Truvada Case, 2017

Luke Cheng & Yun Liao
Acrylic, pins, one month's supply of Truvada

London & NYC

Drugs are now so commonplace that we take for granted the ways in which they moderate our daily lives. But every so often, a new drug is introduced with the potential to change the way we live and challenge our values as a society. The most dramatic of these are substances that negotiate the liminal space between life and death. Truvada, a combination of two anti-retroviral drugs that were previously approved for HIV treatment, gained FDA approval in 2004 as a prophylaxis for HIV; by taking the pill daily, scientists estimated a patient would be 99% protected from contracting HIV. The World Health Organization quickly put it on its List of Essential Medicines; in 2014, the CDC officially recommended that high risk groups in the US take the pill daily. In 2015, New York City launched the Play Sure campaign to encourage more people to get on Truvada.

I've always found it curious that the dominant narrative around the dangers of straight physical intimacy is the unplanned creation of life, whereas for gay men it's the unplanned extinguishing of life. I came out just before Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage in the US; we were long past the peak of AIDS-related deaths in the US, a almost 42,000 in 1995. Yet when I told my mother, a Board-certified physician, she wept and told me she feared I'd die before my 40th birthday.

Drugs are our best effort to stave off our eventual disappearance. Pill-swallowing is a ritual we perform to impose control over our uncontrollable impermanence. Before the new millennium, only HIV-positive people took anti-retrovirals as they inhabited the threshold between wellness and sickness. Now with the advent of Truvada, HIV-negative people also partake in this daily communion with the specter of mortality.

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