February is the month to celebrate Love and the perfect opportunity to celebrate. Especially with Mr. Right, your hun, etc. or have fun with Mr. Right Now. It’s been actually 3 years since I been single and been content, not bitter at all, just content and in peace where I am right now. There been issues related to relationships and on dating among us people living with HIV. Over the years I have dated HIV positive and negative guys. You meet someone and at the start of just a simple conversation sometimes there is silence due to fear of rejection once I disclose my HIV positive status. And from there depending on his reaction, things can continue or just end. I don’t like to waste mine or people’s time.
I cannot deny that the constant struggles when you meet someone regardless of their HIV status, there will be that piece of the puzzle that it can be quite disturbing at times. Some of us have had a few rejections and some of us have had several. The challenges of rejection, the reminder that you are different and that you cannot be with someone because you are HIV positive. I don’t wish to sound like I am lecturing an old issue since we are now pretty much in an era where you would think that most people will be okay interacting with someone who is HIV positive or living with AIDS. The truth of the matter is that we are in 2014, and yes – there’s still issues that separate us from those that claim to be negative, because they have taken an HIV test, which is good. But, more challenging is when you hear someone say “you should not be dating (or having sex) with someone who is HIV positive. That particular statement has come to my ears a few different times in the last almost two decades living with HIV.
A few years ago, I began a relationship with someone who is HIV negative. Things started pretty good and he didn’t have issues with my HIV status. Things were getting serious and I felt it was time to engage and explore a more intimate part of our relationship. Since it started we decided only to get to know each other. Yes, I know you would say…yeah right! – but, we did. We did not have sex. The main reason was first, because I knew that even him stating that didn’t have issues with my positive status, I wanted to learn how far things would go.
I offered the option for us to get screened for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and he got surprised. He stated – “why should I get tested and you since we know you are HIV positive”. All we need to do is use protection right? – I responded that that was correct. But, it seemed rather interesting that he was not thinking on the fact that he previously had been sexually involved with other people (I am not sure how many) if the conversation was not happening as it did with us, how would he know his STI status. I added that it was important he and I get tested for STIs since I didn’t want to catch anything he could have gotten from someone before. I could detect sarcasm in his voice when he replied – well, I don’t think I have been at risk. I ended the conversation by informing that I have made an appointment with my doctor and that he needed to do the same with his. In the mean time we did not have sex.
Some people have the misconception that HIV positive people are responsible for taking care of those that are HIV negative. I personally think and feel that is an individual’s responsibility to take care of him or herself. I always think that if I have had the right information on how to prevent from getting infected with HIV and also used protection – perhaps not thinking about HIV, because at the time when I got infected I was completely naïve that HIV existed (Yes, it may seem stupid to believe it, but yes I didn’t know anything about it). I probably would have not got infected with HIV. So I take responsibility completely!
HIV stigma doesn’t help when it comes to pointing fingers to who is responsible for your acts and especially if you get infected doing something that you were not supposed to. When we get infected with the flu for example, do we go around and ask each person we sit next to in the bus or subway and say…you may have given me the flu because you have it? And even more interesting, we get so concerned and perhaps intense about getting infected with HIV, but do not even for a minute think that is easier to get infected with an STI.
Back to the story of this guy I was dating. We both got our results and both came back negative for STIs. Of course mine for HIV was obvious that that did not needed to be checked, but his screening did include the HIV test. I insisted he needed to have it done. I didn’t wish to get into the drama of him thinking that I could have potentially infected him…and that is why I abstained from having sex until both would have been clear about each other status. Things continued well. We got to know each other really well and our relationship started to flourish. As we got to know each other more so did some of our common friends. Mine, because of what I do related to my job, most are people that work in the HIV/STI prevention field, so there was not issues with me having this new relationship with this person since in the past have had good relationships with both, positive and negative guys.
Little that I know – soon became time to meet the parents, that actually went rather well. It was exactly the time while we both were waiting for our STI screening results. I informed the parents about that and made this initial part of our conversation. I am upfront with anyone and this was not the exception. The introduction to the family thing went well. Later he suggested that I needed to meet three of his best friends and that he was really excited about me meeting them. We made plans. And the day I was about to meet the group. He called me prior to me getting to the restaurant and said – I have told them about your HIV status and they are not happy about it.
I answered with a question, – how do you feel about it? – he then stated, I think they need to meet you and see who you are and how you look to understand why I like you and why I don’t have a problem about us and our relationship. I said: “wait for me, I will be there soon”. I got there and the friends were pleasant as we were introduced. I personally didn’t want to wait and asked them how they felt about our discordant HIV status. They each said that they were sort of worried, but that they each trusted that I was going to be careful. I then asked each of them, “When was the last time you have used protection when having sex with someone?” “Let’s say in the last six months,” I added. They each looked at each other and promptly shouted, “Why? I don’t think I can be at risk from getting HIV because I know the people I have sex with!” Okay, I added, okay – so, this means that you have not used protection then? They said no, I have not.
I paused and then asked, so how this makes sense for you to be in disagreement with me being open about my HIV status and furthermore to engage in the dialogue of getting tested for STI and openly talking about it. Additionally, I been under HIV antiretroviral treatment for many years now and my viral load is at undetectable levels. And I do IT for me, to stay healthy and not getting sick and be functional and with energy enough to work my eight hours and be productive and active. I don’t understand how can you be sure you are not HIV positive too?
My last question to them was; if you saw me yesterday and didn’t know who I was…would you think that I am HIV positive? – At the same time they said: “no, because you look healthy and look very well”. And I closed our conversation by saying…next time you meet someone and decide to have sex remember our chat this evening.
My relationship with him did not last long. I am not sure if there were our own issues as a couple that ended our relationship. Or if it was indeed some influence by the friends that were never happy with us being together. One thing that was truly painful to experience was that at the very end of ending our relationship we begun having that typical trouble of sex, and by that I mean distance between us started happening. I guess when one is not happy in other parts of our lives and or with our friends and family, things just don’t work well in other places where we need to be present. Towards the end I recall having one interesting conversation with him and it was related to our already few months not having sex. I asked what was really what he was looking for. – He stated that although he was happy with me, he was not happy about our sex life. And I asked again, why? – He said is not you. Is me, I am just tired of having protected sex with you. A big silence came into the room, because he knew that I was not going to agree to engage in sex without protection with him. It did make me feel really sad to hear his response.
I only stated that it was very important how he felt and that it was important to me that he needed to be at a place in his life with someone or alone, but happy. I stated that at that moment – and as I read the date in the calendar: today our relationship has ended and you are free to go. If what you need is be free to get back to that dreamland where you don’t think that you need to use protection, that’s fine. I hope you take care of yourself and really hope you do not become one more number in our HIV/AIDS statistics.
It’s been a while since all that happened. And I am in that state of mind where I am really content to continue and maintain being openly about my HIV positive status, whether is with someone I just met and or someone that may have potential for a relationship. I would like to close this note by sharing one thing someone said to me when I shared the same story I have just shared with you: He stated; well, I think HIV positive people should stick to stay or have relationship with other HIV positive people. And asked the same questions I asked those three friends of that former boyfriend – when was the last time you got tested for HIV and screened for STIs? – He replied, I haven’t the people I hang out with are clean. Cool I stated and added, good luck. If you need information and help, you know where to find me.
I get to think: it seems to me almost as if we were talking about “us and them” – where us are trying to do the right and them and them continue to be at risk. This is how HIV stigma gets perpetuated in 2014.
Alfredo Hernández Chavez