Sept. 27 is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and talk of prevention, awareness, and acceptance has been rampant within the gay community. The topic of dating, specifically, brings to light the many challenges of living with HIV. The constant let-downs and questioning your own self-worth — all in hopes of eventually finding that “special someone” — are sentiments familiar to everybody, but are felt deeply by those who have HIV. Even with the many advances in science and medical knowledge, the stigma of HIV is still very much alive.
According to the Association for Psychological Science, even when no one is blatantly discriminating against or ostracizing people with HIV/AIDS, many of the condition's sufferers still feel stigmatized. Their apprehension over being accepted comes from an inherent desire to be liked and included.
This is a burden that Bob — a man with whom I had the chance to speak and who is HIV-positive — knows all too well. In an exclusive interview with Medical Daily, Bob described his life as a gay man living with the disease for over a decade. With time, he managed to accept his disease and maintain a successful romantic relationship for the past nine years. However, his positive and accepting outlook was not always there — especially when he was first diagnosed with the disease in 2000.
“It was surreal,” he described the moment that his doctor diagnosed him with the HIV virus.
Bob contracted the infection through a one-night stand and unprotected oral sex; his partner never told him that he was HIV-positive. Afterward, Bob said that he never heard from him or spoke to him again. At the time, he didn’t think much of it, and it was not until two weeks later, when he came down with flu-like symptoms, that he started to panic. He didn't have the flu, but rather seroconversion, which is an acute infection and the first stage of the HIV virus.
When his doctors first tested him, the test came back negative. Bob describes this as a "lucky HIV test result" tape. Two weeks later, when tested again, he was HIV-positive.
The reality was that Bob wasn’t in an awful dream or a nightmare, and he was going to have to learn to accept this disease and all of its hurdles — both physical and mental. When he did start dating, the hardest part was having to disclose his status to potential partners.
“Disclosing is always difficult. And, sometimes, but not always. You have to play therapist to the HIV negative person,” said Bob.
For a year, he did date someone who was HIV-negative, but the fear of giving his partner the disease was something that he could not handle.
“If for some reason he seroconverted and I was the one who caused it, I do not know how I would live with myself,” he explained.
Bob’s one piece of advice to HIV-positive gay men? “It's not a death sentence. And always, always be honest with your sex partners. Tell them that you are HIV-positive before you have sex. Always tell them. Always. Otherwise, you might give someone a really bad gift that they can't return,” he said.