How an Opinion Becomes a Pageant Speech in a Few Easy Steps

Last year, out actor Zachary Quinto pissed off many people when he dared to share his opinion about PrEP, the treatment-as-prevention daily pill regimen that essentially works as a vaccine against HIV. In his interview for the 2014 Out100, here is what Quinto said:

AIDS has lost the edge of horror it possessed when it swept through the world in the ’80s. Today’s generation sees it more as something to live with and something to be much less fearful of. And that comes with a sense of, dare I say, laziness.

…We need to be really vigilant and open about the fact that these drugs are not to be taken to increase our ability to have recreational sex. There’s an incredible underlying irresponsibility to that way of thinking…and we don’t yet know enough about this vein of medication to see where it’ll take us down the line.

There are a few things there that are vaguely disappointing (the primary one being that a young gay man seemed to be dissuading people from taking a life-saving drug that has few known side effects), but as a whole, he was right. For everyone’s sake, it’s better to look at PrEP as a solution to a problem, rather than a license to have nonstop anonymous raw sex. In fact, the amount of gay men engaging in nonstop raw sex before the FDA approved Truvda as PrEP in 2012 speaks to just how needed something like this was. PrEP is not a cure-all or a magical solution to all your sexual problems, it’s just one pill that gives you one less thing to worry about.

To further tease out Quinto’s point, it may be the case that the reduction of anxiety related to contracting HIV is enough to make sex more recreational, and, in that way, PrEP does in fact increase our ability to have recreational sex. And that, I would argue, is a good thing. I would also argue that to take PrEP is to be really vigilant, and, in fact, the exact opposite of lazy.*


Maybe this is all just semantics, and Quinto is just an actor (not an expert or academic or doctor) whose opinions should be interpreted with some perspective. But it wasn’t an entirely stupid or ill-informed statement, and it was one that was useful to have been made publicly by a prominent out celebrity.

Last year was a fun year for talking about gay sex, thanks to PrEP. People said smart things and people said dumb things. That’s how discourse has always worked, of course, but now we have an electronic paper trail and the ability to respond loudly to things that we do not like. I was happy that people were talking about the generally taboo subject of man-on-man sex, period, especially condomless man-on-man sex, which is something many people do while pretending that they don’t. It felt, last year, like PrEP helped make us more honest, and given everyone’s unique point of views, some people’s honesty doesn’t jibe with others’ experiences. Again, it’s how these things work.

Quinto’s statement caused enough controversy (“Zachary Quinto, Check Your Privilege on HIV,” read a headline on The Advocate) that he responded to the responses with a piece on the Huffington Post called “On the Response to My OUT 100 Interview.” In it, Quinto fleshed out his original point, writing:

I have had numerous conversations in my travels with young gay people who see the threat of HIV as diminished to the point of near irrelevance. I have heard too many stories of young people taking PrEP as an insurance policy against their tendency toward unprotected non-monogamous sex. THAT is my only outrage.

That’s reasonable. Conceptualizing HIV in 2015 is a tightrope walk—the virus brings with it a series of health challenges that you’re better off without having to face, but, at the same time, it’s treatable (provided that you have the resources to be treated). You don’t want HIV, but you also don’t want to not want to so badly that you end up stigmatizing the healthy people who live with it. None of this stuff is simple, and an essay is a much better way to address the complexity than a brief quote in a magazine. And despite the tediousness of people talking about how people talk about things, it was good to see an honest and unflinching discussion of these issues play out in public, something Quinto acknowledged in the opening of the piece (while bemoaning his words being “misconstrued”).

But despite the fact that our culture’s memory capacity often seems nonexistent, some hastily-stated opinions are indelible. And so another gay magazine, the UK’s Attitude, recently asked Quinto about his now year-old lightning-rod comment that he’d already clarified at length.


The cutest, most pull-able resulting quote from this new interview is, “​People said something about ‘slut-shaming’. I’m like, ‘Come on please, that’s absurd. I love sluts.’” But the core of his response was this:

I’m not trying to say people shouldn’t take PrEP, or that people shouldn’t have sex, or that sex isn’t amazing. It is. I’m just saying we should support each other and be responsible, whatever that means to you.

It’s couched, it’s safe, it’s inclusive. Quinto’s entire point of view—right or wrong, supposedly informed or ignorant—has been ironed out beyond recognition. It seems that Quinto has learned his lesson from saying something challenging. “We should support each other and be responsible, whatever that means to you,” is actually meaningless. Be nice and strive for world peace, everyone. Whatever “nice” and “world peace” mean to you.

Why even bother saying anything at all if all it amounts to in the end is something that cowers as much as a beauty pageant contestant in the interview round, afraid of saying something real and offending anyone?


[Image via Getty]

*Update note: Inspired by this post, I amended this piece to include Quinto’s full quote about “laziness” and HIV, as well as my response to it.