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WATCH: Student, Sex Worker, Activist, and HIV-Positive

Activist, Student, Sex Worker, and HIV-Positive

Lyle Muns was part of the Netherlands' delegation at the International Conference on AIDS (#AIDS2018) in Amsterdam in July.

Lyle Muns is a student of political science at the University of Amsterdam. Sex work is his side hustle, and he’s been involved in activism around sex workers rights and people living with HIV in the Netherlands even before he learned he was HIV-positive a little over a year ago. He also chaired the Youth Organization for the Green Party until recently.

Muns came out as HIV-positive last year in a YouTube video. He says of the video, “People with HIV usually do not say they have it. While it’s fine to live with this virus, there are a lot of misunderstandings so talking about it is difficult. So I call it a coming-out because I want to emphasize that. If I did not get out of the closet, it wouldn’t fight the stigma as well."

The 24-year-old wave maker was born in a small town called Maastrict, the capital of the southernmost province in the Netherlands, and grew up primarily in Belgium — later settling in Amsterdam. There weren’t very many visible out gay men and so the majority of his encounters with men were via the internet.

That was also were he was offered money for the first time.

"So much of my first steps into sexuality were on the internet. And I remember also that there were men offering money for sex, and I always said, 'No, I didn’t want that.'"

However, Muns began to reconsider his stance while working in a supermarket for 3.5 Euros (about $4) an hour. Noting that you can’t even buy two small bottles of Coca-Cola with that, Muns admits, “I felt really like a machine there. I could be replaced at any moment. And with sex work it was the opposite. I was determining my own hours and I was making 100 Euros per hour and I was meeting interesting people.”

Muns says he didn’t just have sex with his client — but met and got to know people of all ages and places in society, from all sort of backgrounds. “And I was actually learning something, I was growing. I got something out of it. I didn’t have the same feeling at the supermarket. But this is something very personal, this is not the same for everybody.”

Muns is in favor of global decriminalization of sex work — one of the themes of the #AIDS2018 conference — and represented the Netherlands as part of the country’s delegation to the conference.

Many of the laws written that make sex work a crime are concerned with sex trafficking, which he understands and supports, but the enforcement of those laws can cast a wide net and often lands those participating in consensual sex work in jail.

“Look, sex work exists in any kind of society, it doesn’t matter what kind of laws you have —  if you are in Iran or in the United States, Amsterdam, or South Africa wherever you go, there’s always sex work.," Mun says bluntly. "Whether you completely criminalize it or completely legalize it, the question is how much you know about it and how able are you to control the issues that are going on in the sector, to provide health, to guarantee security.”

Muns says criminalization invites all kinds of danger. With criminalization comes stigma, fear of retribution, and less control over your agency—all of which can actually invite violence, abuse, and trafficking.

Muns's dream was always to be involved with politics. When he reflects on his work with the Green party he says they were working on tax evasion of big multinationals like Starbucks and “we were working on sexual harassment of women. We weren’t even mentioning things like sex work or HIV, but obviously [as] someone who is a sex worker and who has HIV, these are also important issues for me.”

Muns is also an advocate for the use of the highly effective HIV prevention method known as PrEP. He says one of the reasons he aquired HIV was because PrEP is not widely available in the Netherlands and that the cost (nearly 500 Euros, or $584, a month) is prohibitive for most people.

In the Netherlands, Muns says the LGBTQ community is "working towards getting PrEP covered by the government and educating the public about PrEP. But, there is still a long way to go. Many doctors are not really aware of what PrEP is [and] why it’s important to prescribe it to certain patients. They only think that men that have sex with men are the only ones who should have access, but I think anybody that has certain sexual health risks should have access to PrEP, right?”

Watch Plus contributor Mark S. King’s interview Muns from #AIDS2018 for My Fabulous Disease.

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