Does HIV Make Me Undateable, Part II

Gay men living with HIV is what are we talking about.

Over the years since coming out as HIV positive, friends have asked me if my status makes me ‘undateable.’ The answer is “no,” I’m just as datable and I have just as much to offer in a relationship as anyone else. However, it there are several points that need to be addressed when dating someone who is HIV positive. 

While it’s been said, “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” and while I do believe there is someone for everyone, it seems that most men not all but most who are themselves HIV negative will not date a guy who is HIV positive. This can be difficult if you’re POZ because everyone wants to be loved and valued. There are a wide range of men in the world and there are men who do put the stigma of HIV aside and look past the word positive. The key is keeping informed and keeping communication open. Isn’t that the key for all successful relationships anyway?

The terms Neg and Poz have become the new normal in the vocabulary of our community. Sometimes that’s the first thing one asks when meeting. It’s now standard on every profile in every hook up app from Grindr to Adam4adam to BBRT.  You can find it somewhere towards the middle of a guys profile just after ‘position’ but before relationship status. Yet there is another label which we should start using as much as “top,” “Bottom,” or “Poz,” and “Neg.” That label is Undetectable or U=U (Undetectable=Un-transmittable). Undetectable and un-transmittable is when a person living with HIV has an undetectable viral load. An undetectable viral load is typically under 40 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood depending on the diagnostic tests.

The Prevention Access Campaign https://www.preventionaccess.org started U=U or #UequalsU to fight the stigma of being HIV Positive.
 
According to the Prevention Access Campaign’s web-site: “Collaborated with leading researchers to help people living with HIV who are on treatment and who have undetectable viral loads answer a fundamental question: ‘Am I at risk to my partner?’ The answer is NO. You can feel confident that if you have an undetectable viral load* and you take your medications properly, you cannot pass on HIV to your sexual partners.” 

Let’s start using U=U in our online profiles, lets start making HIV positive men feel welcome back in the ‘dating scene.’ Let’s end the stigma. 

As always it’s about choices. Some still choose to practice “Safer Sex.” You will always want to take care of yourself and your sex partner or partners. Safer sex could be the universal protection of wearing a condom or being on PrEP-Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Having sex with someone who is undetectable can mean a zero to little negligible risk, as long as they are under the care of a doctor and as long as you and your partner are honest with each other. 

There is a lot more to the story than just Negative or Positive. Inform others, start the conversation and share your story. Be part of the HIV Positive Proud community that live with a chronic health condition everyday. Get support from the people you love, whether is your biological family or your chosen family and remember the only way that you are undatable is if you let yourself become undatable and last but not least always keep a positive perspective. 

*An undetectable viral load is typically under 40 copies/ml depending on the diagnostic tests. However, studies show a person living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) with a viral load under 200 copies/ml also cannot sexually transmit HIV. This is called being “virally suppressed.”

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.