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.

I’m Harvey Milk and I’m Here to Recruit You!

San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk

1960s San Francisco became well known as a mecca for the “counterculture,” hippies, musicians, artists, and those of the LGBT community and for a time it worked. As the years rolled on and the 1970’s arrived a much more conservative attitude took over. Gay men coming from around the nation that wanted to make a home in the city’s Castro District found themselves being discriminated against by not only the the city of San Francisco but by the police who were sworn to serve and protect everyone living in the city by the bay. Gay men often times were subjected to brutal police violence. Yet, as the decade wore on gay men kept moving to The Castro. One of those men was a New Yorker named Harvey Milk. In his 40s equipped nothing but a bull horn Harvey brought together the gay community living not only in the Castro, but in the city itself. Harvey would bring along change that is still felt today.

Harvey used not only his voice to unite the LGBT Community, he used their economic power as well. It was not easy for Harvey to bring about change, he ran three unsuccessful campaigns for city supervisor, finally in 1977 he won. He won by shifting peoples perceptions, he won by becoming a leader and uniting the LGBT community of that time. He won by standing up for the abused and disenfranchised. In a time before social media and instant communication news trickeled out to the mid-west of the gay man who won political office in a major city. The news of Harvey’s success reached those living in the closet afraid of their sexuality afraid that there might be something wrong with them. Harvey Milk gave gay people all over this nation the one thing that was very scarce in the 1970’s, he would give them hope.

Harvey Milk at a rally in San Francisco

“MY NAME IS HARVEY MILK AND I AM HERE TO RECRUIT YOU!” was the rallying cry he used to get not only the attention of the city government. It also got the attention of anti-LGBT conservatives by turning their own false rhetoric against them. Conservative Christians would often claim, and some still do that gays and lesbians recruit children and “confused” adults into becoming gay. Harvey took their lies and propaganda and made it his own and by doing so he united a city. The only thing Harvey and his followers were trying to recruit was equality. Harvey Milk served only 11 months in office until he was assassinated by Dan White a fellow city supervisor. Anne Kronenberg, Harvey’s campaign manager said of him, “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He Imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.”

Harvey Milk: photo by Jerry Pritikin

I’d like to think if Harvey were alive today he would be amazed of how far we’ve came in such a short time. I also think that in today’s uncertain political climate Harvey would continue to rally our community. He would want us to not give up or get too comfortable in our own skin because despite our successes we still have a long way to go, we still have a fight on our hands.

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake, Harvey Milk Day 2017.