It’s been a weird yet wonderful few months.
I can finally open up now to a challenge a reader gave me which was to discuss what it’s like to be HIV-positive and dating and what it’s been like to find love for myself since I’ve been positive.
This request is a hard one because over the years I’ve had some of the worst things done to me by various boyfriends and partners. So having to write this might be the hardest challenge yet.
Brace yourself, you’re going to learn what love means to me, and as I write I’m glad you don’t have to see the tears that will flow from the memories that I now have to relive. But I promise you, it will be a worthwhile read.
How I think
In order to understand what it’s like to date while being HIV-positive you have to understand how I think, to see through my eyes.
I wasn’t a good looking child. I was fat and very camp. I didn’t acknowledge the fact that I was a boy until I was seven years old. I saw the world through the eyes of a woman. I didn’t see the world as a boy, I saw men as partners, as husbands, as companions.
On my second trip to New York City, sitting in a boat in Central Park with my cousins on a beautiful sunny day, I noticed men for the first time as sexually desirable creatures. I began to acknowledge that I was attracted to other men and the process of accepting my sexuality and my sexual orientation had begun. I now was aroused by their shape and presence, and it began to feel right as I started to identify as a young gay man. I realised it as I was sitting in that boat .
To this day, I can conjure up the image of the man running in blue shorts, sweating with protruding abdominals, and as I took a deep breath and looked down at myself, I thought no other gay man would fancy me unless I began to make myself more attractive.
On returning home I started to exercise, I went to the gym, I started swimming, I began to try to make myself attractive for a potential partner. I wanted to be desirable.
Education was something I thought would help me in my attempts to find a suitable partner. I was really interested in the arts, in language, I played the violin, I cooked, I knew my wines, I travelled and even though I was only 15 years old I was grooming myself for a mate.
The hunter and the hunted
When I moved to England, I managed to land myself a gentleman, a fine suitor and a few others after that, but my concept of love and sex changed, and I changed too as I got older. I became what some would describe as a hunter. Sex filled a void in my life that relationships couldn’t. I started to realise there was something that I wasn’t aware of but that was being picked up by many other gay men I knew.
My father once told me “have fun with as many people as you want, but when you reach 30 settle down; by then you will know who you are and what type of ‘woman’ you want And when you make love to a woman don’t just fuck her, make love to her, treat her special." My father loved women, but he has spent 38 years devoted to my mother; they are still together. I adore my parents' relationship, it’s built on trust, love, respect, honesty and understanding - alll qualities that are very important to me to this day.
I still believe I look at men through the eyes of a woman, I nurture and I care as my mother once told me. "Your father isn’t just my husband; he’s my best friend, my companion, my lover, my business partner."
So here is the challenge, I’ve never been too shy to flirt with a guy or to make love to a guy. Each man I kiss, I kiss as if he was my own, I never get bored of exploring another individual.
I was perfect boyfriend material and a fine suitor back in the day. But when I became HIV positive my pool of security opened out into an ocean and I didn’t feel pure anymore, my waters were polluted, toxic and I felt tainted, no longer lovable.
Navigating positive waters
Because I was always blunt, I found security in opening up to someone directly about my status so that rejection would be swift, But here lies the fundamental point: gay men don’t like to be rejected!
I, like many, built up an empire of strength and confidence, but still wondered who would find me attractive if I was HIV-positive. I felt that my pool had just got smaller. But I was wrong because it actually got bigger - of course it all depends on where you live.
I moved from Barbados and Panama because I couldn’t find someone who would accept me or my status. For all of you who feel that you live in areas where your status is accepted, and don’t need to move away, here is my advice. Try it!
I live in Manchester, UK now where openly HIV-positive guys are still not the norm. It has a psychological effect on you, you feel abnormal, but when I go to London, I can happily turn on Grindr and mention my status and still end up having coffee with someone. Just having a coffee with someone meant far more to me than the act of sex. It was being accepted, the feeling of belonging. It was like coming out all over again.
