Thursday, January 17, 2013

Youth Voices: Finn

The T Side of Things
By Sean Finn, Marshalltown HS SOAR President

Practically everyone could tell you what it means to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Not all would be able to explain in depth, but they understand the general premise. But wait, there’s an initial missing from this set. There’s that ambiguous letter settled at the end of that common acronym - LGBT. What does it mean? Do people understand it? Unfortunately, not very many people fully understand or could explain what it means to be transgender. Even among those in the LGBT community, there are many who barely know what it means and who have several misconceptions about it.

Trans people are a huge minority! The numbers aren’t exact, but an estimated only 0.3% of the population fits under the category of trans. And that probably explains why so many people are so misinformed or uninformed about it. So I’ll go ahead and explain a few things about trans folk. Someone is transgender when the body they were born in doesn’t match up with their own idea of who they are. There are two main categories: FtM (Female to Male) and MtF (Male to Female). Typically, trans people like not to be called by their birth name, or by pronouns that align with their birth sex. There’s a lot about trans folk that many people don’t understand, so go inform yourself! Simply by Googling transgender, you’ll find an abundance of informational resources. Here are a couple:

Living in a world like ours is hard for me as an FtM. Yes, there are a lot of difficult, expensive steps to take in order to transition, but what is even harder is the psychological stress of everyday situations. From teachers continuing to call me “Miss Finn” and classmates not thinking to group me with the guys to avoiding public boys-or-girls restrooms at all costs and sitting with an application in front of me, staring at one of the first, usually easiest questions - check m or f.

In a world so oblivious to people like me, those who take the time to be informed and acknowledge me as a regular guy restore some confidence in me that there are non-trans people out there who can at least partially understand what I go through and who I am. They brighten my day, make me smile, and put some pep in my step. If you’re one of those people - I thank you sincerely. If not - become one! It’s always a good time to learn something new. You’ll never know how much of an impact just a few, well-intentioned words can make to someone.

Finn is a junior at Marshalltown high school and the President of SOAR (Sexual Orientation Alliance Representatives). He is very involved in the school community, participating in band, speech, Envirothon, Science Olympiad, debate, National Honor Society, mock trial, and SOAR. Finn writes that "as the leader of the school GSA, I have found the group to be a fantastic way to spread awareness and to establish otherwise unlikely friendships."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Leadership Team Voices: Stephen

Rates of HIV+ Gay Youth are Rising
By Stephen Boatwright, Member of the IPN Leadership Team and Board of Directors

Three long decades ago it became apparent in the medical community that men who have sex with men were falling victim to a cancer common among elderly people of Mediterranean heritage, causing word to spread rapidly that there was a ‘gay cancer.’ Once medical science confirmed that the syndrome manifests itself in other ways, it acquired the name “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” or GRID. It had not yet been confirmed that HIV/AIDS is spread through many more ways than unprotected anal sex, so this epidemic largely fueled homophobia and added heavy stigma to the LGBT community as whole.  

Thirty years later, according to the CDC new infections have stabilized to about 50,000 every year. However these rates are rapidly increasing among gay and bisexual men age 14-24. Collectively men who have sex with men (MSM) make up only 2% of the HIV+ population in the U.S., but MSM made up roughly 60% of new infections in 2009. Did we think the AIDS epidemic of the 80s was over?

If you feel like you’ve been exposed to HIV or you feel like you might be in the future—there are options for you called PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), and newer method called PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). After someone has been exposed to HIV, there is a 72 hour window period in which PEP medications can be prescribed. When taken orally for 30 consecutive days, PEP can decrease the likelihood of one contracting HIV by 90%. PrEP medications however are meant for individuals who are worried that they might be exposed to HIV in the future. Ethically, one might ask why an individual would put them self at risk of contracting HIV, or why these individuals should be helped at all. For individuals who are meth dependent however, PrEP medications would make a world of difference in terms of safer injections. Likewise, PrEP would greatly benefit individuals with ‘poz’ (HIV+) fetishes.

PEP and PrEP isn’t enough though, as gay and bisexual men we have a responsibility to protect our own health, our partners health, and thereby the health of our community. Work getting tested every 3-6 months into your health regiment, or destigmatize it by going with a friend as part of a lunch date. Embrace open and honest disclosure about knowing your own HIV status as well as your partners. We have the power to stop HIV in its tracks!

Stephen Boatwright is a student at Des Moines Area Community College and a long-time member of the Iowa Pride Network. Stephen started the first Middle School GSA in Iowa when he was in eighth grade and has been a youth leader ever since. In his free time, Stephen makes art and interns with the AIDS Project.