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Who’s the Poz? Danny Pintauro and the HIV Blame Game
Oct07

Who’s the Poz? Danny Pintauro and the HIV Blame Game

CREATED ON // Wednesday, 07 October 2015 Author // Nic Holas

With a great platform, comes great responsiblity, writes Nic Holas.

Recently, Who’s the Boss? child star Danny Pintauro disclosed to Oprah the world that he was HIV+. This is an act of some significance, for him personally and for the HIV community, and is deserving of praise. Sadly, that such a public disclosure is seen a brave thing to do reveals how far we’ve still to travel in de-stigmatising HIV. While Pintauro’s act of disclosing his status should be universally applauded, the message he brings with it warrants a little more scrutiny.

While the currency of Pintauro’s fame had been devalued to a “Where are the now?” level, he still occupied a space in nostalgia for those of us who grew up with 80s sitcoms. This was an age of pre-Seinfeld, pre-The Simpsons television in which sitcoms were neat little moral fables that explored the family-centric values of the Reagan era. Symbolically, Pintauro’s recent disclosure becomes a pingback to that era, a time when HIV meant the plague of AIDS, and President Reagan wouldn’t even say its name. Now one of the pop cultural artefacts of that era is not only saying the word HIV, he is identifying as it. Ironically, it is what Oprah would call a ‘full circle moment’.

 

WATCH: Danny Pintauro reveals he his HIV+ to Oprah

 

The power of an HIV disclosure in the public eye isn’t to be underestimated. Pintauro will no doubt be reviewing thousands of messages, tweets and comments from other HIV+ people. On top of that, he has gone on a massive media junket, including a disastrous interview on The View. All of this would be creating a swell of pressure, expectation and exposure. The worst thing for him and the community would be the express train to backlash, breakdown, then burn out. However, his platform seems like it's purely based on his personal experience of HIV, and that’s a problem.

 

WATCH: Danny Pintauro speaks about his HIV status on The View

 

It’s troubling that Pintauro claims he’s taking 'full responsibility’ for his actions, then appears to be doing the slow slide into the HIV blame game. Firstly, Pintauro pins his conversion on someone he says “failed to disclose”. Which also suggests Pintauro didn't ask, either. However that transfer of personal responsibility is precisely what is used to throw HIV+ people in jail for 30-plus years, and enforces this idea that poz people are ‘infectious’ and ‘out to get us’.”

Pintauro initially said this guy was probably dead because he “wasn’t taking care of himself”. If I were this guy sitting at home watching an anonymous fuck from 12 years ago tell Oprah, The View, HuffPost Live and more that I was a criminal, without any evidence beyond his assuming that I knew I was HIV+ and chose not to tell him, I’d prefer he believe me to be dead.

However, the narrative has shifted again because Pintauro claims he has since found the man’s name in an email and is “searching” for him. I hope for this man’s sake, Pintauro never finds him. In the US, poz men are getting arrested in police stings that entrap them for choosing not disclose their status when chatting online. How would such a system react to the man who (possibly unwittingly) passed on HIV to little Danny from Who’s the Boss?.

The other aspect of the HIV blame game being played out by Pintauro is his history of crystal meth use. In the initial Oprah interview, Pintauro did what very few had managed: to identify that meth wasn’t the reason he became HIV+ but acknowledged it was present in his life at the time. Pintauro claims he turned to experimenting with crystal because he recognised some inhibitions that were holding back from engaging in his sexuality. Meth, he said, was a shortcut to overcoming those.

Initially, Pintauro seemed driven to highlight the problematic aspects of crystal use and let gay men understand how it can lead to serious ongoing health and lifestyle issues. Then, in the face of further media scrutiny from more moralistic presenters and unhelpful peers, that nuanced and complicated message shifted to meth (and a liar) being jointly responsible for his HIV infection.

In another new interview in which he chose to reveal this information, Pintauro claims his meth usage lead to a compromised immune system which saw sores appear in his mouth. These sores created an entry point for the HIV he says he obtained whilst performing oral sex (on the man who failed to disclose).

 

WATCH: Danny Pintauro talks about his meth use and how he contracted HIV with Us Weekly

 

Danny Pintauro's quickly shifting stance on acknowledging the complex issue of gay men, meth, sex, and shame and how it intersects with HIV, has leapt to a blunt, poorly researched, and ignorant platform. 

