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25 to Life, A Documentary
December 7, 2011 4:07 PM   Subscribe

25 to Life: William "Reds" Brawner In 1980 after being burned as an infant, William Brawner received a blood transfusion with HIV tainted blood. Learning of his illness five years later, his family decided to keep his status a secret.

Later as a popular gregarious Howard University undergraduate, "Reds" would have lots of sex without informing his partners of his status. In 2006, he decided to tell his story and become an HIV activist. 25 to Life follows Will, interviews his family, spouse, friends, enemies and former lovers. Responses to Will Brawner have been varied. Here, here and here.
posted by Silo004 (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Christ, what an asshole.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Silence = death
posted by Renoroc at 4:33 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


“Making this film has been somewhat therapeutic, but it also brings up old issues," Brawner says. "It makes me feel bad to know that I had to experience some of these things. But knowing that people's lives are going to be touched is important to me. HIV and AIDS will be looked at differently now. There’s no way you can look at HIV the same after watching this film. I mean, just look at me. When you see me, how can you possibly think about AIDS in the same way?"



Not only will people's lives be touched, some will be destroyed. What a selfish stupid man.
posted by JujuB at 4:55 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know why, but this sorta vaguely reminds me of Andrew "Milk ur loads with my muscled glutes" Sullivan being totally cool with unprotected sex and spreading his magic until somebody called him on it. Then suddenly it became "Oh no! Mistakes have been made! I'm on a journey of personal growth! What about my privacy?!?!" and so forth.

Same kind of narcissism at work here, I think.
posted by Avenger at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2011


Although I should point out, in Sullivan's defense, that he at least admitted to being poz upfront.
posted by Avenger at 5:08 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny how he is infected by accident but purposefully infects so many others. Then his high school girlfriends warns him and he decides to have more unprotected sex with unknowning partners.

And I'm pretty sure that the life expectancy of someone with HIV or AID's in the mid-to-late nineties wasn't nearly as positive as it is today, which makes it that much worse.

Based on the Philadelphia Weekly article it seems like he is unwilling to accept to what he's done, or at least fully take responsibility, which makes him a strange choice for an HIV activist.

Choice quote: "He told [his future wife that] his behavior in college should've killed him, and that God spared his life so he could change the face of HIV." Way to minimize the harm to others and avoid responsibility Reds.
posted by PJLandis at 5:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


"He's an attempted murderer." She only got one second in the trailer but speaks more truth than everyone else. His relative or friend who says something like "It's a difficult question, should he have told people he was positive?" sums up the entire trailer and the moral idiocy of the whole thing. This is not an edge case. Having been the victim of a terrible and unfortunate accident does not give you license to go on and inflict the same thing on others.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:13 PM on December 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


25 to LIFE interviews three of Brawner’s former partners. To date, Brawner has not knowingly infected anyone with whom he was sexually active. Two ex-girlfriends declined to participate for personal reasons. As director, Brown doesn’t take for granted there aren't other stories to tell.

You all seem to be assuming he gave a bunch of other people HIV. Luckily, there's no sign of his doing so, so far.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2011


Actually, where anyone was infected or not is irrelevant. Firing a gun into a crowd is wrong whether you hit anyone or not.

One difference, if someone has been/was infected, and has since died or eventually does die of AID's related illness, then he's arguably guilty of murder rather than attempted murder.
posted by PJLandis at 5:46 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Inexcusable behavior. But then, in the US at least, we live in a culture which has yet to resist the idea that going to work or school with an infectious disease is OK.

Also inexcusable behavior. And potentially the source of a very memorable pandemic.
posted by Twang at 6:05 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not downplaying what he did, but I guess I would really hope that wasn't the whole story of the movie. Because it's hard to wrap my head around what it would have been like for a five-year-old to find out that he had AIDS in 1985, at the exact moment when the people of Kokomo, Indiana were persecuting Ryan White. It's hard for me to imagine growing up both with the sure knowledge that you were going to die young and with the sure knowledge that if you told anyone about this looming death sentence, you'd be ostracized. And finally, it's hard for me to imagine growing up knowing you had no future and then finding out that, hey, now you do, so better start planning for something you never thought you had to worry about! I mean, that's a crazy, remarkable life story, and I don't know that I think it can be reduced to one set of incredibly shitty, evil choices.
posted by craichead at 6:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You all seem to be assuming he gave a bunch of other people HIV. Luckily, there's no sign of his doing so, so far.

Not for want of trying, though.
posted by acb at 6:15 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But then, in the US at least, we live in a culture which has yet to resist the idea that going to work or school with an infectious disease is OK.

Unless you are shooting up hard drugs with your co-workers, or they are rubbing their body fluids on open cuts on your person, your place of work or education is still quite safe from the spread of HIV.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:30 PM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


25 TO LIFE shows how one man's AIDS diagnosis can affinfect an entire family and community.

Sorry if the "Luckily, there's no sign of his doing so, so far.' defense isn't so compelling.
posted by sfts2 at 6:35 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, where anyone was infected or not is irrelevant. Firing a gun into a crowd is wrong whether you hit anyone or not.

