Positive and Proud

Friday, September 02, 2005

Question

I'm a bisexual guy who is HIV-positive. Yes, I'm only 28, and yes, it was really stupid of me to let this happen. But I have dealt with a lot of my feelings about that and now I have to move on and live the rest of my life. I recently had sex with another guy without a condom. He, by the way, was the one who fucked me, and I guess I felt like it was his dick, and if he wanted to use a rubber, it was his job to get one out and use it. I, by the way, have a tattoo on my arm that's a big red plus sign. It was part of my process of accepting the virus and also letting other guys know what my status is. The morning after, this guy saw my tattoo and claimed he hadn't seen it before and didn't understand what it meant. Then he melted down. He's accusing me of giving him AIDS. I tried to reassure him down but I basically feel like he's not taking responsibility for his own health, and his risk of contracting HIV as a consequence of fucking me is not very high. How could anybody with a pulse not understand (or see) my tattoo? Is there a better way to handle situations like this? I have to admit that if I had hooked up with a woman, I wouldn't have relied on my tattoo to send her a message, I would have talked it over with her because I don't expect women to be as sophisticated about that image as a gay man would be. So maybe I am in the wrong here. I will accept your judgment.

Answer

I've heard a lot of different versions of this scenario when I do HIV prevention education. Basically, everybody wants the hard job of deciding whether to use a condom or not to be somebody else's call, and nobody wants to have to talk explicitly about germs when they are hot to fuck. An HIV-negative bottom says to himself, "He wouldn't fuck me without a condom if he wasn't negative too," while the HIV-positive top is thinking, "He wouldn't let me fuck him raw if he wasn't positive like me."

Granted, by having a tattoo, you have given everybody who sees it a Big Fat Clue. But it obviously doesn't work to assume that this is the end of it. You will still have to reveal your HIV status out loud, because everybody should disclose information about their sexual health when they are having casual sex with someone they don't already know. (And with an ongoing partner, too, I might add.) And you have to decide what your rules are.

In San Francisco, research indicates that HIV-positive men have slowed the spread of AIDS by confining their unprotected sex to HIV-positive partners. Earlier fears that this behavior would create a super strain of the virus that is resistant to all known treatments have yet to materialize. But some experts believe that the super strain has been detected in a few cases. As a man whose health is already compromised, do you want to be exposed to gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, warts, chlamydia, and all of their friends? Antibiotics can be hard to tolerate if someone's digestive tract is upset by their HIV meds. And some sexually-transmitted infections cannot be cured by antibiotics, or have become resistant to them.

Your belief that your trick's top status protected him from the risk of HIV transmission is partially true. It's certainly more difficult to get clinically significant quantities of HIV in your system via the hole in the head of your cock and the urethral lining than it is to get infected if you are taking semen up the butt. However, there are documented cases in which top guys seroconverted because they didn't use condoms. He should consult with your local public health clinic and get himself put on post-exposure prophylaxis. There are medications he can take that will dramatically resist his risk of becoming HIV-positive.

My "judgment," if I can call it that, is that you made a mistake, but you aren't a villain. There were two people in that bed (assuming you were gettin' busy on a mattress). My personal choice is to use a condom with everybody, every time. I've heard too many sad stories about guys whose boyfriends lied about their sexual activity outside of the relationship and brought HIV home as an unwelcome and secret guest. But my situation is different from yours. I'm HIV-negative, and I want to stay that way. Not every HIV-negative gay or bisexual man wants to stay in that club. Low self-esteem, safer-sex fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and the illusion that all the cool kids are poz can make it hard to keep using latex barriers. God knows there are times when I just don't want to worry about it any more. I ask myself if at my age it really matters any more. And I have so much grief about friends I have lost that I don't know what to do with. I really miss them, but I also envy the fast-lane lifestyle that killed them.

I can't honestly claim that sex is great with a rubber. Using them is inconvenient. It cuts down on sensation. It's not very romantic. I have sex with other men because I love their bodies and want to revel in their sweat and spit and cum. But if I use the damn things, I wake up the next day without regrets or worries. So I've learned to eroticize condoms because they make it possible for me to keep on doing at least some of the things that I like to do.

Other HIV-negative guys often decide that they will use condoms with tricks and dispense with them if they have a steady partner who is healthy. This is a sensible arrangement that works just fine if you can both be honest about slipping up. Then the two of you go back to using condoms until you can get tested and be sure that you are both still negative. You also have to figure out why you barebacked and do whatever you need to do to prevent another relapse.

This has turned into quite a long lecture. I apologize for my hectoring tone. If I could have more of a sense of humor about this, I think I'd do a better job of getting my message across. It just seems so damned unfair that our community winds up struggling with these restrictions and dangers. I know we all just wish AIDS would go away. But it hasn't. We still need to pay attention to it. I hope you can find the appropriate words to share some of your own feelings and experience with new partners and make sure that everyone knows what kind of risks, if any, you are going to take during a sexual encounter. Like you said: You have regrets about contracting HIV, but you still have to face the rest of your life, and you don't want to give up human contact. I'm glad you are still with us, and I hope this scary experience will never be repeated, because it is the kind of thing that does make some men withdraw completely from the queer community.

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