It was like déjà vu all over again. This guy’s attitude and some of the words he used brought back the moments when my status was revealed in an open chatroom all those years ago.
I know what some of my friends would say about what happened with this guy:, "just let it go, he’s an asshole, you don’t need that", but I am facilitating workshops on disclosure and its complexities so I thought this as an opportunity to put my skills to work.
We were less than 250 words into our conversation when he suggests that we could meet, “where there is desire, distance is just detour and not a road block” he said. "This is where I will disclose my HIV status" I thought. I like to think I’m prepared for what may happen next; not all responses are negative but others will make you want to give your head a shake.
I have been on this dating site for several months now. My profile has been viewed by approximately 120 people but I’d say only 20 have actually contacted me. When a person suggests that we meet I will disclose to them then so as to not waste their time or mine if they aren't comfortable with my HIV status. Dealing with the elephant in the room right away is my strategy
So its April Fool’s Day 2015, just after 10 p.m. I refresh my profile page on the site and see that I have received a message. (I will use discretion here and not give his username or location.) I click on the message and this is what I read:
“Hi Guelph1954 (my user name on the site):
I'm a 54 child too. An Artist, struggling, too. A father, grandfather, too. Gay, too.
Really liked your profile.”
I click on his profile to check him out before responding. He’s a nice looking man, well dressed, nice smile. (Please note that I didn’t correct any of his spelling or grammar) Here is how his profile reads:
Non-Smoker with Athletic body type, 60 year old Male, 6' 2" (188cm), Christian - other
Ethnicity: Caucasian Virgo with Brown (hair)
Intent: looking for a relationship.
Education: High school, Personality: Artsy, Profession: Artist
Interests: Art, Books, Poetry, Music, Films, Nature, Beaches, Ocean
About Me: I'll be quick about this since I am using my phone and I have big thumbs.
I am an artsy guy, an artist, a poet, a reader, a Christian man, I practice yoga (short routine every morning); I was once a runner now a walker - love walking anywhere - downtown or out in the forest.
I am clean, unique, healthy (try to live a healthy lifestyle) intelligent, confident, loyal and pretty funny (so I have been told). I'm looking for a decent guy with similar qualities for a long term relationship
First date: Coffee. We will both know within a few minutes if there is a reason to carry on - if so, a walk along a beach somewhere to talk, have a laugh and explore each other a bit further.
There were a couple of small red flags in the profile, like ‘Christian’ and ‘clean’, but I throw caution to the winds as I’m thrilled to get a response.
I explain that I don’t drive due to a neurologist having to take my license away. We live very far apart, I thank him for the interest and wish him luck in his search. A few minutes later he replies back with:
“well, I wouldn't have given up that fast, Guelph is not that far away. I don't drive either - man, the similarities are astounding - but where there is desire, distance is just detour and not a road block. It would be nice to chat once in a while though - never met anyone so similar to me. BTW: doctor threatened my license, too. I can still sneak and drive, borrow or rent cars, but obviously not supposed to drive.”
I’m still not sure at this point if we could actually work out a way to see each other but I do believe anything is possible. So my next step, one that I always take, is to inform the person of my HIV status if they are going to commit time to trying to see where this might go. I add that I’m not aware of his knowledge on the subject of HIV but it isn’t the disease it was back in the 80s. I mention that the medications are better, they keep the virus in check and it is almost impossible to transmit HIV with an undetectable viral load. I also inform him that one of the medications (PrEP) some negative guys take is now used to prevent someone like him from contracting HIV. I end telling him I will respect his decision and hope that we can be friends, through email or something. I hit send and wait for his response and this is what he says:
“thanks for sharing with me. Though prospective partners deserve to know up front, and on your profile, about something so significant as HIV infection.... Just saying.
I am aware that perception about HIV is not as it once was. But it is still a serious and life altering infection; I am sure you can agree.
Friends? Of course. Adding a friend to one's life is like adding more blue to the sky: all is enriched.
Anything further? Bluntly: No. That would not happen.
If you see me online, let's chat again sometime.”
So he is saying what I was told years ago when my status was revealed in an open chatroom, I should have had my status in my profile. Then he suggests that I have to agree with him that HIV is a life altering infection. Really?
I have to address that one right away. I reply by telling him that HIV is a virus that is no longer a death sentence but it is a life sentence. I inform him that I am very aware of all the new information and research around HIV because I am a blogger and social media coordinator for an award winning online HIV magazine that is known across this country and in many other parts of the world. We share the news from around the globe. I hit send and wait………for this:
I apologize for my outdated Perspective. But for you to say that HIV is not a serious infection is reckless and irresponsible; and, totally untrue. People live with cancer and receive drugs/treatment as well - does that reclassify cancer as a non serious infection/disease or illness?
Mental illness, skitzophrenia or bipolar are treatable illnesses but still serious illnesses.
I hope you don't promote your ideas in your blog or in publicly consumed media.
Honestly, HIV is not serious?
Take care. Be well.
I reply by telling him that when I was diagnosed I was glad they didn’t say "cancer"; I was more afraid of it than HIV. I told him that HIV is now a chronic manageable and treatable condition. If I live my life right from now on, I’m more likely to die of a heart condition (which runs in my family) or of old age. I hit send and he comes back with:
“still, to say HIV is not serious is wrong, irresponsible and dangerous to a gay community that I know are struggling with the non challant attitude developing toward HIV as a result of people claiming it is not a big deal anymore. This threatens a new generation of infection.
NOWHERE IN ANY MEDIA have I heard that HIV has been downgraded to a benign, non serious illness - NOWHERE.
How many of the so called thousands reading your blogs have contracted HIV because you convinced them it is no big deal and they assumed confirms weren't necessary anymore.
Shame on you.
Declare your your very serious illness on your profile. And stop promoting such ambiguous and dangerous perspectives on HIV infection.”
As I was typing a response to this comment, he blocked me from contacting him again. I’m thinking what a coward he is, one who likes to spew his stigma and run.
The new generation of infections comes from this type of stigma. When they know people will see them this way, why get tested?
My response to him would have been that I am being responsible, that legally I don’t have to disclose until later and in certain specific situations, so I was telling him before I had to. These people believe we should have our status in our profiles and have it tattooed on our foreheads if we are out in public so they don’t have to ask.
This is actually the second guy in a month to have this attitude. But I’m not going to paint everyone with the same colour of stigma. There are good people out there who understand, who are empathic and compassionate towards people living with hidden disabilities and illnesses.
All I can say is, if you’re going to insult me, do it intelligently. I don’t have the greatest education but I did learn things along my journey and I keep moving forward.
I read a story online a while ago where a young man said he fell in love with the person and the love was stronger than the fear of HIV. Awesome – kudos to the next generation!