Pintauro states he wants to make undetectable ‘sexy’ and meth ‘unsexy.’ As if the complex aspects of gay men’s fight against HIV can be reduced to an annual WeHo ‘hot or not’ list. 

A public opinion on HIV is a tricky thing to manage. You have to listen to the community, but you can never fully represent them. If you have the privilege to speak publicly as a Person Living with HIV, you have to be motivated by more than just “this thing happened to me, so it is a universal truth”. While community advocates are not doctors or researchers who often speak to anecdotal experiences instead of hard data, they also must be wary of where their morals intersect their microphone.

If Pintauro wants to be an advocate for HIV+ people, he needs to stop throwing them under the bus he catches from interview to interview. A celebrity disclosing their status is a brave and powerful thing to do. Blaming your HIV on anything to reduce the sting of a moralising, judgemental studio audience is the opposite.

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Nic Holas

Nic Holas

Nic Holas is a writer focusing on living with HIV and the contemporary gay experience, and has been published in Hello Mr., Junkee, Star Observer, Cosmopolitan, and more. Nic is co-founder of The Institute of Many (TIM), a social umbrella for HIV positive people, and an ENUF Ambassador. Tweet him: @nicheholas. Nic is a contributing editor for GNN CheckUp.

Comments (3)

  • chad

    09 October 2015 at 04:21 |
    Knowingly giving someone HIV is greivous bodily harm. I fully support criminal consequences of someone deliberately knowing their status and then choosing to have unprotected fun with someone knowing there is a possibility of infection. For people who know their status it has the effect of knowingly mutilating someone's body for the rest of their (now shortened) lifespan.

    Having hiv may seem like a liberating experience to those who have feared seroconversion and knowing that it has finally happened can lead to one having a preference for unsafe fun - as the 'worst' has already happened by seroconversion - and any other infection seems trivial in terms of scale. This is of course fine, but it should only be limited to likeminded individuals who are positive (positive men have a preference for unprotected fun, at least within positive communities).

    However, this form of liberation cannot and should not be extended to playing with other people who do not have hiv, people who do not wish to seroconvert, people who are afraid of the consequences of catching hiv. Yes, everyone is responsible for their own actions, but just as a blackened eye and a bloodied nose harms someone, so does the knowing transmission of hiv to someone who was otherwise negative. It is unrealistic to epect that every time a negative person sleeps with someone, they need to conduct some kind of conclusive test as to the hiv status of the individual they're wanting to sleep with. Any decent human being would realise that the task of disclosure is always with the person who has the harmful virus. Whether the neg person doesn't insist on a condom or not is immaterial. If hiv positive people dont want to put themselves in that sitituation, of facing criminal consequences for grievous bodily harm then they shouldn't be sleeping with guys that are not in the hiv positive community, or in the alternative they should wear a condom. Wearing a condom serves a greater good than your immediate gratification from doing it raw because it feels better. How on earth can this be a justification for putting every healthy person on antiretroviral drugs as some kind of get-out-of-jail free card for people who dont want their life unnecessarily burdened because people might not sleep with you if you have to declare your status every time. They might even avoid you altogether.

    We cant be granting these people a licence to have promiscuous fun with neg guys yet remove any kind of consequences that arise from that new found sense of raw liberation.

    Perhaps this is the end goal of hiv positive people who advocate everyone get on prep. If everyone is on prep, the hiv positive people are not held to the consequences of their actions in not having to disclose their status and shifting the burden of prevention from the infected to the uninfected.

    reply

  • Daniel

    08 October 2015 at 23:08 |
    Your health, including your sexual health, is your responsibility and yours only. HIV- people are not little kids who need to be coddled and protected and sheltered from the bigt bad world. I often ask people out of interest whether a poz person should always disclose without exception and am astounded by how many think they ought to do so and that it is immoral if they don't. What kind of fantasy world are you living in? Sorry, but if you choose to sleep around with multiple casual partners, the simple fact of life is that unless you take proper steps to protect yourself, it is going to be risky. You're old enough to weigh up the pros and cons and HIV is hardly the only STI out there you might catch. Don't blame drugs, don't blame others - it takes all of 5 seconds to slip on a condom. It's your choice.

    reply

    • Simon

      10 October 2015 at 23:25 |
      Daniel - I'm sorry - did you even watch those interviews? He said he was safe and did use condoms. He said he contracted it through lesions left by drugs on/in his mouth because of meth use, not penetrative sex. From what I can tell, he's blaming drugs, not sex for getting HIV.

      reply

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