Undetectable = Un-transmittable, Getting Over the Stigma of HIV

Recently I was asked if I was still single would date I someone who was HIV positive but undetectable. My answer was a resounding yes. If the chemistry were there and I loved that person I would date them if they were undetectable or detectable. I don’t usually write articles about HIV/AIDS, I leave that to our columnist Danial Ashely Williams, since he is HIV positive he has a perspective that I don’t. In this case maybe as someone who is HIV negative, I should share my perspective on dating someone who is HIV positive. All though there is no real cure yet, drug advancements have come so far that with daily treatment HIV can become undetectable in the body and undetectable means un-transmittable, that means you can’t pass on the virus through sex. NOW, don’t get me wrong I’m not saying not use a condom, that is a personal choice. I’m just saying HIV can’t be transmitted to a sexual partner if it’s undetectable in the system. That being said, what do we have to do as a community to make the stigma of HIV undetectable and un-transmittable?

The AIDS epidemic during the 80’s and early 90’s wiped out whole communities. Major Cities like New York, San Fransisco, L.A., and Chicago were not the only places devastated by the virus. The gay community in smaller cities in the mid-west were all but wiped out. Calumet City IL for example. Cal City had a thriving LGBTQ community. Now there’s just a gay bar or two left and the community has never fully recovered. All around the globe, gay or not the world lost potential artists, entertainers, scientists, doctors and people lost loved ones. What if we lost the person who could have actually cured this disease.

Now with the advancements in drug therapy the healing has started, at least for the people who are HIV positive. They have a new lease on life and yes of course the potential that they MIGHT develop AIDS will alway be in the back of their minds, but at least now they have hope. They have the hope that they will live a long normal life and the hope that they will maybe date, fall in love, Netflix and chill on a Sunday afternoon with someone. In the 80’s and early 90’s hope was a luxury that a lot of gay men couldn’t afford.

Life returns to semi-normal if you don’t count the expense of the drug costs and the daily doses of medications, these are things that become routine. Now that HIV positive gay men are living longer what do they hope for now. Obviously I can’t speak for all of them or really any of them, but I imagine that some of them want a heathy dating life. Some may want to find a boyfriend settle down get married get that house with a white picket fence, maybe have a couple of kids and a dog. Live the “American Dream,” but I bet for SOME HIV positive men it’s hard for them to even try.

How many times has someone who’s undetectable started to get close with THAT guy? That crush from the office or the guy who stands next to you in line at Starbucks every morning. That guy you’re finally making a real connection with. The innocent flirting and the unmistakeable chemistry, not being able to concentrate because THAT guy is on your mind all the time. He’s sending all the right singles and admits that he feels the same way. You go on the date you’ve been waiting to go on with THAT guy. The flirting gets to that next level and you finally gather up the courage and tell him you’re HIV positive but undetectable, he pretends not to be taken aback, but you see it in his eyes. You finish your date on a positive note yet he declines the offer to come back to your place claiming he has an early day tomorrow. The next day you don’t hear from him, then three days go by then five. You don’t see him at Starbucks anymore. He doesn’t return your texts, but you knew all along he wouldn’t. You’ve been ghosted, and it fucking hurts like a symptom of the disease you don’t even have.

Look I get it, people get scared. HIV/AIDS has wrecked havoc on a community struggling for acceptance and just when it was starting to happen gay men started dying. The Reagan Administration did nothing at the time to address the epidemic and wouldn’t even utter the word “AIDS.” Lack of response or even acknowledgement from the Reagan White House only made the sigma of HIV/AIDS worse. Like a lot of people I lived through that time. As a teenager in the 1980’s who was growing up in a town so small we only had one traffic light, I automatically thought being gay was a death sentence. I fought my sexual identity until I couldn’t anymore. It was a fight with myself I’m glad I lost. Now there’s another fight happening, the fight to rid this community of the stigma of HIV.

In plain simple terms everyone can understand, if someone’s viral load is undetectable in their bloodstream then they are NOT able to transfer HIV to sexual partners. If you are one of those gay guys that have an issue with HIV positive guys get the fuck over it. They are just as much a part of the LGBTQ community as anyone else and just like our trans brothers and sisters or that kid who has been shunned by his family for coming out or any other person in this beautiful and tough community that we live in all HIV positive individuals need support from us all. HIV positive individuals also need the encouragement that we give everyone else in this community to live their truth.

