Here To Inspire

Op-ed: Reluctant Social Commentary of a Newly HIV-Positive 20-Something

What runs through the mind of a 28-year-old newly diagnosed with HIV?



So with impending doom off the table, what is there to be afraid of, anyway? Well, for me and for many I know, it is the person that is reading this article. It is being the rotten golden egg that plummets to the bottom of the dumpster in Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. It is the deafening effect that uttering the letters “HIV” can have in a conversation. It’s coming out of the closet all over again, hoping that everyone precious in your life will treat you no differently. Most importantly, it is the risk of being rejected by your own peers, or worse, a new love interest, when it is only love and acceptance you seek.

It would seem that what cannot be seen in our community no longer needs to be discussed. That is, however, unless gossip is on the menu. Yes, discussing a person’s positive status is safely confined to whispers in the corners of bars and under the breath at dinner tables, eliciting hushed gasps when a gaggle of gays discover that the cute, seemingly “normal” guy that they know is positive. At that point, a relationship with that person becomes far too risky, but not to anyone’s health. It’s the fear that their name might be included in the supposedly harmless gab.

“I heard David is dating him now. Do you think he has it, too?”

Even the social stigma attached dating to someone who is positive is enough for the faint of heart to hedge their bets.

The truth is, risky behavior and being uninformed about HIV, regardless of your status, is what is to be feared. I have dated men who were positive and men who were negative. The men that were positive, or at least the ones that had the guts to tell me, bolstered no real risk to my health. Condoms and knowing what’s happening inside your body is a surprisingly effective protection method, believe it or not.

Ultimately, the risky people are the ones who don’t want to talk about HIV (gossip excluded, of course). If the thought of HIV is scary to someone, then getting tested is almost paralyzing. Many people, my former-self included, would prefer to avoid a rather dire discussion that still sends the chills up all of our backs. But hiding under the covers, or the avoidance approach, is what places our community at risk the most.

Unfortunately, avoiding the topic couldn’t be any easier than it is now. Long gone are the visible signs of disease such as muscle wasting, sunken faces and distended bellies. In the days of drug cocktails, medications weren’t as precise, and many physical signs associated with HIV were side effects of earlier drugs. Not any more. HIV medical researchers have become so accurate at pinpointing the virus that any collateral damage done to the body has been drastically reduced to almost non-existent. My doctor would slap me if I said “eliminated.”