There is a fine line between finding love when you are positive and finding sex. Here is the tricky part. I’ve noticed that most positive guys have a different kind of sex. We are more expressive, we take more risks, that may be a result of being suppressed. We stick to our own kind rather than risk rejection with guys who aren’t positive. We are almost drawn into a lifestyle that isn’t what we are used to because that’s where you will meet other guys. (Please note this is the perspective from where I live).
Many gay men are no strangers to recreational drug use and I’ve had partners that only feel confident having sex with me when on substances, and they cheated. I wasn’t a regular user, but many other guys were. Sex was easier. My boyfriend could fuck them without problems but couldn’t get an erection with me - horrible to think, but I feel pity for him now as it must have been horrible to date someone you loved and couldn’t make love to. But I could - and still wanted to.
I didn’t need a drink or a substance to make love to him, I just had to look at him and I was aroused. And that’s the difference. I admire people, I watch people. The hunter in me analyses my date, I smile, I watch their reaction, I wait for that kiss, the first touch, the grin they give you when they realise you have something in common, the first kiss that releases ecstasy. That’s a bigger and better high than any drug can replicate. It's PASSION!
Sex and love are different, and so is finding your confidence with each. I had to look deep to realize that confidence and acceptance are keys to finding someone when you are positive. Being HIV-positive affects you, so you should look at yourself and how you feel and identify what is important to you. You have be confident in your own skin to make decisions about what you will and won’t accept when you meet a guy.
If he doesn’t like you for being positive that’s fine. It’s a burden we have to accept, but I have had three partners that were negative, and they loved me so much my status didn’t bother them, and that’s because I wore my scars well.
Own your shit as they say. I cannot explain it all in more profound words, but I will try. When you became positive you don’t just loose a piece of yourself, you gain! You gain something personal. I rediscovered my passion - for life, for those I meet, for those who accepted me. And passion is what I am all about. Open your eyes, and notice it, smell your life and FEEL it!
Because baby, if you don’t feel the passion that’s all around you, when you meet a guy he is not going to magically make you feel like everything is ok, but he will when he sees and feels your attraction to him and his to who YOU ARE.
My sex life is amazing compared to when I was younger, but I’m still learning to find my full passion again. I did lose it as a result of my past relationship so I feel like I’m a beginner all over again.
I met a lovely young man recently, and as I watch him talk about his struggles that were similar to my own, I saw his passion for life! It gave me a kick, and when I kissed him it was an endorphin rush that I’ve not felt for many years. I didn’t see someone who was positive I saw someone who loved to live, and reminded me of the young lad I was who loved life despite his HIV status. That young lad still makes me smile to this day, as he doesn’t know how much he helped remind me that love of life and being accepted was still possible.
To be hugged and accepted, to be kissed because someone wants to kiss you, to sweat in bed because of the attraction between you is what WE ALL deserve.
I found my title for this article ‘Passion’. It comes in many forms, but your status should be something you should be passionate about as it will help you find out more about who you really are, and who is right for you.
I would like to leave you with an entry from my diary, about when I met the partner who gave me HIV, a curse that saved my life. Read for yourself how I saw the world . . .
Could a prayer be answered in the form of exactly the way you have dreamt it?
He stands tall with his eyes covered because he could, shaded by whatever glasses he could find.
His posture is as if he was at attention, relaxed enough to hold some peace.
His movements were slow & effortless, his expressions were that of painted glass, but yet he stood out.
My mind started to relax as my body took control. I sneered at this creature and imagined him as my prey.
My bitter tongue filled with venom as I took my first bite.
And he stood still, untainted by my attack, the sun shone bright and I rested. My soul moved forward, aware now that he posed no threat, we spoke.
Nearer & nearer his scent became my air, and his eyes began to glare out through this dark shades.
Blue, green & red, the colour of his faith, his eyes blinked a message only the hunted would know.
Not yet scared, but accepting my faith our lips pressed, closer and closer together.
And like a vampires bite, my veins opened up, drained but yet replenished but how could this be?
My emptiness and loneliness was eradicated and replaced with comfort and existence, existence of passion, so much so, that there are not enough words to explain the inner peace, happiness that exploded from within.
Each cell was taken over, invaded by this unknown feeling, manipulated to reproduce this wonder that was beginning to grow inside me.
Could it be? Was he really my dream? Is he me?