I am HIV-positive, and I am 100-percent OK with serosorting. Serosorting is when HIV-positive or HIV-negative men choose to have sex only with other men who share their HIV status. Some men don't mind mixing it up, and I am one of them. But I am not every man, and I can't police sexual activity. I'm out of your bedroom, and I've gone fishing.
Just consider this: A man who tells you he is HIV-negative is sexually active but doesn't really know his HIV status because he hasn't been tested regularly. Statistically speaking, he is your greater risk. And men who aren't up-to-date tested, or versed on the prevention options available to them, could do better to educate themselves about that risk before they choose a partner.
We HIV-positive men can do better at protecting ourselves and taking back our power. We need to keep up with a regimen of blood work to be sure our health is intact, especially if we are sexually active. Facing facts, we all can -- and should -- be proud of our sexual selves. We should enjoy our sexuality without the frothy mix of worry, doubt, stigma and cruelty.
That's where the two groups need to come together: prevention. Ask your partners early, and make an informed choice. I have an undetectable viral load and 600-plus T cells and haven't been sick in years. I consider myself clean and disease- and drug-free, but others don't see me that way, and they are fearful. OK, it's not my worry; it's their decision. I shouldn't judge them for not picking me. As Mamma used to say, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and I like to fish (usually in rivers, but I digress). The truth is that everyone should have the option to choose based on another man's characteristics. It's their body, not mine.
Here's an area where we can do better. When asked online about my HIV status, I responded honestly. I was immediately cut off and blocked. That hurts. It ends the discussion and makes me feel "less than" unwanted. Why is it OK for him to hurt my feelings over my HIV status? I would be much happier hearing, "You know, with all due respect, I would like to choose an HIV-negative partner." My response would be, "Thank you for your honesty. I respect your choice. Please protect yourself out there, because HIV isn't something you want, or any other STD, for that matter."
Cutting someone off because of their status is hurtful and stigmatizing. So don't do it. Manage a conversation like an adult. Sero-orting is a choice I do not oppose as long as the HIV-negative guy can do it without battering me. I can't expect everyone to know the facts, because we never discuss them openly. Either way, I use condoms to protect us should we choose to have sex. Maybe if we chose monogamy, that would open up other prevention options to explore down the road. But a condom used in a quickie prevents more than just HIV -- it prevents other STDs like syphilis, the clap, chlamydia, HPV, and hepatitis.
If we open up the dialogue, allow for personal choice, use it as an opportunity to talk about prevention, then go fishing, there's no harm, no foul. I hear a lot of men complain to me about the stigma involved in serosorting, and I understand them, but I also think it's time HIV-positive men took back their power and used that moment to boost our self esteem. We know better, we worked hard to know better, and we work hard to maintain our health. Let's be proud of that and maybe go one better by becoming an advocate for prevention.
HIV-negative guys, be a little more polite, and after you decline his advances, don't be afraid to ask an HIV-positive man some important questions like, "What's it like to live with it?" or, "What prevention methods do you now use?" These are the kinds of ways in which both sides win, and nobody gets hurt. The HIV-negative man may learn facts about transmission and prevention, and the HIV-positive man may gain greater self-esteem listening to one more scared lover educate himself. Offer up your HIV experience as a guide, because we all want to see AIDS dead.
Use every opportunity you find to help end stigma. If you discuss prevention, do it with kindness and nonjudgment for serosorting. And HIV-negative guys, if you've chosen a mate based on his looks and then declined sex, go one step further and ask him how he remained healthy all these years. This is especially true of younger men pursuing or being pursued by older men, but it's a message for everyone. If sexually active HIV-positive men stopped being offended or feeling betrayed by the "click" at the end of the line, we could instead celebrate our good fortune and be glad. We are not high-risk; we have taken care of ourselves. We should know that that "click" on the other end of the line/text/PM is not about us. It's about them.
I worked very hard to recover and make a good life for myself, and I love that as much as I love homo-sex. I have changed my attitude about serosorting, and I will now attempt to use it as an opportunity to spread the good word about prevention, if you'll let me. Who knows, it might be part of a bridge that closes the gap between HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. It may unify us in the fight against HIV/AIDS. That would be something to be proud of, achieving an end to an epidemic that has polarized our community, and we have that power.
Don't let rejection get the worst of you; let it foster the best in you. Repeat after me: "I pledge to take my special HIV-positive powers home and create an interior castle, a fortress, where no stigma can crush my spirit or my soul." In moments of rejection, I'd rather do something I love. I'd hang a sign on the door that reads, "Gone fishin'!" Then I'd grab my pole and my pride and head back down to the banks of the Susquehanna River to cast again.