This article by Jamie Jinx first appeared in FS magazine, a publication of GMFA, here.
I had the good fortune to receive an online solicitation from 'Sh1tEater' who was in search of a 'feeder'. He kindly sent me a full body and face picture – depressingly rather hot – yet all he had to say for himself was “No Poz”. At first, I felt I ought to excuse my inability to pinch off a Neg turd for his oral delight. Then I remembered that, unlike hepatitis and a host of other horrors, HIV is not transmitted through faeces.
Those who avoid sexual contact with HIV-positive people usually claim to be doing it to protect themselves. This is a laudable aim. I would, however, expect such people to ensure that they are well-informed about the risk of transmission and associated issues. Many are not.
It is accepted that consistent condom use and having fewer sexual partners reduces the probability of catching HIV. Some take from this a not-so-subtle inference that their HIV status is an indication of their moral rectitude. They are negative because they've been ‘good’. You are positive because you are ‘a dirty barebacking slut’. They then contradict themselves by expressing the belief that safer sex isn't sufficient to protect them.
“Nice guy here: HIV- and drug-free.” If you disagree that their opinions are shrouded in moral judgements, try telling your next date that you are positive and see what happens. You may well find yourself being treated with the same contempt with which straight people used to treat us all. I have been told to my face: “I didn't realise you were that kind of person.” It would be easy to develop the preconception that HIV-negative gay men are just plain nasty, but I personally know several who are not. You can't fight prejudice by creating more.
"Asking a stranger his HIV status is both invasive and aggressive. Except by lying, there is no way to answer the question that preserves your privacy."
It astonishes me how often people think they have a right to know your confidential medical information as a pre-requisite to getting to know you. They then feel they have a right to share this with others regardless of your consent. Asking a stranger his HIV status is both invasive and aggressive. Except by lying, there is no way to answer the question that preserves your privacy. I have tried turning around and saying, “Sorry, I don't do bareback” (which isn't entirely true), but this provoked a furious response.
Given that anything but an affirmative answer to questions online such as 'Clean?', 'DDF?', 'Neg. U?' will most likely result in immediate and permanent cessation of all further contact and definitely no sex, it is amazing that anyone ever tells the truth. Many don't. But some do. I do. I won't harm my self-esteem by lying about myself just to get a shag. When someone harbours bad attitudes about HIV, I don't want him to touch me.
A currently popular opinion is that people are no longer protecting themselves sufficiently because effective treatment has removed the fear of being HIV-positive. This is not what it looks like from where I am sitting. They are terrified. I have friends who, despite always having safer sex, become extremely stressed when it's time for their annual HIV test. If they discover that one of their sexual partners is positive, they go into outright panic.
Fear does not lead people to behave in a rational and self-protective manner. As a sufferer of mild vertigo, I am aware of my compulsion to climb over a perfectly adequate barrier and hurl myself into the void when I am standing on a completely safe viewing platform. The fear I feel comes from the knowledge of my own ability to act and not from any inherent danger. This is completely doolally. I occasionally have vivid dreams (that'll be the Efavirenz) where I give in and jump. It's such a relief; the fear is worse than the consequence.
Although I know my life would be easier if I were HIV-negative, the politically incorrect truth is that being positive just isn't that bad. All the trouble I have comes from other people's attitudes and opinions. A little less fear and judgement would do everyone a lot of good.