Dating and Fear in the Age of HIV: 'I'd Like to Sleep With You — and I'm HIV-Positive'

Published: September 10, 2012

This is difficult for me to write and maybe for you to read.

I’ll start with a story.

I came out 23 years ago. My mother said, softly, "This is the worst day of our lives. The next worst will be the day we bury you from AIDS."

Much has changed since then. We know now, as we knew then, that being gay doesn’t foretell an HIV diagnosis. The infection is far from a death sentence, at least for those with access to life-saving medications. And for many people, like my parents, a fear of gay people and HIV has been replaced with love and acceptance.

But as gay men, we’re still ashamed of HIV, whether we’re positive or negative. Some would rather have cancer than live with the stigma of the infection, where a diagnosis is filled with not only internalized gay shame but a sense of fault: "It could have been prevented if only we had just loved a little less…"

Nationally, 20 percent of gay and bisexual men are estimated to be living with HIV. Some are aware of their status and are being treated; others are not aware at all. Whether they know their status or not, there are hundreds of thousands of gay men living with HIV, hooking up and falling in love.

Many HIV-negative men I know live and love in a seemingly blissful denial, pretending HIV isn’t already enmeshed in their dating and sex lives. But the fact is that if you’re a sexually active, HIV-negative gay man, chances are you are already sleeping with HIV-positive men. You, and they, just may not know it.

You certainly would not know through a casual read of profiles on many dating sites and apps; you might get the opposite impression and be fooled into thinking the infection has gone on some extended holiday, like an aging Hollywood starlet. But sadly, many positive men are just not made to feel comfortable disclosing their HIV status openly on dating sites and apps. Some leave the question of status blank or even list their status as negative. Others may list their status upfront but refrain from showing their faces. Some brave souls add a discreet "+" sign to their profile name.

The dearth of proud, openly positive gay people online in most cities is a lost opportunity for all of us. More open disclosure can lead toward better, more informed, and safer sex. It would also go far toward removing some of the shame we have toward the disease.

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