Six years later, my polished pavement perusing had migrated online to portals such as Manhunt.com and Barebackrt.com. I wandered the virtual Serengeti, feasting on every delicious man-beast I could find. I made friends, fuck-buddies and mentors out of my trysts, not to mention expanding my sexual backlog into the hundreds.
Now, having lived two years with HIV and less online time to poke about the poultry (so to speak), I’m scouring the streets again with voracious intent.
My present practices, however, aren’t without their puzzles: hastened hook-ups mean hastened disclosures, which can bring any poz man’s conquests to a clumsy, screeching halt.
Being rejected on a date is one thing, but it’s quite another when your engine is flying at 8,000 RPM with another guy and your status engages his emergency brake. Even the most cocksure poz men probably feel a little dejected, silly or guilty after this experience.
It’s not us poz folk, and we know it. We have just as much power over selectivity as the next man. But this split-second selectivity is far different from the selectivity of dating, where poz folk have time to craft and schedule disclosure speeches.
Most of the gay men I know (poz and neg), who share a proclivity for cruising and random hook-ups, have had a handful to a bushel of clandestine trysts. More or less, the tacit idea is to quickly secure play quarters and drop your pants. The less talk, the better.
Since I’m in the habit of disclosing my status in sexual encounters, I have to talk unless the other guy asks about my status first. In my experience, most dudes just want to hear that you’re neg so that they don’t lose sleep. They aren’t concerned about ruining the moment, so to speak, because they probably don’t anticipate encountering poz men in these circumstances, which is a silly yet common assumption.
Would asking about my status really ruin the moment? And if so, how does that ruin the moment?
Say I disclose my status right off the bat, and it “ruins the moment.” What happened? Enter HIV stigma. Suddenly, I get rejected as if I had leprosy, not HIV. (Contrary to biblical accounts, the bacteria that cause leprosy, mycobacterium leprae and mycobacterium lepromatosis, are not transferred through skin-to-skin contact.)
Now, say I forgo disclosure. The hook-up would probably go swimmingly (save my shame — another topic entirely) unless my hook-up partner asks me after the fact: “You’re clean, right?”
Two things come to mind in this instance of cruising and random hook-ups: One, to me, my disclosure makes the hook-up hotter because it shows I have enough respect for this guy I’ve just met so that he can make an informed decision; and two, wouldn’t the guy’s rejection also turn you off? (Maybe not if you’re desperate, but that’s a whole other conversation.)
I’ve only attempted one hook-up via street cruising as a poz man. Not only did it go well, but I got a sexy response to my disclosure:
Gayborhood. Midday. A hot, 30-something Latino guy in contractor garb flashes me a lusty smirk. I do my little turn on the catwalk and catch up to him. We agree to meet in one of the back rooms of a local sex shop. Once inside, I tell him I’m poz. And to that he says, “Well, that just means I’ll have to swallow your cum when I blow you instead of spitting it out, right?” (Which is actually a safer-sex practice amongst neg folks performing oral sex on poz folks.)
Not every hook-up will go as splendidly (or salaciously) as this one. It’s great, but certainly not required. I do feel, however, that HIV-neg folks should feel empowered to decline respectfully. Remember, respect is the currency here: No matter who initiates the transaction, it’s one that’s better had than not.
For all the poz people who avoid random hook-ups because of disclosure fears, consider this: Initiating respectful transactions through disclosure is a privilege all poz people share, and “It’s a privilege to give gifts” (Buddhist proverb).
The moral of the story: Look forward to giving gifts of respect (and blowjobs) and getting the same in return.
We’re all in this together, folks. Now get out there and talk about it.
Aaron Stella is former editor-in-chief of Philly Broadcaster. He has written for several publications in the city, and now devotes his life to tackling the challenges of HIV in the 21st century. Millennial Poz, which recently won first place for excellence in opinion writing from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and best column writing from the Local Media Association, appears in PGN monthly. Aaron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.