“Well, I just think that even if we always use a condom, those compounded, infinitesimal risks will eventually result in me getting infected. So I think we should stop seeing each other.”
This was how my second attempt at post-diagnosis dating ended. He was 22. I disclosed my HIV status to him within the first 20 minutes of our meeting. Everything was dandy for about two weeks — until the ax fell, which I admittedly saw coming.
This is the second installment in a series of columns that addresses the nature and methods of disclosure. In my last column, I debated the effectiveness of disclosing one’s status immediately before any sexual act that may blip on the risk radar (e.g., after kissing but before oral sex). But this time, I elected to disclose my status — aka the “jerk test” — even before broaching all that 20-questions minutiae.
Sure enough, my status didn’t bother him. In fact, he chivalrously responded to my disclosure with, “I don’t think having HIV makes anyone less capable of loving or being loved.”
Considering the reaction of my previous suitor (which was a pitchfork and a few torches short of angry-mob-meets-Frankenstein vibe), this guy was heaven-sent. Come our next date, we made out in a nearby parking lot in Old City amidst the snowdrifts: I was starry-eyed, thinking I had nipped the issue of my status in the bud.
My date was predominantly a bottom. Also, most of his sexual experiences resided in committed relationships; meaning he rarely — if ever — used condoms, and I was his first poz suitor. Mix all these elements together and it makes for a violently different sex life — a product both of my status and his uneasiness with it.
We used condoms for everything (blowjobs included) and, after a while, I sensed his aversion to it; but his fear of sero-converting was great enough to keep it bagged.
So what did I do? I acquiesced to his every need and tried to present myself as the best damn person you ever met — as if an inflated strength of moral character would make up for the fact that I was poz.
Nevertheless, he broke it off. I have a tough skin, though I wallowed in despair for a time. Fear of rejection. Fear of the dream ending. Fear of having to lead a life in unrelenting anticipation that my HIV-neg partner would suddenly break off a relationship because my status was too much to handle. It’s an acutely debilitating fear when you’re trying to maintain a healthy work and social life.
I know many poz folk who bypass this fear by simply dating other poz folk. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; but for myself, that MO always stood at odds with me philosophically: “I don’t think having HIV makes anyone less capable of loving or being loved” goes for HIV-neg folk as well, obviously.
This is going to sound terrible, but it captures the essence of my true fears: Regardless of my principles, I also don’t want to be the husband that my HIV-neg partner has to come home and fuck with a condom every day, knowing that he must, for whatever his reason, decline the pleasure of bare-backing and that, though he loves me, we won’t be able to share in, traditionally, the highest form of physical intimacy without barrier.
After this most recent let down, I got a wild hair and interpolated this message into my personal description on all my dating profiles:
“NOTE: I AM HIV-POSITIVE … IF MY STATUS IS A DEAL-BREAKER, THEN MOVE ON. IF NOT, LET’S GRAB A DRINK.”
Trust me, I wasn’t exactly nonplussed when potential dates stopped messaging me, with the exception of a few chaps telling me how brave I was to disclose my status up front.
Sure, my dating life slowed down — but I was able to live and just be happy. Of course I got a self-righteous kick out of my sudden dearth of daters, but since I wouldn’t have liked them anyway, I saved myself a lot of time, trouble and heartbreak. And you know what I discovered? The more I let this liberated, free-disclosure feeling sink in, the more people I told. And every now and then, I snagged a date with a really nice (and hot) person. And then I met my current boyfriend. But we’ll get to that story next time.
We’re all in this together, folks. Now get out there and talk about it.
Aaron Stella is editor-in-chief of Phillybroadcaster (www.phillybroadcaster.com). Since graduating from Temple University with a bachelor’s in English, he has written for several publications in the city, and now devotes his life to tackling the new challenges of HIV in the 21st century.