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We need to celebrate being HIV-positive and undetectable

Friday, 21 August 2015 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // Gay Men, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific , Revolving Door, Guest Authors

From FS Magazine, HIV+ME: “I wanted to celebrate being undetectable... He told me we shouldn’t ‘celebrate’ HIV.”

We need to celebrate being HIV-positive and undetectable

This article by Ruaidhri O’Baoill @RuaidhriOB first appeared in the UK’s FS magazine here. 

This one time, definitely not at band camp, I was feeling pretty damn horny. Like second nature, out came Grindr and the search for that quick fix began. After chats with numerous guys, I found someone that caught my attention.   

No point in beating around the bush but after a few exchanges he was on his way over. After the somewhat polite greetings, clothes came off (jocks still on though) and we got down to business. It was then I realised I had not brought up the subject of our status. This was extremely unlike me so I pretty quickly asked him: “Positive or negative?” He responded: “Positive, undetectable.” I’m not sure why, and it wasn’t planned, but I came back at him, big smile included, with a high five and a “me too!” He high fived back and we went on to make fireworks... well less like fireworks, more like sparklers.  

It wasn’t long after we parted ways when I got a message from him that pretty much knocked me off my feet. He seemed to attack me for being pleased about our undetectable status and that by ‘celebrating’ it, I was taking away the ‘seriousness’ of the disease. What seemed to really anger him was when I high fived him. He told me that by doing this I came across as naive and childish.  

When I found out last August that I was positive, I came up against a lot of emotions. I felt lost, worthless and not sexy. I lost a lot of confidence in the initial period. Emotionally I went downhill very quickly and even getting out of bed in the morning sometimes felt the hardest thing to do.  I relied on a lot of support from family and close friends.

Another thing I relied on was becoming undetectable.  I invested all of the energy I had into becoming undetectable. I remember placing all hope on my first follow up after being on medication for a month that I would be undetectable.  Of course, I wasn’t – it was too early but I was gutted. I just wanted to feel normal again and being undetectable was the closest I was ever going to get to feeling like that. 

On Christmas Eve, like a scene from a film, I was doing some last minute shopping with Mum when my phone went. I had received an email from Dean Street to say I was finally undetectable. 

I turned to mum and said: “Happy Christmas, I’m undetectable” and then I just started crying. Happy tears!  I was proud of myself that in the face of something terrible happening I managed to deal with it, day by day, and that I got myself to a point of feeling more normal again. 

It took me a while to reply to him.  He made me feel diseased again. I felt dirty and worthless but then I got angry, really angry. I messaged back saying that becoming undetectable is an achievement that should be celebrated.  It’s a sign of not letting something beat you. I told him, quite genuinely, that to me his reaction perhaps showed that he was still coming to terms with his diagnosis.  I understood that but discrimination doesn’t belong in our community. He went quiet and I never heard from him again. 

Being honest, staying positive about being positive is hard work. I still have bad days when I just let those thoughts creep in and all I want to do is cry. It comes with the territory. Anything that can give me a boost surely must be a good thing. For me, being undetectable is one of those good things. It’s a great thing!

Here I was given awful news but yet I slowly climbed my way back up and I began living my life again.  It’s a different life from what I thought I would live but I am thankful it’s still a life. I went through the shame of being positive. I let it beat the crap out of me but I also put it in its rightful place and I’m pretty proud of that. 

After all the discrimination and stigma that we as a community have gone through, and are still going through, why do it to each other? More and more guys are living with HIV daily. Being undetectable is becoming a way of life so we need to adapt to this. It may not warrant a party or a greetings card but surely a “Congratulations” or even a high five will do the job just right. 

About the author: Ruaidhri is 26-years-old and originally from Ireland. He’s been living in London for nearly five years. Ruaidhri was diagnosed HIV-positive in August 2014. In his spare time he likes to stalk Victoria Beckham and run after plastic bags on a windy day.


FS amagzine says: HIV+LIFE/Looking for a relationship 

If you are not in a relationship but are looking for one, having HIV may affect how you feel about finding a partner, and even the type of partner that you look for. 

Some men have felt unable to form new relationships after they were diagnosed, sometimes because they feel in some way ‘tainted’ by their HIV status, and sometimes because the psychological burden of being diagnosed with HIV can cause problems with confidence and self-esteem. 

There’s also the fear of rejection which can play heavily on the mind. It is true that some men will choose not to sleep with you because you have HIV, which is their choice. However, there are also many men who don’t feel HIV is a reason not to have sex with someone. Just because it happens once or twice it doesn’t mean you’ll always be turned down. 

You may feel that you can only look for, or may only want, a partner who also has HIV. This way HIV can be out in the open from the start and so you shouldn’t have any worry about rejection because of your HIV status. However, a lot of men with HIV don’t feel they should restrict themselves to one group of men just because they have HIV. After all you can’t help who you fancy, or fall in love with, and there are plenty of perfectly happy couples where only one partner has HIV. 

If you find someone you are keen on, you may worry about when to tell him you have HIV. If you have been open from the start and told him you have HIV before you had sex with him then this may not be an issue. However, if you didn’t talk about HIV with him before you had sex and the relationship starts to develop you will probably find it increasingly difficult to tell him. 

If you always used condoms when you fucked then you’ve both done everything you can to keep safe during sex. However if you have had unprotected sex with him, telling him that you have HIV means you will also be telling him that he has been exposed to HIV. If you’ve only just had unprotected sex, then telling him you have HIV straight away afterwards means that he will be able to access PEP, which if taken within 72 hours of exposure to your HIV could stop him from becoming HIV-positive. If you’ve had unprotected sex with him in the past, then he’ll need to know he has been exposed to your HIV so that he can consider whether he wants to go for an HIV test. 

Telling him that you have HIV after you had unprotected sex may make him upset or angry that you didn’t tell him sooner, and there’s no guarantee that in this situation he’ll want to continue with the relationship. There’s also the chance that if you didn’t tell him you had HIV and you fucked without condoms, and he then tested HIV-positive, that you could be in trouble with the law.