It has been long rumored that Charlie Sheen is HIV+. Yesterday, Sheen started trending on Twitter, as stories were published on celebrity news sites that he would be appearing on the Today show this morning to confirm the rumors.
And so he has.
In an interview with Matt Lauer, Sheen disclosed that he was diagnosed with HIV four years ago, and he has been trying to keep it a secret, owing to the continuing cultural stigma, ever since. He decided to publicly disclose his status to put a stop to what he described as "shakedowns" from the people in his life who knew and threatened to go public if he didn't pay them. According to Sheen, he has paid out millions to people to secure their silence.
Extorting someone by threatening to reveal zie is HIV+ is a despicable act. Revealing anything about anyone's health without their consent, even when there is not a marginalizing stigma attached to it, is loathsome. I am genuinely sorry that Charlie Sheen was subjected to such profound betrayals.
That said, this is Sheen's version of events, and he has a vested interest in controlling the narrative so that he is not portrayed as a person who knew he was HIV+ and was careless about protecting his sex partners.
And one of the ways to do that is to focus on sexual partners, especially sex workers, who betrayed his trust, to redirect any concern about whether, perhaps, he had betrayed theirs by failing to disclose his status or practice safer sex.
There has been some suggestion that at least some of the people whom Sheen accuses of blackmail had filed or were planning to file lawsuits because of exposure to the virus. Lauer explicitly asks Sheen about that, and Sheen denies it, though not entirely.
Lauer reads from a letter Sheen sent to him, in which he wrote that he "hired the companionship of unsavory and insipid types" and "regardless of their saltless reputations, I always led with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition," then asks Sheen: "Were these people that you had had sexual contact with and were claiming that you had transmitted the virus to them, or were these people who simply found out about your status and were threatening to tell the world?" Sheen replies: "Um, more the latter."
More, but not exclusively. Lauer asks again if "we're talking about lawsuits or shakedowns," and Sheen responds "shakedowns." He relates a story about a sex worker whom he'd hired taking a photo of his antiviral meds, and says she did so after he told her they weren't going to be seeing each other anymore, implying that she threatened to expose him out of a retribution—a woman scorned.
There runs throughout the interview a negative commentary on sex workers, who also implicitly get the blame for infecting Sheen, who says he doesn't know exactly how he was infected but that it wasn't intravenous drug use.
He was, he confesses, heavily abusing drugs and alcohol before and after his diagnosis. He explains why he continued to allow people who were extorting him to have access to his life by saying he was high and depressed and making bad decisions. But one bad decision he never made, he says, was exposing sex partners to HIV without their knowledge.
Lauer gives him plenty of opportunity to reiterate that he practiced rigorous safety and honesty:
Lauer: Have you knowingly, or even perhaps unknowingly, transmitted the HIV virus to someone else since your diagnosis?Maybe this is true. Maybe Charlie Sheen, who has a long history of violently abusing women, really did get a wake-up call and decide that women's lives and safety are not his to play with as he wishes, and maybe he really did disclose his status to every sex partner he's had since his diagnosis.
Sheen: Impossible. Impossible.
Lauer: We're gonna talk to you with your doctor in a second about that.
Sheen: I look forward to it—good.
Lauer: Have you had unprotected sex on any occasion since your diagnosis?
Sheen: Yes, but the two people that I did that with, um, were under the care of my doctor, and they were completely warned ahead of time.
Lauer: Have you, since the time of your diagnosis, told every one of your sexual partners, before you had a sexual encounter, that you were HIV+?
Sheen: Yes I have.
Lauer: No exception?
Sheen: No exception.
Or maybe the Today show just provided a man with a history of harming women a very visible platform in which to preemptively call any woman, any "unsavory and insipid" sex worker, a liar, should she be fixing to allege that she was infected by Charlie Sheen.
A man who was not regularly getting HIV tests despite being sexually active with multiple partners and who evidently believes it's okay to have unprotected sex as long as your partner is "under the care of [your] doctor," as though there is no potential to muddy meaningful consent under the care of a single doctor, especially one who serves at the pleasure of a famous, wealthy, and influential man.
I have a very bad feeling about how this is going to publicly play out. I hope I am wrong. I desperately hope that Sheen is being honest now about being honest then, and that all his partners are safe.
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UPDATE: And here we go: "Charlie Sheen's Ex Bree Olson Claims He Never Revealed HIV-Positive Status to Her: 'I Couldn't Be More Angry'."