In the modern homo-arena of fabulous fundraisers, extravagant vacations and Cross-fit courses, the conversation of HIV has almost become associated with bad social etiquette. After all, the insidious connotations associated with HIV have seemed to all but fade away. We can all remember the horror stories about funeral after funeral, with half of the faces at Sunday brunch disappearing within a matter of months...but that was then. Now, our Sunday brunch tables are full of pretty faces, salacious bedtime stories, mimosas and high T-cell counts, regardless of status.
Yes, what it means to be a homosexual has changed at a lightning pace over the past two decades. The problems of a young gay man have drastically shifted from avoiding certain death due to AIDS and overcoming outward (and socially accepted) discrimination to picking out wedding invitations and ignoring the occasional dirty look when holding your boyfriend’s hand. For the successful, gay 20-something, the threat of HIV can almost seem outdated; a scary memory that we are lucky to forget. This dangerous fallacy, however, is what led me to get gob smacked with a dose of HIV-positive reality during my routine, “socially responsible” STI test. You know, the one you get right after hitting the gym and right before dinner and drinks at some undisclosed glamorous location.
So this was me. Tyler Curry, 28 years of age, minimally accomplished writer, graduate degree, socially adjusted and not-too-bad-looking gay man. In the short span of 20 minutes, however, my personal bio now led with a big fat positive sign that came even before my name, or at least that’s how it felt. Never did I imagine I would come out of that dreaded little lab room with nothing less than reassurance that I was still all but perfect. (You might be hating me a little right now, but tis, or twas, rather, the truth.)
Save for a few vodka-laced nights, I had prided myself on avoiding the gay clichés. Promiscuity was kept at a dull roar equal to the acceptable Sex and the City levels (more Carrie, less Samantha) and condoms were a non-question. That is, unless, my sexual partner and I were in a committed relationship, then condoms were negotiable; otherwise known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Loopholes, however, can often turn into cracks. Cracks that you can fall into. I did, anyways.
After the ground returned to the bottom of my feet, however unsteady, I began sifting through all of the knowledge I had collected over what it means to be HIV positive. I knew this much. I wasn’t going to die. I had dated two men in the past who were positive and I knew that, if treated properly, doctors now equated HIV (off the record) to managing a chronic problem such as high blood pressure. Still, this knowledge resided in a part of my brain that wasn’t quite responding yet. I “knew” many things, but I “felt” like I was going to die, like I would never fall in love again and like I let my mother down. Later in the day, I just felt perplexed. I knew better than this, but still I found myself completely unprepared. Why had I never discussed these topics with my friends and family? Why was it such a taboo topic? And most importantly, why was I so afraid?