Throughout history, there have been many periods where being an American citizen has not been a source of pride. Often, we are not seen as globally minded as people from other countries, and our current political leader has many questioning the sanity of our nation’s people. I personally struggle with finding happy-happy-joy-joy feelings of being an American lately. My partners and I had scheduled a fun trip to Germany and I was concerned about how we would be treated. It honestly brought up some feelings of shame and embarrassment.
We weren’t planning our first trip the Germany, as we visited the year before as Trump was gaining popularity in the election. Many people asked us if this was some type of American joke that the media was playing on the world since no one could believe that a dramatic, narcissistic blowhard could possibly be a viable contender for presidency. After the election, many of us faced aspects of anger, disbelief, depression, and hopelessness while others around the world looked on us with pity, fear, and confusion.
We were entering an environment of uncertainty.
But, we flew over the Atlantic for a party weekend. While there we met people from all over Europe and other parts of the world. Politically I was expecting some negativity, but there was actually much more scrutiny around other aspects of being an American. Our sexual health practices and discussions about HIV and PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) were met with responses that I infrequently get in the United States.
As much as it surprised me, it also finally gave me something to feel elements of pride about being an American. Globally we have been able to accomplish something in the realm of sexual health and HIV that very few other countries have. We have faced the fear of HIV and are making significant progress in dealing in with the ramifications.
During our trip, we received a variety of comments about sexual practices. One of the most surprising was the lack of knowledge about the risk factors in transmitting HIV if on treatment medications, or how PrEP can add another level of safety from HIV.
Not only were people concerned about sexual contact without condoms with someone who was HIV-positive, but even with condoms many people were not willing to have “risky” sex with someone that had HIV. When discussing the science about transmitting the virus, fear apparently was more impactful and often met with additional resistance. There were also times where the attitude that HIV-positive people were the targets of anger because of the perception of their danger to HIV-negative individuals.