Dating someone who is living with HIV when you don’t is a bit like dating someone of a different age, race or class – you know there is something different but you date the person not the broader tag.
Alright, so before anyone launches into a ‘you don’t know what it’s like’ rant, HIV is much the same as any long-term illness or disease, agreed? Controlled by medication, you have to visit the doctor regularly to make sure you are taking things correctly and see if there are any updates, and you probably would let your employer or lover know in case things do take a turn for the worse, fully expecting them not to. Sounds a bit like living with HIV too.
I wish I was a serial monogamist (where you jump from relationship to relationship) but truth be told I am more a serial dater – I go on a few dates with a guy, find something irritating about him and move on. Like the Irish guy, whose living in Belfast became a problem; the Greek guy, whose lack of maturity irritated me no end; or the Portuguese guy, who was just annoying. But I have never dumped someone because they were positive, nor dated them just because they were either. The exception is someone I got physical with, but that was my attempt to lift his depression, and I had a crush on him pre-diagnosis anyway. We’re still friends so it’s all good.
Stigma still exists, and as much as you or I or Tom or Kristian or NAT or THT do, it exists. Education is going out but it is taking so long to get the message out there because hetero-normative people aren’t interested as they are ‘not high risk’, despite the fact that young heterosexual cis-gendered people are the highest rising infection risk in statistical terms.
At my day-job I work with a guy who is under the impression that he can’t and won’t get infected with anything ever. He has never taken an STI test, an HIV test or a chlamydia screening. I doubt, as he grows past the superman-complex of youth, that he will get prostate exams, or go to the doctor about that persistent cough either. And he is right with regards to HIV, that he is in a ‘low-risk’ group, but then the borders of sexual experimentation are broken and he will probably screw around with a guy at some point. The area I live in is full of people like that, and switching on Grindr is a worrying experience in case you spot a friends’ parent or guardian, or, worse still, your boss (this happened once, ONCE). So the chance is still there, regardless of level of risk.
Maybe if more people understood that risk of infection, however small, is still a risk, then there might be less stigma about living with HIV. It’s the same as having an undetectable viral load – some take that as zero, others as less than one. Either way HIV is still going to spread, no matter how much PEP or home-testing you take and do, so my opinion is, accept that some people live with HIV, others don’t, and that it can change. In the meantime, I will love, screw and befriend anyone I want, regardless of their HIV status.
Jake Basford (@MooseyJake on twitter)