The best weapon we had during the hight of the AIDS epidemic was education. People had to educate themselves that they couldn’t get AIDS from a toilet seat or drinking out of the same glass or even a kiss. Education is essential. I dated someone once who had cerebral palsy, I read up on what it was and how and what to expect and how to deal with certain things IF they came up, which they didn’t. If you get asked out by a guy who is HIV positive and he’s undetectable educate yourself on what that is and what to expect. Do it for yourself especially if you like him. But, even after everything that I’ve said if you still have an issue and you don’t want to go out with a person who has HIV, don’t ghost them. Have the courage to admit that you just don’t have any courage, it’s the least they deserve. Besides people living with HIV are forced to be brave everyday even when they don’t want to be, they deserve friends and lovers that are as brave as they are.

50 Years After Stonewall, PRIDE Riots On

50 years after Stonewall, it’s the PRIDE of our lives.

Chicago Gay PRIDE Parade

PRIDE. Pride is a word that can mean different things to different people. You can take pride in your work, your home, your family, and yourself. For a lot of people taking pride in themselves can be the toughest. Sometimes it seems that despite the progress that the LGBTQ community has made, especially over the last 10 years, finding pride in oneself can be elusive and inconsistent. For many people self esteem comes in waves, sometimes you’re riding high on the biggest wave of the ocean, everything is going your way, other times you keep falling off the surf board and retreat to land thinking that you’ll never have the self confidence to try again. For others there are challenging times for sure, but they always seem to land on their feet and walk through life with a never ending confident stride.


Left: View along Sixth Avenue as hundreds of people march toward Central Park, June 26, 1975. Right: A couple kiss on Sixth Avenue, June 26, 1975. Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images




People who are LGBTQ face a unique set challenges that can effect our self esteem. Issues ranging from acceptance of family and friends to discrimination. Health and mental health issues not to mention the disproportionate suicide rates among trans and queer youth. Homeless rates among LGBTQ youth are also disproportionate. Depending on who you are the reality of coming out as LGBTQ can be one of the single most stressful times in a persons life. So, if you are able to navigate any of these challenges in life you are brave.

Take coming out for example, we don’t come out just once, we come out all the time. We come out when we meet new people or start a new job and talk with our new co-workers the conversation will most certainly turn to ones spouse or partner. That happened to me recently. I started a new job and had two days of on boarding with another new employee, we were sequestered in a small office belonging to the human resource manager. The HR manager is an older man probably in his late 60’s and uses terms like “golly gee,” “heck,” and “swell.” As we were going over the companies benefits package I mentioned the low insurance rate compared to what my spouse was paying for both of us to be insured. He asked me what my wife did for a living. Of course I polity corrected him and said that my husband is the director of social services for a long term care facility. It seemed that the awkward silence lasted longer than what it actually did, but the on boarding resumed like nothing happened.

The New York City Pride March reaches a police line, 1971. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

There’s always that fear, the fear of the person that you’re interacting with might get insulting or maybe even violent. I didn’t know either of the people that I was in that small office with, so when I “came out” there was a certain amount of awkwardness. Those awkward moments will continue to happen for the rest of my life. Even though we’ve made progress those of us who are LGBTQ will always be living with a certain amount of uncertainty. This uncertainty straight cis gendered people will never have. Straight people never have to think twice when they share with others who they love. They will never have to worry about getting fired from a new job or any job because of their sexuality. They will never have to worry about discrimination. Those of us in the LGBTQ community who are living our truth live with these harsh facts everyday of our lives.

This year is the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, arguably the start of the modern day gay rights movement. The riots led to the start of the first gay pride parades and festivals around the country. To get where we are now the patrons of The Stonewall Inn exploded into a violent protest after the police raided the bar. At the time raids of gay bars were common practice, but finally the people had enough. The riots became so violent that the police hid in The Stonewall Inn, afraid to leave for 45 minutes. The LGBTQ community has been clawing its way up ever since. Those early protesters were not just brave, they were fearless in finding the courage to fight the New York City Police because they were sick of being treated like their lives, their loves, and their dreams didn’t matter. Just this year The City of New York issued a formal apology to the city’s LGBTQ community for the way that community was abused at the hands of the people who were there to serve and protect all citizens.