Yes, but the knowable probabilities of hitting someone with a bullet and giving them HIV are quite different; the latter is demonstrably less certain the the former, and the question of criminal liability proportionality harder to prove. This is actually a tricky legal question, and excessive certainty about criminal intent in cases like this has led to some rather invidious discrimination against HIV+ people.

As for going to work or school with an infectious disease being OK, prevention of same can be discriminatory and in some cases has resulted in egregious abridgement of people's civil rights, typhus being a famous example. This Guy's behavior seems wildly irresponsible, but on the other hand I can't imagine what it must be like to have HIV at age 5; plus all his major role models taught him to conceal his disease and that everything would be OK if he did, so at least part of the blame, such as it is, devolves upon them. He doesn't strike me as an especially bright individual.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:39 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


For context, the risk of HIV transmission for unprotected receptive anal sex (by far the most dangerous vector) is 0.82%. Source.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:50 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


His relative or friend who says something like "It's a difficult question, should he have told people he was positive?" ...

Hell, yes!! He didn't have to say a word growing up or as an adult--except to his sexual partners. What a scumbag.

According to what was said, he hasn't actually infected anyone--that anybody knows about! Would he admit it if he had a one night stand? Maybe a hook-up in the rest room? Given his god fearing ways now, maybe that would be kinda embarrassing?

He needs to man up, admit was he did was wrong, and become an advocate for truth.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:08 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, St. Jude is basically one of the most amazing institutions in the world. Lots of children end up here in my home town because they are born with HIV/AIDS. My understanding is that they provide the medication to those in their care, from the most basic ($1000/month) through the crazy multi-drug cocktails (3,000+/month) at no or virtually no cost....

Until you're 24. Then you are on your own. Because of whatever complicated laws or whatever reasons thought up by people wise and more powerful than me. I can't imagine any of the emotions and experiences that go into dealing with being born with (at best) 25-50% the average life expectancy.

That doesn't really speak to anything this guy said or did, it just made me think of all of this on account of some World Aids Day stuff our school did back on Dec. 1. The rate of new infections here - 30 years after it became headline news - are still staggering.
posted by absalom at 7:12 PM on December 7, 2011


I get your point about the differences and legal implications, but I think from the broader moral perspective its an illustrative example, such as his sexual activity, while concealing his HIV status, is like driving while drunk. Both are wrong whether anyone gets hurt or not. I'm not saying he should be prosecuted, for various reasons, but applying my morality, which frowns upon hurting others, what he did was pretty unequivocally wrong.

And I think blaming the times or his upbringing is pretty...pretty...pretty...weak. His age at infection I think makes his decisions even worse because he was living with the disease long enough to know how its spread and how deadly it can be. To repeat what I wrote above, the Philadelphia article notes that his high school girlfriend, when she found he was sexual active at Howard, contacted him and the school to warn people. Possibly she didn't have the best intentions, but his response is more troubling. He took on the nickname Reds, not just to avoid the social stigma, but to protect and INCREASE his sexual activity.

I'm not trying to demonize this guy, I just think the trailer and some of these links seem to minimize the reckless, harmful, and potentially fatal consequences of his actions. Even at 1% (per contact), how many people here would knowingly have unprotected sex with an HIV+ partner? I'm willing to bet close to zero.

People with HIV, or any sexually transmitted disease (most diseases, except maybe smallpox or something similar), don't deserve to be stigmatized), but they definitely have a duty to either refrain from sexual activity or inform their sexual partners of the known risks.

I'm not sure what the point of this documentary is? I'm sure there are thousands of better subjects who suffered, and overcame or persevered, from the stigma attached to HIV infection. I never told anyone, had lots of unprotected sex (so much that it defined me), then got married (of course I warned her) and called everyone to apologize is a weak story.
posted by PJLandis at 7:16 PM on December 7, 2011


Tgis paper won for best article published that year at the American law and economics review, and it seems relevant.

http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~hmialon/OptimalPenaltyForSexuallyTransmittingHIV.pdf

The Optimal Penalty for Sexually Transmitting HIV
Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon

Abstracy: We develop an endogenous signaling model of sexual behavior and testing under risk of HIV infection to determine whether current criminal laws against exposure to HIV are efficient and to identify the socially optimal law. We consider a law to be socially optimal if it induces information revelation, so that non-fully-informed HIV transmission does not occur. We find that current HIV-specific criminal laws in the U.S., which stipulate a single penalty for knowingly exposing another individual to risk of HIV infection, are not generally socially optimal. The socially optimal law stipulates a single penalty for knowingly or unknowingly transmitting HIV, and no penalty for exposing another individual to risk of infection without transmitting the virus.
posted by scunning at 7:17 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there are thousands of better subjects who suffered, and overcame or persevered, from the stigma attached to HIV infection.
Sure, and if the only acceptable story about illness is a maudlin Hallmark Hall of Fame story about a saintly, stoical fighter who is so very, very brave in the face of stigma and suffering, then I'm sure they could have found someone to fit in that narrative. But I find that sort of story kind of boring, and I think I'd rather see something messier, even if the protagonist is not entirely sympathetic.
posted by craichead at 7:26 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Anigbrowl's figure of .82% is correct, then someone HIV+ would have a 50% chance of infecting someone after around 84 acts of unprotected insertive anal intercourse. So yes, it's wildly wrong, but it's not quite as bad as going around shooting people. There's a good chance he didn't infect anyone at all.

