by Angela Kang
Kindness and condoms may be equally important when it comes to effective sexual healthcare.
This past year, Jonathan Van Ness of television’s “Queer Eye” came out as HIV+. He is known for his work in the fashion and TV industry and is a well-known and mainstream queer media figure. His story has opened discussions about how trauma, sexuality, and gender identity intersect and compound. Van Ness has chosen to publicly claim his HIV+ status, subverting the stigmatization of HIV by centering it in his identity.
As an LGBTQ Studies Intern, I spent the Fall 2019 semester advocating for LGBTQ+ folks and working in the Outreach and Medical-Legal division of Kind Clinic. Just as Van Ness has done, organizations like the Kind Clinic that raise awareness and provide access to PrEP and PEP, which prevent HIV pre-and post-exposure respectively, treat HIV like any other chronic illness to maintain and treat.
I am a senior studying Biology at the University of Texas and am interested in working in health law and advocacy for low-income and queer folks, who often experience significant disparities in healthcare outcomes. The Kind Clinic, which primarily serves and works with the LGBTQ+ community and at-risk individuals, has taught me a lot about both progressive sex-positive healthcare and how to use the intersection of medicine and law to empower folks. The Kind Clinic is a clinic run by Texas Health Action, whose mission advances sexual wellness by providing healthcare in a safe and supportive environment. The clinic provides sexual health services, such as PrEP and PEP for HIV care, STI testing and treatment, and gender-affirming care to all patients with and without insurance.
The Kind Clinic is more than a clinic for medical care, however. Just as important, it serves the community through kindness and engagement. I worked in the Outreach division. One of the largest events Outreach led in the fall was the annual signature costume party, “What’s Your Fantasy?” We also prepare safety packets, which contain everything from condoms to sunscreen to soap. I see working with patients in these non-medical roles as an important aspect of community clinics that work with vulnerable populations that benefit from a culture of trust and communication. It is important to approach a line of work as sensitive as sexual health in an empathetic and humane manner.
The LGBTQ+ community has been traditionally either hypersexualized or shamed and stigmatized for sex positivity. The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s politicized sex for the community and brought it into an uncomfortable spotlight. With all this history, there can be understandable hesitation in talking publicly about sex and sexuality, but the Kind Clinic celebrates sex positivity in its engagement with the community. For instance, the Kind Clinic regularly provides condoms and other sexual health items to queer clubs and spaces downtown. In this way, the Kind Clinic is not only a distant medical provider and intervenor, but a direct line of care and support in the places that queer folks trust and frequent.
In the sexual health care packages that I helped create, we provided informational packets, condoms, lube, and sex toys, among other items. This was surprising to me, because I had done condom-wrapping drives in the past with other clinics and I have not usually seen sex toys be included in such care packages. This fits the common theme of humanizing the conversation around sex and sexuality. We don’t view sex as something to be treated, an at-risk characteristic, or medical intervention; we celebrate sex as individual intimacy by providing preventative care and sex positive items in the same package. Sex can be a point of pride (and pleasure) as much as every other aspect of the human experience, and it is a significant and political point of reclamation for the queer community. It’s important to normalize sexuality, sex, and the diversity of sexual experiences—because stigmatizing such conversations discourages individuals from seeking regular testing and appropriate treatment. Celebrating sexuality and sexual health means normalizing the routine parts of sexual self-care that promote safety and overall reduce risks. Queer sexual experiences are not inherently unsafe nor shameful. Conversations in the media and in community-centered organizations like Kind Clinic normalize sexual experiences, whether they include at-risk characteristics such as STIs or HIV or not. Folks with HIV+ status can take appropriate treatment and live as long and healthy as a life as their peers, while not being at risk for spreading HIV with their sexual encounters. Kind Clinic emphasizes the openness and pride with which the community celebrates every aspect of its diverse identities.
While it is important to recognize the pride that folks can have in their sexual experiences and identities, Van Ness also brought up the very real aspect of trauma in the queer community. Therefore, it is important for queer folks and allies to respect each other’s spaces and ask for consent before providing information and materials regarding sexual health. The Kind Clinic advertises its services and gives away health items at boisterous places like downtown queer clubs, but also provides the same services at university health fairs, at their clinic locations, and more discreet areas for those who may need more privacy. I am grateful to the Kind Clinic for my internship experience this past semester and the way the Clinic celebrates all queer identities.