As World AIDS Day approaches December 1, the good news is the miracle of antiviral treatments and PrEP means fewer people are contracting HIV or dying from the disease.
However, an estimated 1.5 million people globally will be infected with the virus this year, many unaware of their condition. Pockets of gay men around the world remain vulnerable.
The hit drama Merlinon Netflix, tackled that issue in the final season, joining shows like It’s a sin, Angels in Americaand The real world with Pedro Zamora in shaping our understanding of HIV.
Creator Hector Lozano’s Spanish-language hit tells the story of Pol Rubio (Carlos Cuevas), at the center of a group Philosophy students and their teachers at a secondary school and university in Barcelona. Over five seasons, they come to terms with growing up and aging through the lens of the Great Philosophers.
For heartbreaking Pol, in the final season, that means confronting the very real dangers HIV still poses to sexually active men who have sex with men.
Here are three things Merlin was right about an HIV-positive diagnosis, 40 years after the start of the AIDS epidemic…
1. The shock and the horror
Pol is sexy and smart, someone all the girls want to be with, and the guys want to be just like – and into Merlins universe, also wants to be with. He’s a player, and over the course of the show evolves from hook-ups with girls and a semi-relationship with his philosophy professor’s son to a more queer sexual identity, but on the DL. Just as he’s coming to terms with his attraction to men, he learns from a one-night stand that he’s been exposed to HIV a year and a half later. He is sure that he is unaffected: he is actually straight and a top with other menand beyond the scope of a ‘gay plague’.
Spoiler alert: A pharmacia test reveals him to be positive, a nightmare scenario for the machismo golden boy, who is almost certain the result is a death sentence.
2. Knowledge is power
The noise of his test result prevents Pol from hearing the pharmacist’s assurances that HIV is treatable and he is consumed with guilt and shame. He hides the diagnosis from family and friends, and from the young man in college who will help reconcile his masculinity with his sexual orientation. At the same time, he gets a job at a local gay cabaret, where the owner, who has christened the chiseled Pol ‘Apollo’, feels the philosophy student’s anguish and shares his own experiences through life’s wars as HIV positive. gay man. Everything will be fine, he has been thriving with HIV for years. With that cross-generational connection, “Apollo” begins to empathize with the men who came before him, and begins to see his future more clearly. It is bright and full of love.
3. PrEP is not the only precaution
Due to the great success of HIV treatment options and prophylaxis, some sexually active people have become complacent about the disease and its life-changing effects. Pockets of men who have sex with men have no access to information for PrEP. Pol became HIV positive because he thought he was immune to a virus that doesn’t affect people like him. It is revealed that he did not use a condom in that encounter with a sexy fellow student, and was unaware of his partner’s status or history. The shock of his diagnosis is partly an admission of a lack of awareness. He has to come out to his concerned working-class father and friends. It also affects his relationship with an older handsome man he falls in love with: how can anyone trust him after putting himself in danger?
But with time and support, Pol comes to forgive himself and acknowledge his new reality, with a new love that accepts him as he is.
Accepting responsibility for his actions and his future is key for Pol to accept living with HIV. This year’s World AIDS Day theme, “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV,” reminds us that we all have a responsibility to help break down the differences and inequalities that create barriers raises for HIV testing, prevention and access to HIV. HIV care, and to make HIV something to be remembered.