Two of my HIV-positive friends had a bet as to when I would finally crap my pants. They would answer my phone calls: “Did you crap your pants yet?” On top of the physical discomfort, there was the shame I experienced at the hospital when the nurse clearly didn’t believe my story. I felt like just another reckless homo in her eyes or maybe I was just projecting my own shame. I think of this experience as a minute look into what it’s like to live with HIV. Of course I had the luxury of avoiding some of the most torturous emotional aspects.
I didn’t have to live each day waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering if I would make it to the next milestone. My dear friend, Mark, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and was told he would die in two-to-five years, used to live his life in seemingly mundane milestones. He remembers wondering if he would live to see the 105 Interstate to LAX be completed. The traffic-clogged freeway was finished in 1993. Mark is still here.
I didn’t have to agonize over whether or not to tell loved ones. Even if it’s an easy decision not to tell your family — you don’t want to upset them; you don’t want them to treat you with kid gloves; you don’t want them to abandon you — there is the isolation of braving the disease on your own. It still surprises me how many of my HIV-positive friends withhold their diagnosis from their families regardless of their bond with them. Not wanting to worry mom is the most common reason I hear.
I didn’t have to experience rejection by a romantic or sexual interest due to my HIV status. My HIV-positive friends unanimously agree that their status significantly affects the chances of finding a partner in an already limited pool of suitors. In the mid-90s, a man asked my friend Mark if he was “okay” before they had sex. When Mark pressed the man to elaborate, the man answered, “You know, do you have the Heebie Jeebies.” We laugh about it now, but it’s no different than the well-meaning person who asks a potential partner if he is “clean.” How does that leave the HIV-positive person feeling? Dirty, damaged, and tainted.
I find myself examining the correlation between risk and responsibility. It seems logical that the more responsible one is, the lower the risk of contracting diseases. I own my decision to engage in sex at the sex club. Did the venue itself heighten the risk?
Glen, the manager, says sex club sex is safer.
But, shit, anything could happen to do your dick in a glory hole. Forget diseases, the person on the other side could be waiting with a machete. And then I think about those hot serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and how I would have definitely gone home with him back in the day.
Perhaps there is no such thing as low-risk, anonymous sex. Even if it’s not anonymous, condoms break, people lie. Sex is no game. Don’t call it “play.” Healthy, low-risk sex in 2009 is hard work.