It has been well over a year now since I discovered I was HIV positive. When I learned about my newly acquired status, it was like I took a big breath in… And held it. With each person I told, I was able to exhale little by little. But it wasn’t until I truly came out as a positive man that the color in my face returned to normal. It has been my own discovery that living openly with your truth, whatever that may be, makes breathing a hell of a lot easier. But there are certain caveats that can come with being an out, loud, HIV positive man that I wasn’t quite aware of. And they were also nothing that I was interested in entertaining.
My intention with disclosing my status to anyone with a pulse and access to the Internet was to come out from under the weight of the positive label and reclaim my life again. As I have written about this ad nauseam, keeping your status a secret is an isolating, frightening, and completely unnecessary experience that unfortunately far too many gay men continue to endure. Just like coming out as a homosexual, it is only the leap off the cliff that is scary. Everything after is pure freedom. Or, at least it should be.
To my surprise, I wasn’t quite able to fully leave the clinic quite as the same man who walked in on that fateful Friday afternoon. I was now a “poz” man, and with that came certain expectations and assumptions that I wasn’t quite aware of.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being labeled “poz.” Like any slang, it is about the meaning that is always intended behind the usage. Strangers and acquaintances alike continuously ask me if the man whom I am currently dating is “poz.” After I casually reply no, as if they asked me if he if he’s into cycling or has any tattoos, there is usually a register of surprise. From negative men, it is from their self-admitted ignorance over just how difficult it is to prevent transmitting (short answer — it’s not difficult at all). This usually follows with a quick explanation behind sexual mechanics, medication and the statistics of prevention. After the epiphany bulb that lights up over their cute little faces, we move on to the next topic.
But from some positive men, I have often experienced quite a different reaction. Sometimes there is anger that I wouldn’t be with another “poz” man because it’s just so difficult for “our” kind to find a good guy. Or, there is an accusation that I hold a stigma within myself against other positive men. That somehow I believe that I am different from other “poz” men and, therefore, only date HIV negative men to demonstrate this separation. Of course, this isn’t the reaction of all or even most of the men I come into contact with. But it is enough to be dissuaded from “poz” only discussions and groups.
The truth is, if a guy has a cute smile, can name at least four U.S. Supreme Court Justices and doesn’t live with his mom, I am going on that date. I expect any man, positive or negative, to view me as a fully realized person. I can only expect that if I look at any potential romantic or platonic match in the same fashion. In the realm of romance, I reject the “poz” label because, quite honestly, it’s irrelevant. At least it is with the men that I am interested in dating.
Outside of romance, being a “poz” man comes with an entirely different box of mousetraps. It has always been my intention with everything I produce in the name of HIV to create a level playing field among gay men, regardless of status. It is still my assertion that the only way to increase prevention in the modern era of HIV is to remove the division line between positive and negative. Question marks can be found on either side.
But for some, this softened approach to discussion around the virus has, once again, only demonstrated my inherent discomfort with my status. Fellow HIV activists who have long established their “poz’ armies have lashed out against certain opinions of mine which I thought were, quite honestly, not even that interesting. There are others who felt like I had no right to be speaking on any matters relating to HIV and that I was only doing so to gain attention for my personal endeavors.
I am a mandatory member of the “poz” club, but it seemed my membership only allowed me to shut up and listen. Speaking out on such matters was viewed by some as bucking the system. But if I have to deal with the pitfalls of medication and keeping on eye on my CD4 count, I plan on using my experiences to bridge the gap between ignorance and education. It would be impossible for me to accurately represent or even speak to every “poz” man out there. I never intended to. In fact, I hope that someone who is HIV positive disagrees with me so much so, that they are moved to come out and speak out on their own behalf.
In romance, friendships and politics, being a “poz” man is about as telling of a person’s character and disposition as the state they were born in. I may be from Texas, but I have no idea how the cowboys are doing this season, I don’t speak with a twang and I certainly do not fall in line with Sen. Ted Cruz’s handicapped point of view. Sure, being from the same state creates a common thread that is shared by others from the same background, just like being “poz.” But a single thread does not make a person who they are and it most definitely doesn’t define them.
Coming out as an HIV positive man is a way to be recognized by your own individual character instead of just someone carrying a disease that comes with a lot of character judgment. There is no rulebook, no operator’s manual and no one-best-way of being an HIV positive person. Outwardly, it is safe to say that everyone living with this virus would like for anyone who isn’t in their shoes to be more understanding, compassionate and knowledgeable about HIV. Inwardly, we should recognize that we all have different taste in shoes.
I am an HIV positive individual, and that’s a damn good thing.
TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit www.facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Twitter at @iamtylercurry.