In this round of #SpillSesh, we hear from a follower who prefers to remain anonymous. He contacted me in the past on TPG about the difficulties he was facing as a newly HIV+ man and navigating the gay dating community. After some time had passed, I figured who better to hear from on this than him. He touches on some very important and emotional issues that we should all educate ourselves on. Thank you to this follower for sharing your experience.
1. Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m a young man who moved here from Russia several years ago. America was my choice, because I can be free here, dress up the way I want and live the lifestyle I always wanted. And it’s pretty magical here. Nice people, great weather and a lot of cute boys.
I recently found out I am HIV+. Half a year ago I got positive result. Have you ever wondered how you’d react if someone said you have an untreatable disease and you’re doing to die? You may expect to think “if this is the end, I’m going make it super bright and I will have a happy ending.” But when the doctor said the result I wasn’t ready. I didn’t expect it because I was playing safe and raw only with people I knew. So, one of them didn’t know he was positive. I know exactly who it was. But it didn’t change the fact that I was done. I was sitting in a chair, looking at the window and I didn’t want to live any longer. I didn’t want any bright future, any dreams. Everything was gone. Everything. I died inside. And I was just waiting to leave. I didn’t want to know anything more. The last question I asked after the conversation: may I leave, I can’t cry here. And I left.
I started biking towards home and I couldn’t. I just dropped it on the grass, fell and started crying. I couldn’t stop. After 15 minutes I picked up my bike and kept biking and crying. I got home and that was it. My roommate was the last person I wanted to know about it, so I closed my door and tried to sober up. I was researching and trying to find anything that would make me feel complete again. I reached to HIV+ guys on social media and asked for advice. One guy said “you are not broken, never let this thought live in your head.” I remember that to this day. That thought lives in my head and I try to fight with it. The first month was the worst. I cried every single day. It could happen anywhere. Just so you know, I’m an emotional but strong person; physically and mentally. But that’s something you can’t handle easily. The first person I told was my friend, who asked me what was wrong with me at a party. I tried to avoid conversation and then he asked – what could be so bad? Did you get tested as positive or what? And I just said yes. He was very supportive and still is. As of now only two friends of mine know (and of course guys I slept with). None of my family, friends. or relatives know. They wouldn’t understand it. At all. I’m from Russia. That world is five steps behind.
2. What is your current relationship status? What are you looking for?
I am single. I was in a very short relationship recently and it was great. I’d love to have a stable relationship with somebody and have sex on a regular basis with only one partner. But it’s kind of impossible in LA. The problem, I think, is because there are so many cute boys, so every other cute boy wants to try all the hot guys first, before choosing to try to work hard for a relationship. The list of what I’m looking for is endless. This is why we have so many single hot guys.
3. How do you typically meet guys (or have you in the past)? How do you feel about apps?
I use apps such as Grindr. Tinder, OKCupid, etc. Sometimes I also meet guys in real life. There was this guy who left his number on a napkin after I served him in a restaurant. As far as apps, I have tried all of them. People are usually the same, but maybe with slightly different goals on each app. I would say OKCupid is more for dating, but even there it was tough.
4. What’s the hardest part about dating as an HIV+ man?
Explaining to ignorant people what HIV+ is and how it works.
5. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about dating HIV+ men?
That you can get HIV easily through kisses, oral, or even cuddling. I was one of those before I had to deal with it myself. I just didn’t understand how it worked. I wish everyone could just Google the basic facts about HIV.
6. Do you find yourself avoiding bringing up your HIV status to make dating easier?
My last partner was a difficult one. We didn’t have sex for a while, because I enjoyed the dates and didn’t want it to end. Even though I knew he would be ok with my status. And he was ok after I told him in tears that this is my reality. I was very nervous and couldn’t hold the emotions. And his answer was amazing: “if we don’t work out, your status will never be the reason.” That was such a relief. And it helped me to breathe a little more freely.
7. When do you think is an appropriate time to bring up your HIV status with someone you’ve met online or are dating?
If it’s a Grindr hookup, then when you start talking. If they block you for that, then you’re very lucky that you didn’t even have to face that stupid person.
8. What are some of the most negative reactions you get when you tell people about your HIV status?
Some people block me immediately. It’s even worse when they say “nothing has changed” but then they never have time to meet with me again.
9. What is an appropriate way for someone to ask you about your status or bring up the topic?
I don’t like when the topic is forced. I know one guy who loves to talk about it, because he is positive and he wants everyone to know about it (which isn’t a terrible idea). However, the way he does t is horrible. We were at the party and he asked my friend pointing at me: oh, is this THAT guy? Then he turned to me and asked “how long?” I was like wow, what a great situation. He didn’t say the the word “HIV” itself, but you need to be stupid not to understand.
My advice is that everyone will decide for themselves if they want to come out or not about their status. Don’t force anyone. Same with sexuality. Maybe it would be easier to live, maybe not. Anyway, my choice is not to be official about it on social media.
10. Do you think it’s easier to just be upfront about your status or to bring it up when you feel more comfortable with the person you’re dating?
Absolutely easier to be upfront about it. If they mysteriously have no time to meet again, then you just don’t need this person in your life.
11. Is it easier for you to date or talk to other HIV+ men?
In a perfect world, yes. I would love to have an HIV+ partner only because he would understand why every day may not be bright and shiny. And it helps to see that people have been going through the same thing as me for years and they ARE ok.
12. What are some of the offensive terms the community should be conscious of and stop using with regard to HIV?
“Are you clean” is the worst. It implies that being HIV+ is dirty or wrong and that being HIV- is clean and correct. That’s just not how it works and it is a huge stereotype.
13. Do you think people understand what undetectable means? How do you feel about the way “undetectable” is used and potentially misused?
It’s tricky. Being undetectable is better. At least it sounds better. It gives me this idea that I’m halfway cured. If you’re on PrEP and your viral load is undetectable, then you’re fine, everyone is safe. But you must let them know in the first place. It’s hard. You might get less dick than you planned, but it’s better for you to be honest.
14. Any additional thoughts or advice for the readers out there?
If you don’t know about HIV, just google and read. It’ll take you 10 minutes, but it’ll give you some answers and it’ll help you deal appropriately with poz guys. We are not a threat, we are not the worst, we are not sluts. We are just like you, but we have a wound deep inside. And we need your support. At least be neutral. Sometimes we hate ourselves too. We wish it never happened to us. But it happened and now there are two ways to deal: kill yourself or embrace yourself. And i can tell. I wrote good bye letters and chose the way to kill myself. Nevertheless, I decided to fight for myself. At least for now.