Perhaps this blog post will go viral in the fight against the HIV virus?
The circumstances under which I became HIV-positive have been documented publicly many times. Yes, decades into the AIDS epidemic, completely armed with the knowledge to protect myself, I had a slip in my safer sex practices, and I became HIV-positive one night in early August 2007. In my effort to give some meaning to this twist in my own storyline, I have communicated about my mistake in one way or another, ultimately reaching millions of people. Becoming HIV-positive is one story. Living with HIV is quite another.
Approximately 30 years after coming out of the closet, I must confess that I am no better now in authentically connecting with other gay men than I was then, and I have never been very good at it. (Words are powerful, so I affirm that I am growing every day!) As a sober person, I'm not so much into bars. And though this might seem contradictory to how I come across to most people, in potentially intimate situations (e.g., meeting someone where there's a spark, flirting, moving the connection forward, etc.), I am rather shy.
In the community in which I live, Palm Springs, Calif., I find that there is an immense shortage of single, available, poz-friendly, sober-friendly total tops. One might say that I can make the challenge a bit less daunting by being sexually versatile. I have tried to be versatile, but I have not been able to convince my dick to cooperate. So, therefore, along with my gay pride and my growing poz pride, I celebrate bottom pride as well, in search of one of the two single total tops in all of California, where there seems to be an abundance of men who are "partnered but play," who "party and play" and who are "disease-free" seeking the same.
I really don't know how to raise all these subjects in real-world meetings, so I try to disclose as much as I can about myself in the online space, without success. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have added, then deleted, then added again, Grindr and Scruff on my phone, which is clearly much smarter than I am. Then, of course, there's Craigslist, filled with spammers, game players and so many "straight-acting" guys that you'd think there'd be an awards show for best performance.
One of the indicators upon which I based my rare decision to have unsafe sex in August 2007 was the fact that I was with someone who said and believed he was "disease-free." This was not a good reason on my part, but it was a human reason. I decided to go public with my mistake because I found that HIV had become very theoretical to me, and I did not know I knew people who had made similar mistakes, becoming HIV-positive well into the epidemic.
Just prior to World AIDS Day 2012, Liz Szabo reported in USA Today:
More than 30 years after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, young people are again taking dangerous risks with their lives, according to a new report from the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention.
About 1,000 young people ages 13 to 24 are newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, each month, according to new data released for the first time.
About 60% of HIV-positive young people have no idea that they're infected, according to the report released Tuesday.
The facts demonstrate that in all age groups, there is an alarming percentage of people who are HIV-positive and do not know it, and many of these people are on Scruff and Grindr and Craigslist and goddess knows where else, identifying themselves as "disease-free."
As a rule (and with very rare and no recent exceptions), I will not have sex with someone without disclosing that I am HIV-positive, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I am ultimately longing for more than a quick hookup and would prefer to know whether I am interacting with someone who is poz-friendly. I don't support marriage equality simply for other people. I want to walk down the aisle one day.
Upon immediate disclosure of my HIV status in various profiles, I clearly don't get responses from guys who are not poz-friendly (unless they did not read my profile). If I don't disclose my HIV status in the first posting, I always disclose it in one of the first few interactions, and I invariably find that the person is not poz-friendly, and they either tell me so directly or stop communicating altogether.
The irony is that an HIV-positive person with a consistently undetectable viral load and the absence of other sexually transmitted diseases is up to 96-percent less likely to transmit HIV than an HIV-positive person who is untreated, especially in the presence of safer sex practices, and disputably even in the absence of safer sex practices. This means that it is much safer for an HIV-negative person to have sex with me than with someone who has mistakenly identified himself as HIV-negative, unaware that he has become HIV-positive since his last test, or with someone who is blatantly lying about his HIV status.
Very few leaders in the HIV/AIDS medical community will disagree that the key to the end of AIDS is for everyone to be tested for HIV on a regular basis, and for HIV-positive people to begin treatment as soon as possible.
My intention, to the best of my ability, is to continue to be open and honest about all aspects of my life in a way that hopefully empowers, or at the very least entertains, others. I do not know where my path is ultimately leading, but the journey certainly isn't boring. Since my life has now intersected with yours, take it from me: The next time you're hooking up for sex, please don't fool yourself with the whole "disease-free" mentality. And by all means, get tested for HIV regularly if you are sexually active.
Here's my final confession (for now). Certainly, I endeavor to be of service to you, but I have also grown tired of explaining myself over and over again to guys online, so I'm going to simply include a link to this blog in my messages to men I'm endeavoring to meet (and maybe fall in love with?) on Grindr, Scruff, Craiglist and infinite other destinations in cyberspace, and maybe I'll even get up the courage to go out and meet people in the real world and have this conversation face-to-face, actually meeting real men... and so it is... I let it be. Amen.
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