Guys living with HIV aren’t the only gay men who are having trouble being heard. When Queerty posted “Ten Things HIV Positive Guys Want Negative Guys to Know” last month, negative men responded with comments ranging from sincere empathy to complete frustration. They also wrote with suggestions by the dozen for their own list. Negative men have just as much at stake in the HIV conversation, and their views matter (check out the short video NEGATIVE, a frank look at the sex lives and attitudes of four HIV negative gay men). So, with no further ado, here’s ten things HIV negative gay men want their positive buds to know as summarized and compiled by Queerty’s Mark. S. King. Just like the previous list, it can’t possibly speak for everyone. Few opinions in our complicated community are universal. Gentleman, start your engines. In no particular order, here they are:
1. We are all living in a world with HIV. Negative gay men face HIV every time they are tested. It is an unavoidable reality for any sexually active negative guy. We have friends with HIV we care about, have seen The Normal Heart, make AIDS Walk pledges, and are waiting for a day when HIV is no longer an issue to be debated and fought over. Most of us are as mystified with the apathy that exists around HIV as anybody else. And yes, we’re fully aware that we have also taken a lot of the risks our positive friends have, but escaped unscathed, somehow.
2. Living with HIV doesn’t trump every argument. Yes, living with HIV isn’t always a picnic on Fire Island. But having the virus doesn’t automatically bring wisdom and unerring judgment, either. Nothing stops a conversation faster than “you don’t know what it’s like to have HIV.” You’re right. We don’t. But please don’t use it as a trump card to kill the dialogue. Negative guys might actually learn something if people with HIV shared their experiences honestly instead of using their status as a blunt instrument.
3. Fear isn’t always based on ignorance. Many of the fears of HIV negative men are well founded. Some of us have buried lovers and can’t bear to go through it again, despite better treatments for the virus. We might have close friends who have tested positive, and we have grieved the results and witnessed their challenges. Maybe we have been lied to by someone who couldn’t share their status honestly. We have had nearly two generations of death and mortality. Grief and fear is in our bones, and a few years of good news isn’t going to make that all disappear. And please don’t equate our fear with promoting HIV stigma. We have our reasons.
4. HIV is awful. So is homophobia and poverty. In the year 2014, we have a lot on our plates. We want gay marriage and an end to starvation and rights for transgender people, to name a few. Isn’t it a sign of progress that we can focus on a variety of issues? Devoting ourselves to other important concerns isn’t an affront to people with HIV or the epidemic, and it doesn’t mean negative guys are not concerned with our sexual health. Besides, negative guys keep hearing how healthy and happy positive guys are, and how they don’t want to be defined by their status. Then we hear that HIV is still a crisis and we must all become AIDS activists again. Yes, it is a complex issue. But the messages are so contradictory it makes negative guys wish we could all just make up our minds.
5. Negative guys are not necessarily opposed to sex with positive guys. Maybe it’s just you. You might be totally hot and HIV positive and everyone is cool with that. Except you’re an asshole. Enough said.
6. Don’t force PrEP down our throats. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, or taking Truvada each day to prevent HIV infection) looks like an exciting new development. Negative guys have read the news reports. We’re still considering what works best for us. Yes, there has been some tacky name-calling about negative guys who take it and if they are “Truvada Whores.” But most of us are just learning about this and have barely formed an opinion. Taking a daily medication is a big step and you will have to pardon negative men if we aren’t all rushing to the pharmacy. A lot of us have witnessed the side effects of HIV drugs with friends and don’t like what we have seen. It may take some time for more guys to warm up to the idea, and many of us may never make that choice. And that is going to have to be okay.
7. Don’t cry “HIV stigma!” at every turn. HIV stigma is real and it is damaging. We see that and know it is a problem. It’s also true that stigma has become a catch-all for every slight or insult HIV positive guys experience. We think you’re more resilient than all that. We know you don’t all cry foul constantly, but it happens enough to make it damn annoying. In a culture obsessed with age, looks, and dick size, rejection among gay men is commonplace and cruel. We all have our issues and we are all targets for ridicule about some damn thing. It isn’t a freaking contest.
8. Taking pride in remaining HIV negative is not an insult to people with HIV. A lot of us are proud of remaining negative. We’re not happy you’re dealing with HIV. But after managing every sexual choice we make and getting tested every few months, we feel entitled to feel proud of our status — just like the pride that positive guys feel in staying healthy. When we state our status in a profile, it isn’t a declaration of war. It’s a fact. And yes, we know our status is only as secure as our choices. Give us some credit for staying this way.
9. It is maddening when we know more about HIV than you do. We might be cool about your HIV status and hooking up. And then we ask about your viral load or your meds and we get a blank stare, or you shrug it off with “I’m fine, no problem, let’s do it.” Not so fast, cowboy. If you are informed about your health, share the details.
10. We have no idea how you do it. Your strength in the face of HIV is amazing. Navigating life and relationships while living with a chronic condition can’t be easy. There’s no telling how any negative guy would react to becoming infected, and we hope we never have to find out. And that’s the point, really. Positive guys know what it is like to be negative and you know what it’s like to live with HIV. We can only guess. Please, keep that in mind when you’re dealing with our sincere ignorance about what you’re going through.
And as a bonus, here’s #11. There’s so much going on so fast these days — PrEP, undetectable vial loads, better medications — that we can literally see a day coming when none of us are defined by our HIV status. We’re looking forward to it as much as you are, but we could prepare for it now by strengthening our bond. The first step is for us all to actually listen to the concerns we have. Thanks for listening to ours.