HIV film shown at NHS conference on sexual health
The film is narrated and written by Juno Roche and I became aware of it when it was put on the agenda of the CliniQ conference held on 17 February 2022, which I have written about separately. Roche has previously appeared at the CliniQ conference and is a trans activist.
What is particularly jarring about the film is that the three people who appear on screen don’t speak at all, they are just there as dressing to Roche’s uninspiring monologue, pulling faces and inexplicably knocking on doors and dancing in public places. No doubt they all collected a performance fee. One is African artist based in Vancouver, Jacky Essombe (charges an arm and a leg). Another is Joleen Mitton, founder of Indigenous Fashion Week and identifies as a Plains Cree Indian (explains the crappy dancing). Quanah Style is a drag queen, who also identifies as Cree Indian and has made a TV series about his facial feminisation surgery – see the trailer which is forty seconds of pure cringe. Thus two of the four ‘women’ in a film about women and HIV are actually men, which is a perfect gender balance, I think we can all agree.
If this is Roche’s story then surely it would make sense to have Roche on screen? Perhaps he got shy? Who knows. Anyway Roche isn’t happy that on dating sites he is rejected for his HIV positive status and his ‘transness’ and wants to eschew the ‘myth’ that ‘trans women’ are infected with HIV as a result of sex work, even though it is true in his case that he was formerly a sex worker and notes without irony that he has had to ‘own’ the myth. Roche also asks rhetorically whether it is okay to withhold his HIV status to potential partners. Um, why is this even a question?
Moreover the message of the film is that ‘U equals U’ – i.e. that Un-detectable means Un-transmittable. Geddit? You might do. As per the course for these things, a serious health message is reduced down to a silly mantra with no attempt made to explain how Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) works, but what is really surprising in this case is that PrEP isn’t even mentioned. Not even once. I suppose that neatly avoids having to explain that if PrEP is not taken correctly U can mean suddenly mean T, and life long dependence on anti-viral drugs. Not only that you need not warn people of any of the serious side effects of PrEP, which is a bit of a result really because they aren’t good, especially if you are pregnant or breast feeding. But, hey, that’s fine, men can’t get pregnant so why worry about sharing a public health message about that in a film aimed at women and HIV?
Roche tells us that the history of HIV is that of ‘men and men’s sexuality, you can’t escape the fact that men control the narratives’ (at 6 minutes). Few safe sex campaigns target women, he opines, though they might get to be the face on the poster. ‘We just don’t own the narrative,’ he says defeatedly. Poor Juno, you poor poor baby.
At the end we learn that being HIV positive has made Roche a ‘fucking great writer’ and ‘fabulous’. So get HIV today kids!
The executive producers were Life and Love with HIV and the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Life & Love with HIV have had a whopping two subscribers to its YouTube channel since its creation in 2017. The website explains that they want to shift the conversation from ‘risk to pleasure’ and are a community organisation for women ‘and partners’ living with HIV. It was set up by the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU, run in conjunction with an East African Women’s HIV charity – the ICWEA, who are likely in receipt of international money. Certainly the SFU are collecting donations from the general public for Life & Love with HIV, crucially stating: ‘Your gift will support the project’s operating costs and allows community writers to receive mentorship and compensation for their work.’ A gravy train then.
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