The cis gendered straight white guys that are organizing “straight pride” events because they feel threatened that their little world is becoming too diverse, those toxic people want nothing more than to feel better about themselves by taking away our power to feel good about ourselves and undermining the achievements of our community and individuals. Don’t let them.

If you’re LGBTQ and still in the closet, if you’re not ready to come out, that doesn’t mean that you are not brave. Just coming to terms with who you are is one of the bravest things you can do, don’t ever feel pressured to come out. If you’re out always remember, just like those first protesters who took on the police during The Stonewall Riots your lives, loves, and dreams do matter.

So, on the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots think of the sacrifices and hardships queer people had to live through everyday, think of those who succumbed to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and early 90’s. Know that with people like Harvey Milk, Martha P. Johnson, Jim Obergefell, just to name a few we wouldn’t be where we are today. So, honor those who came before and know that they would want you to honor yourself, live bravely, love passionately, don’t be afraid of getting your heart broke, dream big and don’t ever let the world dictate what your truth is. And as always dance like no one is watching.

Happy PRIDE!

Michigan City PRIDE Fest is June 29, 2019 in Washington Park at the Guy Forman amphitheater from 1-9pm.

In the Shadow of HIV Relationships are not Always Black and White

I remember the first time I saw Ed at the bar. It was the weekly “Gay Night”. He was standing at the bar by the dance floor, drinking a mixed drink with his circle of friends. He was, in my mind, the sexiest black man I had ever seen and completely out of my league.

A few months went by and we happened to be at the same New Year’s Eve party and  ended up talking, he even sat on my lap. When college classes started back up he and I started texting and we even went out as friends for a drink at a Mexican restaurant. This happened several times. After a night of going out to eat he invited me back to his place where I sat down on the floor by his bed. I guess I was a little nervous. He went on to explain to me he never makes the first move. That gave me the courage to take that chance and we ended up making out. A relationship grew and I moved out of the college dorms and in with him, my boyfriend.

I was accepted, for the most part, by his friends and even his family. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we would go to his mother’s who cooked true “Southern Home Cook’n.” I was the only “white boy” in the house during our holiday celebration, but it never was a problem and likewise at his family reunions, I was made to feel like part of the family, I even took his sister to her prom. He taught me how to twist his hair and use grease, it’s silly but I liked how his hair was like curly lambs wool. When we would travel 800 miles to the North to see my family they left no doubt in my mind that they accepted him without question. When my little sister was learning to talk, she made it a point to learn to say his name before mine.

I wish everyone would have been as accepting as our families. We would get pulled over by the police, this happened more than once and it happened for little to no reason at least none we could see. The police would make it a point to search the car and pat us down. Love is love despite color, age, or race. Love does not discriminate, but we found out the hard way that people do.

Being in an interracial relationship was just like being in any relationship and just like all couples we had our ups and downs. Sometimes relationships change, people change and circumstances change. We had been together for a year when I found out that I was HIV-Positive. I was tested annually at the college health fair and every year my test came back negative. Then the unthinkable happened and my worst fears were realized. There were so many fears. There was the fear of telling him, there was the fear of the stigma of HIV/AIDS and there was the fear of the unknown. Later on he was tested, and he found out that he too was HIV positive, his CD4 counts were lower than mine and it was determined that he had it first and had transmitted it to me.

After we found out he didn’t want to tell anyone about our HIV status, it became our ‘little’ secret. Maybe his silence came from being a proud black man that just happened to be gay, but it was my burden to bare too. He seemed to have become emotionally shut down. We would go to the doctor together, yet we would not talk about the elephant in the room. We never talked about anything having to do with what it’s like being gay and HIV positive in East Texas. He never wanted to talk about the guilt he felt for infecting me, but I could see it in his eyes. It’s hard to keep a secret like HIV to oneself and not feel like you are perpetuating the stigma. It’s doubly hard to be each other’s support system when we all we do is carry our burdens instead of carrying and supporting each other.

I thought we still loved each other. He was my support system, boyfriend, and lover. I would advise against staying silent keeping your status to yourself even in the face of Stigma or harassment for whatever the reason we are all human we are all individuals which makes us all different we must embrace that.