A bug chaser. Someone wanted me to infect him with HIV. To him, the sky was red, when to me, it was plainly blue. But this was his world — one that I never expected to encounter.
“Bug chaser” — such a foreboding moniker. Modern bug chasers — as opposed to those from the late ’80s and early ’90s — have life-saving medication at their fingertips. This exclusive HIV club no longer bears the death-defying spirit it used to — unless, that is, said bug chasers reject life-saving medication, out of something — perhaps a harrowed sense of meaning, purpose, belonging or love in greater forms than what they’ve ever known.
Or is it that poz life bears some dogged glamour to it?
The above bug chaser wanted the virus; and I’m a nice guy, a thoughtful guy, so he wanted it from me even more. I knew that reprimanding him wouldn’t do anything except spur on his quest and deprive me the chance of understanding him.
We all — poz and neg folk — must remain objective, if there is such a thing. I’m not a trained scientist or HIV psychologist, but I do sympathize with the flaming hoops we’ll jump through to feel like we belong. I’ve reeled through my emotions surrounding this phenomenon: In an obtuse sense, it’s flattering that someone would want to join the ranks of poz folks, as if we are esteemed in some way. But in another sense, I’m mortified — stunned that anyone would openly accept the burden of everything that comes with being poz, and taking responsibility for it.
There’s the line in the sand. Responsibility.
“I probably wouldn’t change much about my life if I became poz,” he said casually. “I mean, you haven’t changed much, have you? You take medicine and sleep with more poz people than you did before, right? I already sleep with lots of poz dudes. I’ll probably go on medicine at some point, but I’ll probably exclusively sleep with poz men once I’m poz, so I don’t have to worry about disclosure, you know?”
“But what if you fall in love with someone who’s neg? Or, what if someone you sleep with doesn’t ask about your status and you don’t know his and ... ”
I stopped myself there, because I already knew the answer, and he knew I knew it too.
I delved into his family life, work life, social life, hobbies, passions, the full spectrum of anything I could glean that would bring light to this destructive enterprise. I hate saying anything is purely destructive, especially since, to this man, his goal was in fact affirming and good.
But what continued to confound me was that despite his admirable conviction, his conception of his life and the world he lived in seemed very narrow. Where he worked and lived was of no consequence, only that it was relative to people with whom he was having sex. Like any of us, he had dreams, but they had remained nascent flames for so long that their only real manifestation was what he spoke into being.
When he left, I was lost in thought. The travails of my life, the absurd sorts I’ve met (including myself) and all the irony of the world I’ve witnessed first-hand cultivated my belief that people can and should live their lives the way they want, even if that means taking their own life, or purposely contracting a deadly disease.
But what about the burden on the state to provide medicine? What about the people he might infect in a moment of weakness from non-disclosure? What about the quality of his life as what it means to the people who love him?
Yes. What about all of this? I honestly don’t know. I know what is right. All I do know is that if anything were going to change his mind, it wouldn’t be you or me telling him to change; it would be some force completely outside of our control. Sometimes, people quickly solidify their purpose in life such that it cannot change. Everyone can change whenever they want, but not everybody does.
Now we must find the strength to accept this reality, and change the way we show love to others so that they live their lives for the better — for both themselves and everyone else.
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. Since graduating from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in English, 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 best column writing from the Local Media Association, appears monthly in PGN. Aaron can be reached at email@example.com.