The McKinney trial of Phillipe Padieu has had such a high weirdness quotient, a TV movie from Harpo Productions won’t do the trick. We need a modern opera by Phillip Glass to accurately portray the proceedings. However reprehensible Padieu’s alleged behavior, you have to admit that the deck was stacked against him the moment he walked into the courtroom. He’s been publicly branded a diseased philanderer (“Typhoid Larry,” someone called him). He’s got funny hair. He’s French. That’s not the triple-threat most defense attorneys hanker to represent.
But his trial has largely been a sideshow distraction from more relevant issues. The biggest public health threat surrounding HIV is not wild-haired Frenchmen using “Sex as a Weapon,” if I may quote Ms. Benatar. The bigger threat by far is otherwise decent people who don’t know their HIV status and who don’t maintain a scrupulous habit of protection and safer sex practices. If a Texas law emerges from this court case that criminalizes the deliberate transmission of HIV, I can’t see how that’s going to foster widespread testing. (Unfortunately, human nature convinces us that if we don’t know about a problem, it doesn’t exist. Add the possibility of criminal prosecution, and the resolve to stay ignorant about our status only strengthens).
The moral from this trial is not “Celibacy for all singles!,” although some local media personalities will adopt a tone of pious concern as they eagerly discuss the wages of promiscuity. (My favorite definition of “promiscuous,” given to me by a wise old queen, is: “Anyone who’s slept with more people than you have”). Most single people who claim they desire, let alone practice, strict abstinence are lying. The abstinence pledge itself encourages deception in adults and teens alike. (Ask Bristol Palin). An official declaration of monogamy isn’t fool-proof, either — the high HIV rate among black women and Latinas proves that a marriage certificate/pledge of fidelity is not a prophylactic. No, the lessons from the Padieu trial are honest-to-God truths that many of us have to relearn: People lie about their sexual behavior. Getting naked with someone does not equal knowing them, although it may feel that way. You may indeed be in a “low risk” group, but that’s not the same as “no risk.” (Any discussion of AIDS tends to dwarf other STDs, but remember, there are more common, non-HIV venereal diseases you want to avoid, too). The appearance of long-term commitment does not prevent betrayal. (Right, Mel?).
In romantic matters, the best protection may be a healthy dose of cynicism. That’s easier said than done. Nobody has ever deserved to contract HIV, including Phillipe Padieu. But every sexually active adult in a consensual situation is responsible for the consequences of their own choices. (And yep, that includes married/committed folk – a church/state endorsement does not magically exempt them). No Collin County jury verdict can mitigate this cold hard fact.