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February 18th, 2013

The Increasingly Strange Case of Uncle Poodle

In the course of a few short months, Lee Thompson (“Uncle Poodle” to reality TV watchers) has managed to personify a variety of hot button issues among gay men today. He has come out as gay and HIV positive. He has sent an ex-lover to jail and sent nude pictures via Grindr.

Or not. Depending on whom you believe. Let’s break down the strange case of Uncle Poodle.

In what we can all agree was a positive development, Thompson publicly came out as gay last year and evidently has the love and support of much of his family, the colorful clan of the TLC reality show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” He instantly became an ally and friend of gays everywhere. So far, so good.

Then, in a recent interview with the Atlanta gay magazine Fenuxe, Thompson made the announcement that he tested HIV positive in May of 2012. What was startling, though, was his explanation of his infection. Thompson claimed that not only had an ex-lover knowingly infected him, but that the man is currently serving a five-year sentence for non-disclosure of his HIV status (an example of what is known as HIV Criminalization).

Almost immediately the details of the story were questioned (by everyone except Fenuxe magazine, which did not delve into the prosecution in their piece; the writer simply “applauded” Thompson’s bravery). Journalist Todd Heywood posed serious questions about the case, including the timeline between Thompson’s infection and the reported prosecution, which would have happened in mere months. Heywood also scoured court records from Georgia to Alabama and could find no evidence of any such case. Requests for more information from Thompson’s people have garnered no response. The defendant has never been identified.

Did Uncle Poodle lie about sending the ex-lover to jail? And why the hell would he do that?

It is my opinion that Thompson made up the prosecution story. And in doing so, he behaved in much the same way that most everyone does who tests HIV positive these days. He looked for someone else to blame. He played the innocent victim. He released himself from personal responsibility.

Because everybody knows that when you test HIV positive, you don’t call your doctor to start treatment. You call the police to press charges.

Stigma is driving these actions, of course. People who become positive today are judged for being “bad,” for not following the rules, for failing the community and becoming one of the great unwashed. It makes no difference that they were simply caught being human, that they let down their guard for a moment or got drunk or didn’t care or stupidly fell in love. Their friends will furrow their brows. Their dating life will wither.

And so, someone must pay for these indignities. That is one reason HIV criminalization laws have prospered – they appeal to our sense of vengeance. They are also vessels of homophobia, sexism and racism, considering how badly the laws are applied and how often prosecutions run counter to public health or even common sense (some convictions have imposed jail time for decades even when condoms were used and no one was infected, and advocates believe people forgo HIV testing in fear of being prosecuted). Conservative lawmakers and prosecutors — who don’t believe people with HIV should be having sex at all — are more than willing to exploit our feelings of revenge when testing positive so they can lock up some diseased fags.

I empathize with those who test positive today. They suddenly find themselves on my side of the viral divide, and for some, their hearts and minds may not have made the crossing yet. Perhaps they have unresolved issues about becoming infected. Whatever their circumstances, testing positive is a major life event and I can understand if some have an impulse to lash out.

And I believe that Lee Thompson did exactly that when he reported sending the man who infected him to jail. The man who no one can identify. The case that no one can locate.

Things have just gotten a little more complicated for our Uncle Poodle. Now, someone who claims to have communicated with Thompson on Grindr is trying to sell naked photos that Thompson supposedly sent him (isn’t humanity grand?). Thompson being linked to Grindr — the app about which controversy recently arose when a survey indicated half of its users were engaging in bareback sex — presents a delicate situation indeed.

People living with HIV have every right to “full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives,” as the Denver Principles stated thirty years ago. There is no evidence or details about Thompson’s sexual life or choices, so let’s simply hope he is conducting himself as someone with intimate knowledge of HIV non-disclosure laws, considering his contention that he sent someone to jail for withholding their status. The sword cuts both ways, and I worry for him.

Lee Thompson certainly has faced his share of scrutiny, living as an HIV positive gay man in the rural South, much less someone connected to a wildly popular reality series. But he should consider his moves, both public and private, very, very carefully. Because we don’t simply like to tear down celebrities, or save our judgment and revenge for those with the thickest skin.

As we prove time and again, we can do it to the very best of friends.

Mark

PLUS…

Thank you for your stunning readership in recent weeks, my friends. In particular, the recent post “Your Mother Liked It Bareback” broke all traffic records on this site. I will admit to being precociously provocative with that one, and especially appreciate the comments you left, which proved far more interesting than the post itself. I do believe, as Gus Cairns remarked, that much of this passionate debate is driven by the pure grief so many of us experienced — and that is nothing to be taken lightly. My point remains that our emotions have little to no effect on the fact that nearly half of gay men don’t use condoms at least some of the time; validating other prevention tools isn’t a threat to condom use; and finally, what are we doing for the 50% of gay men not using condoms — or are they expendable?

Comments

comments

2 Responses to “The Increasingly Strange Case of Uncle Poodle”

  1. Dan Says:

    February 18th, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    When the story first broke, it was reported that the “boyfriend” lied about his status. I saw numerous gay men posting how they believed that the “boyfriend” should have gone to jail. It made me very sad to see that. They seemed happy to view Uncle Poodle (UP) as the victim. But at the end of the day, UP is an adult and he made the decision to bareback based on what he was told. Yes, it’s fucked up, if it is true and, to put it mildly, to lie about your status and fuck around with someone and put them at risk is shitty. But after nearly 40 years on this planet, Ive realised that humans lie, for all kinds of fucked up reasons. I know I used to. Mostly to myself. And with all the stigma around HIV it’s hardly suprising that the BF did lie. He’s not the first & he’s not the last. Bottom line, if you want to stay neg and you don’t have absolute proof that the other guy is neg, don’t bareback.

    I found out I was poz a couple of years ago. I’m just grateful that I had the tools of the 12 steps. Unlike most other poz drunks/addicts I know, I seroconverted in sobriety, because I let my guard down a couple of times out of hundreds. I knew to look at my part in it…I was present when it happened and I didn’t insist on condoms. End of story. And when I would start feeling sorry for myself and get all “Why me?, Why me?”, I remembered the words of a sober friend…”Why not me? What makes me so special that something like this could never happen to me?”. So here I am a couple of years down the road, still sober, didn’t have to drink over it and in some ways grateful to be poz.

  2. Mike b. Says:

    February 19th, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Mark I did not know those details and guess gay magazines are not exactly 20/20 investivgative reporting. Glad there was a follow up.

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