More Than Sero-Discordant

Friday, October 16, 2009


My HIV-positive lover freaks out any time he gets body fluids on me. I am HIV-negative. This could be anything as simple as me drinking from a glass he's already used or accidentally using his fork when we share a dessert. Or it can be more dramatic, like when he recently had a severe nose bleed when he was laying in my arms. It took a long time for us to get it to stop, partly because he kept running away from me and not letting me help him! I had some blood on my chest, but there was no broken skin there, yet he wanted to pour bleach all over me. I think the "cure" was much worse than the original problem, which I handled with some soap and water. I know we have to be careful if I am going to stay HIV-negative, but I think his sense of caution has crossed the line into self-hatred and phobia. It kills me inside to see my gentle, creative, sweet lover tear himself to pieces and berate himself because he fears he is toxic to me. What can we do to deal with it more rationally?


I think your analysis of what's going on with your lover is probably correct. Most people who are HIV-positive go through emotional cycles in which they feel very guilty for having the disease, blame themselves for getting it, feel dirty and dangerous, and even become irrational about what sort of precautions they need to take. The gay community has not done a very good job of providing space for these feelings to be expressed. Instead, we do a lot of AIDS activism and advocacy, and focus on obtaining treatment and fighting discrimination. This requires a public policy that people with HIV or AIDS are as worthy as anyone else and deserve protection under the law and a high standard of care.

All this is true. But it's rather impersonal. Getting HIV happens in a variety of ways. Some people contract the virus because they are under the compulsion of addiction; some people were ignorant about how it's transmitted or weren't aggressive enough in demanding protection; some people were deliberately infected by a partner. There's no neutral way to get this virus. It isn't like polio or tuberculosis. There's another layer to this as well. Being HIV-positive is associated with getting fucked. And men are not supposed to get fucked. There's a deep well of shame in many gay men about allowing or wanting penetration. And some of us feel that we have to allow penetration, even if we don't like it, just to get some companionship and male attention.

This raises larger issues of how men who want to have sex with other men treat each other. There's a lot of promiscuity and freedom, and this often includes mutual respect and compassion as well. But sometimes it doesn't. When we are trying to end homophobia, how can we criticize our own community and root out or confront the many ways that men exploit, harm, force, manipulate, abandon, abuse, criticize, and demean each other? The answer is that we don't. So it keeps on happening.

I don't know how your lover wound up getting HIV. But I'll bet he needs to tell that story to somebody who can listen, without blame and without giving him advice. Ideally, he needs to speak with another gay man who is HIV-positive. Start calling gay service agencies in your city and seek out some referrals for him. If you can't find a qualified, licensed therapist, sometimes a volunteer at a hotline can be the best option. At some point, you need to be brought into that work so that you can share your own story with your lover and talk about how you are affected by his history and his HIV-status. You may feel that you need to be supportive all the time and pretend it's not a big deal. But it is a big deal, and if you were honest, I think you'd admit that your life would be easier if he was negative, too. That probably needs to be said out loud.

Love isn't always convenient. Didn't Cher herself say we were meant to fall in love with the wrong people? Every relationship has obstacles and problems that we'd like to wish away. But the fact that they exist doesn't mean you should break up. I hope your lover can find a way to shed some of his blame and shame and get better information about what is and isn't a threat to your health. He's lucky to have you, and I hope the two of you can enjoy a happier life together once you face this together.

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