Anigbrowl: mad props for linking to sources. That's the second one I've cited today.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:48 PM on December 7, 2011


I *really* want to tee off on this guy.

And then my mind came to words upthread about driving drunk also being remarkably irresponsible, and I thought about how you can easily kill people doing that, or cripple them, damn sure cause them major injuries.

And I thought of how many times I drove drunk and/or drugged down and thought nothing of it, really, in fact I pretty much thought that people who didn't drink/drive were… Not dopes or dopey but just not my people I guess.

Further, I wanted to judge this mans family, but upon thinking about the drinking/drugging/driving thing a bit further, it came clear to me that in my family and among my friends, drinking/drugging/driving were absolutely the way to go, the way to be; that it wasn't to not drink and drive but rather to not drink and drive and get caught.

And now I find myself with very little to say about this mans actions and behavior.

I'm extraordinarily lucky that I never killed or maimed anyone, just as he's very lucky he's not (that he knows of) passed on HIV.

I don't judge anyone who drinks and drives, though I do make a judgment about it, and I'll talk to anyone anytime if I think that it'd help stop it. I do call the cop-shop on my cell if/when someone is weaving on the freeways; I don't wish the person ill, I just want them off the road. And I absolutely would be behind stronger laws (actually, stronger enforcement of existing laws with no way out no matter how expensive your attorney is would work fine) for anyone anywhere anytime if they are caught driving drunk or drugged down.

I just can't judge this guy.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:16 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this trailer gives the impression that it is Hallmarked, they begin with Obama giving a speech about AIDs in America, then it seems to go something like "maybe he was wrong, but he found love in church and became an activist."

No more comment from me. I will watch the movie though. I'm interviewing at an AID's education and research institute in Philadelphia tomorrow which is why this interested me so much. I may actually run into Mr. Brawner at some point.
posted by PJLandis at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2011


This guy knew he had HIV, and then did not disclose to his sexual partners, not once, but many, many times? In the late 90's and early 2000s, when HIV/AIDS was well understood?

Fuck him. What a tremendous motherfucker.

He better be a good activist, because he has a great deal to make up for.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:33 PM on December 7, 2011


Props to scunning as well - that paper is excellent.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2011


I don't judge anyone who drinks and drives

I don't understand you. You wrote a lot of words but this doesn't make sense.
posted by jayder at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand you. You wrote a lot of words but this doesn't make sense.

I think dancestoblue was saying that he tries to judge the actions (i.e, drink driving), rather than the person.

So, you can say "driving driving is bad", without necessarily saying "anyone who drives drunk is a bad person"

dancestoblue, thank you for sharing your story and your perspective. I rather wish I had read your post before I started raging out.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:46 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sure wish people who do bad things would stop finding a god to absolve them. Whatever happened to the gods who turned people into spiders for being arrogant or had vultures pick away at someone's liver for eternity for stealing? Even the Old Testament god character liked to turn folks into salt or drown folks for misbehaving. But these days the gods are always telling people they are so good they should be president or making them feel better after they have committed wicked deeds.

I wish Ryan White were walking the earth instead of "Reds."
posted by Cassford at 10:08 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mr. Brawner in the trailer: "I suppressed my HIV status so much that i minimized it, and because I couldn't express it it didn't exist."

What a horrible thing to have happen to you as a child. The worse thing is how his family didn't handle the situation with any kind of reason. It is completely understandable to hide an HIV positive status given current cultural norms. However his family clearly didn't prepare him to deal with potential consequences to others down the road.

This is like a family with a history of alcoholism permitting their child to drink and drive.
posted by Drumhellz at 12:10 AM on December 8, 2011


I wish Ryan White were walking the earth instead of "Reds."
Ryan White died before anyone had to deal with him as anything but a symbol. You don't know who he would have been or what he would have done if he'd had a chance to have a normal adult life.
The worse thing is how his family didn't handle the situation with any kind of reason.... However his family clearly didn't prepare him to deal with potential consequences to others down the road.
And I'm sure you know the "reasonable" way to have raised a child who was infected with HIV at the very beginning of the epidemic. The article says that the life expectancy of a person with HIV when he was infected was eight years, and he received the tainted transfusion when he was 18 months old. I suspect they didn't even think there was a "down the road," so sex ed wasn't really on the agenda.
This is like a family with a history of alcoholism permitting their child to drink and drive.
I think it's more like a family facing an impossible, tragic, unfair situation doing the best they can and not being perfect.
posted by craichead at 4:54 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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