Well, not exactly — he was a friend of a friend, who also happened to be a fan of my writing. We had connected years ago and intended to meet up, but we never found the time. So when James pinged me on Grindr, my interest was piqued. He was gorgeous, successful, and hung like a fucking horse. But before I got in my car and made the schlep over to see him, he texted me to say that he had something to tell me. Something I should know before we met.
At this point, most gay men I know would be preparing to run for the hills. The writing on the wall was pretty clear then that sexual transmission is nearly impossible with guys who are on treatment, have undetectable viral loads, and do not have an STI co-infection.
Despite that growing scientific consensus, I still struggled with my own irrational fears and deeply-ingrained stigmatizing views of HIV-positive men. Like most gay men, I had been trained to avoid HIV-positive guys at all cost. Sure, you could use condoms. But why risk it? We know even more today than we did in In two years, not one person with an undetectable viral load —gay or straight — had transmitted HIV to their primary partner, during an estimated 16, occasions of sex among gay men and 28, among straight couples.
But all this science aside, why in the world would I pray for my new beau to be HIV-positive? But to actually seek out and desire HIV-positive partners is quite another. The answer, I think, lies in the spectacular failure of my last relationship. Like so many gay couples, Tim and I fought tirelessly over monogamy. We were both sluts who clearly loved to spread our seed.
He ominously threatened one day that if I ever cheated on him, he would beat the shit out of me. I nervously laughed it off. When we finally did open the relationship, he insisted on all sorts of restrictions. It turns out those restrictions were only for me. No sex in our house, he said.
But the real stickler was his insistence that we use condoms whenever we fucked outside the relationship. As the bottom in the relationship, my getting fucked condomless would threaten both his dominance over me and his HIV-negative status. So when I found out he bred a friend of a friend in the woods outside a party while I was inside with friends, I was done. A few weeks later, when he went out to the bar with friends, I enacted my own form of resistance: I went out and got my ass creamed.
It felt exhilarating — liberating, even. When I came home, he was drunk and furious. Somehow, he seemed to know what I had done. But as I walked up the steps to our apartment, he took his first swing — the beginning of a long night that ended with his arrest. Nonetheless, it was always lurking in the shadows of our relationship, providing a kind of scientific legitimacy to his control. The fear of HIV leads gay men to all sorts of irrationalities.
This is especially true for HIV-negative gay men, whose knowledge of the disease is largely fed by stigma and misinformation. Irregularities in the blood tests I needed to start Accutane in high school compelled my doctor to warn me that I might be HIV-positive. For most of my life, HIV was a specter haunting me and my sex life. Over time, I found ways to cope and manage the stress and risk that comes with being a promiscuous HIV-negative gay man.
Getting older as a gay man almost always means that some of your friends will test positive at some point. While as many as one in four gay men overall are HIV-positive in some urban areas, that percentage jumps to over 40 percent for guys in their 40s. It sounds trite, but being friends with HIV-positive guys and realizing that their lives were basically no different from my own played a significant role in helping me reshape my understanding of the disease.
What PrEP has done for me cannot be understated. I no longer live in a world where contracting HIV seems a possible outcome that warrants my anxiety or stress. But finding another gay man as liberated from the fear of HIV seems daunting — especially living in a non-urban area. I used to think that I might never date seriously again. My prayer was answered.
Of course, James is a lot of things other than being HIV-positive. His serostatus turns out to be only one of so many things that I love about him. And, like me, he is a whore. He gets turned on.
It is not a glitch or problem or downside. I love him, in part, because of it. The serodivide is crumbling. Hookup sites that used to allow only two options for HIVstatus now offer endless choices, from undetectable to on PrEP. Recent life expectancy projections suggest that gay men who test HIV-positive today and start treatment quickly will live longer than those who do not.
Statistically speaking, my positive boyfriend is likely to outlive me. You cannot hide your prejudice under the veil of risk anymore. That ship has sailed. Unlearning decades of stigma and fear will not happen overnight. It will take time and learning. But the cost of staying in place is too great, both for poz guys who face that stigma and fear on a daily basis, and to our communities which remain divided. Fuck a poz guy. Who knows, he just might be the man of your life.
He has spent the better part of his adult life having as much sex as possible while trying to avoid contracting HIV.