When I first began writing about the HIV-positive experience, my life was filled with a barrage of sex, dating, and controversial conversations around stigma, shame, and disclosure. Whether the topic was related to physical health, love, or self-esteem, the conversation centered on whether or not you could still achieve your dreams as a newly HIV-positive person. But even though I was confident I could, I still wasn’t sure I would.
Before my diagnosis, I was 28 years old and trying to get a foothold on my career. I was single, insecure, and a little aimless, with a pretty strong affinity for getting attention from all the wrong guys. I knew I wanted to be a writer and to use my education in some way that would benefit my community, but I couldn’t seem to get past the distractions of going to the gym, flirting at pool parties, and ordering one drink too many.
Truth be told, I was a confident mess — but still confident, which seemed like an achievement in its own right for a newly HIV-positive person. It certainly was the reason poz people felt compelled to send me heartfelt messages, asking for ways to improve the seemingly desperate place they were in. I kept my journey an open book so we could figure out how to navigate this so-called life with HIV together.
At 30, all I wanted was a career that I actually gave a damn about, a man who kept my interest after the butterflies died, and a home that was stable — with furniture I didn’t need to assemble myself. It doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who had moved once or twice a year and was on unemployment at the time, it was a total fantasy. I stayed hopeful, kept writing with confidence, and tried not to dwell on the negative.
For the next few years, I kept my nose down and put in the work. I wrote as I learned and I learned as I wrote, exploring every possible topic an HIV-positive person could encounter when it came to sex and dating.
At some point, I found a boyfriend but tried not to let it obscure my perspective. Eventually, my career took form and I could afford to shop at places like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, but I assumed it was a temporary high point and I would fuck it all up soon enough. We bought our first house, but who knew how long that would last. Then we bought our second house, got engaged, and shit just got weird. As an HIV-positive sex and dating columnist, I didn’t recognize my surroundings, nor did I have any inspiration for new stories.
Then it hit me: Am I HIV-positive, happy — and irrelevant?
It’s true. Nobody wants to read sex and dating advice from someone who goes to bed at 9 on a Friday night so they can get to the dog park in the morning before the “rush.” It’s a surreal feeling when you finally take a moment to look around and realize you actually achieved your goals in one degree or another. It’s the best example I could ever give for how important confidence is when it comes to living with HIV. Even when I was a mess trying to figure out who I was as an HIV-positive man, I always believed I deserved everything I wanted before my diagnosis.
What now? Now that sex, dating, and disclosure are topics better addressed by someone with a more exciting bedroom than mine, I have a completely new host of issues related to HIV.
Now comes navigating the adoption process and preparing for questions about my health. Now comes deciding how to disclose my HIV status to a caseworker in the hopes that he or she is knowledgeable about what it means to be HIV-positive today. Now comes making sure I stay healthy to achieve every other dream I had without letting my status get in the way.
To be clear, I fully acknowledge the privileges that granted me such graces in my journey. The HIV spectrum is dramatically inequitable and filled with obstacles I didn’t have to face. However, if and when we as a community work to remove these obstacles and disparities, HIV in itself does not have to limit anyone from the life they want.
As I continue to step into unknown territory, I will continue to document how HIV plays an impact on the life I am working to build. It might not be as sexy or sensational as it once was, but I guess that was always the goal. Careful what you wish for, young chaps, because I could be seeing you at the dog park at the crack of dawn with a baby in tow before you know it. And I’ll be happier for it.