Charlie Sheen appeared on Monday’s TODAY show to reveal that he was diagnosed with HIV several years ago.
“I dazedly chose or hired the companionship of unsavory and insipid types,” Sheen wrote in an open letter read on-air. “Regardless of their saltless reputations, I always led with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition.”
In a column for the Daily Beast, Samantha Allen writes that Sheen’s placement of blame for his diagnosis on “unsavory” types promotes a stigma of sex workers that she calls “whorephobia.”
From the Daily Beast:
When Matt Lauer asked Charlie Sheen in Monday’s Today interview whether he felt the stigma of his HIV diagnosis, the actor responded, “Not anymore, I don’t.” It was a brave reply but also a painfully ironic one, as Sheen’s interview displaced that same stigma onto the sex workers he has hired over the past few years.
The underlying imagery of the interview was straight out of a morality play, with Sheen holding himself up as a weak but honest man, besieged by seedy prostitutes who preyed on his vices and betrayed him. It’s a compelling narrative that plays well with a crowd, but it’s also deeply insulting to those sex workers, who have now been reduced to stepping stones in his emerging redemption narrative.
Sheen coming out as HIV-positive will likely prove to be monumental in terms of raising public awareness and challenging the shame that often accompanies a positive diagnosis. In the interview, Sheen himself acknowledged that he now feels a responsibility to start “kicking the door open” for others to come out behind him. That should be celebrated.
But sex workers shouldn’t have to bear the stigma that Sheen no longer wants on his shoulders. There’s room in the world for HIV advocacy that respects the humanity of everyone who contracts the virus, whether they make a living on a sitcom or in between the sheets. And, in fact, there’s a compelling argument to be made that so-called insipid and unsavory types deserve special attention in that effort.
Read the full article at the Daily Beast here.