5 Things To Learn From Charlie Sheen’s Confession

Charlie Sheen is an American actor who recently came out publicly about his HIV status
Charlie Sheen is an American actor who recently came out publicly about his HIV status
Charlie Sheen is an American actor who recently came out publicly about his HIV status

It’s about time! We’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for years!


Poor Charlie…

The response to Charlie’s confession on the Today Show a few days ago has been predictable. Charlie Sheen, born Carlos Estevez, is HIV positive. He has known this for 4 years now (kinda puts into perspective his 2011 meltdown yeah?) Why come out to the world? A sex worker found his pills, took pictures and threatened to expose him if he didn’t pay her. This came after he had to pay off a few other women who sued him after learning of his status from the loud mouth friends he’d trusted with the information.

When the “Which Celeb Has HIV” headlines started circulating on the interwebs, 90% of the guess lists generated included Charlie Sheen. His party hard lifestyle, expensive and filled with drugs and prostitutes has brought a collective self righteous sneer to this world’s population many, many times for almost 3 decades. He’s a gorgeous, arrogant, talented, straight, white man with the added advantage of being Hollywood royalty via his movie star father Martin Sheen. That level of access and privilege is a daytime fantasy many of us will not indulge in for fear of breaking down in despair.

Drugs and prostitutes. Drugs and prostitutes. Drugs and prostitutes. It is all we can think about or talk about when faced with the reality of Mr. Sheen’s diagnosis. None of us are being fair to drugs, sex workers or Charlie.

  1. Leave the drugs out of it

This is not an opportunity to shame drug users. Yes, Charlie is an addict. No, it does NOT mean he deserves HIV. He has said on record that he doesn’t use needles and that couldn’t have been how he got infected. Either way drug use, depression and risky sex behavior (condomless sex) constitute a vicious cycle and do increase the chances of being exposed to HIV. However, this gives us an opportunity to reflect on what little care we provide for addicts today and what risks that exposes them to.

While we’re at it, did you know the terms ‘drub abuser’ and ‘drug addict’ are derogatory and stigmatizing? Where relevant use ‘drug user’ or with specifics available, describe the person’s use of a particular substance.

2. Leave out Sex Workers too

Sex workers, just like any other humans, do not want to get HIV. In the States especially, laws have been passed that protect sex workers, on the streets, in brothels and in the porn industry from STIs. The agencies they work for are required put them through vigorous testing and provide protection. Blaming sex workers for the spread of HIV and other STDs puts them at risk of violence and abuse from the public.

3.The stigma still exists

Many, myself included, put responses to a HIV relate celebrity scandal through the ‘Diabetes test’. Diabetes is life threatening, managed with medication and is often even harder to keep in check than HIV. Would “Guess Which Celebrity Has Diabetes” headlines have drawn as much attention? Would news that Charlie was about to confess to having Diabetes have caused celebrities like Heather Locklear to voice Instagram sympathy for the man? Diabetes certainly wouldn’t have made the A-List celebrity vulnerable to blackmail over its stigma.  Sheen said that he had paid more than $10 million to various persons to conceal his condition. Immediately, one wonders whether his willingness to pay extortionists was driven by fear that he would be ostracized and become unable to get work if his diagnosis became public knowledge.

4. People are getting in the dark diagnoses

It makes sense that, as most of the 50 year old star’s life has been lived in the limelight, that this would unfurl in public like any other celebrity scandal complete with a confessional interview. We musn’t forget though that it took 4  years and millions of dollars paid for him to come out with it. Granted, he isn’t legally obliged to tell the world of his status. However considering how he went above and beyond to keep it quiet, and the fears now of getting sued by sexual partners he didn’t inform that he’s HIV positive, the repercussions are clear. The fear of stigma cost Charlie a lot of money and time. In this way the world has spectacularly failed the ‘Diabetes test’.

But then again, in fairness, diabetes isn’t sexually transmissible and doesn’t raise thorny questions of personal responsibility — questions which, in all too many states, can get blown up into harsh HIV criminalization laws

6. You can and will be sued

Often what happens is that when people discover [they’ve had sex with someone who’s HIV positive] there’s a bit of a panicked response that happens, and people start thinking about worst-case scenarios. If the person has an undetectable viral load because they’ve been taking their ARVs faithfully and is using condoms, the risk of transmission is really minimal. Also, the knowledge of PEPs (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) like Truvada, modern medicines that prevent HIV infection in case of exposure is not as common as  I thought before.

So blind panic caused by stigma and ignorance of the strides modern medicine has taken will have Charlie’s sexual partners from the last 4 years in court suing him for criminal transmission of HIV. 32 states of the US will prosecute you for knowingly transmitting HIV. If any of his partners can prove that he infected him with the virus, Charlie may face some serious jail time.

IT is 2015 though, and Charlie is a Hollywood millionaire with a lot more access to quality healthcare than 90% of today’s world population. Yes, it’s tragic that he has HIV, absolutely. But let’s be honest, he will be fine. HIV is not a death sentence and treating this like Charlie’s punishment from the gods for all the evil he’s committed in the world is unfair to him and other people living with HIV. Stop with all the mean jokes internet.

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