have a little fucking compassion, even if for a second?

You do porn? You don’t deserve HIV. You sleep with hookers? You don’t deserve HIV. You are a hooker? You don’t deserve HIV. You’ve done drugs? You don’t deserve HIV. You’ve had unprotected sex? You don’t deserve HIV. Are you a gay man? You don’t deserve HIV.

I don’t know why this is such a hard concept for some people to grasp, but let me say it one more time: No matter who you are or what you’ve done, no one deserves HIV.