How to Sleep Soundly with HIV

Author Leslie L. Smith

Starting a blog for this book is a surreal feeling.  After all, I feel as if I have been writing my book, Sally Field Can Play The Transsexual, for a decade and a half. The initial idea came to me in 1998, as condoms began to disappear from gay bars, and I became aware of HIV+ men engaged in an early form of sero-sorting – using one set of safer-sex rules for positive men and another for negative men. Having come of age in the era of condom activism, I had a great deal of trouble reconciling this behavior. I wondered what the ghosts of the men lost to AIDS might say to the men of my generation who are making such choices.  

The book has been through many drafts, with many different endings. Each time the scientific playing field would change, so would the story. But none of the plot changes ever really felt like a solution to me.  There was nothing in the AIDS world that pointed toward the story I wanted to tell, where an advancement finally signaled an end to the epidemic.

Until recently, we have been terrorized by worst-case scenarios: stories of super-strains and re-infections. Stories that medications would prove toxic or eventually lose their effectiveness. For a sad few, this was true. But for the majority of Americans living with HIV, treatment works. There have been no super-strain, no number of untold deaths from toxic med cocktails.

But the story of surviving, simply surviving, because I could take a pill everyday, was not a sufficiently compelling story to me either. I wanted to win the fight against HIV that defined my adolescence. And I believe that the ghosts want me to win. They want HIV eradicated. I know because they still tell me in my dreams. Nothing less than an end to HIV would let them sleep soundly. Nor myself.  All of us, collectively, have done a lousy job of ensuring that legacy — ending HIV’s reign of global terror. 

Until now. PEP and PrEP finally offer us that chance. Nothing else until now has ever come close. We now have the possibility of a real ending, if we just get re-motivated and stop shaming each other for our varied sexual choices. If my novel can help start that final ripple of discussion, and once again get people talking about ending HIV instead of surviving with it, then I will consider Sally Field Can Play The Transsexual a success.