HIV Diary: My experience with a �bug chaser�

11.28.2004

By Robert Levithan

'Will you POZ me?' appears in the online mailbox. I am astounded. Yes, I have heard of things like this, and I saw it depicted on Queer as Folk, but, this is real'this is happening to me' I stall for time' He writes, 'Call me to discuss.' I answer. I lose him. He is gone.

Was this guy for real? Was he a 25-year-old who thinks he is negative and is asking an openly POZ man to give it to him? I know that these guys are called bug chasers, that HIV is called the 'gift.' I can tell you that it's a gift I would neither give nor ever want to receive. In my introduction to this column, I alluded to the transcendent opportunities that HIV has created in my life, but HIV is not required in order to have such experiences: Life generally provides challenges along the way. Could you imagine someone asking to be injected with cancer cells?

Another possibility is that this message was not real, or not all for real. He could have been looking for the outlaw thrill of imagined transgression from accepted values'he might already be positive and want to titillate by offering his 'virgin' self to be raped or 'sacrificed.' He might be out to shock'he might just be full of it. On the other hand, he might be someone who wants entrance into a 'club,' to feel he belongs to the HIV brotherhood, or to end the agony of fearing that he will eventually be infected, so why not take 'control' of the situation?

I have met men who were in the latter groups'and they all expressed regret; that the idea that being POZ would make them feel a part of a community or alleviate their anxiety about getting infected. But these feelings were nothing like really dealing with it, and now they wished they weren't POZ.

As an AIDS elder, I am in a bind. While I fight the stigmatization of HIV, I do not want to glamorize it in any shape or form. HIV drug ads make it look like a walk in the park'handsome, toned men and women of various colors climb mountains or do laundry, smiling away. Although it is true that I can do those things, and enjoy my life, others cannot. Some of us are nearly crippled by side effects from the drugs and direct manifestations of HIV disease. I don't see the glamour.

I'm having a great life with HIV. I would like to think that I would be having a great life without HIV'and I imagine that in many ways it would be an easier life. After 20 years, this is my normal, but I could have handled another version of normal, I'm sure.

But back to the online guy. I tried to reach this real or phantom person, offering him my e-mail address, my phone number, a promise of anonymity, but he didn't respond to my gestures. So, I will never know what was true for him. What is true for me is that it brings up sadness, concern, and curiosity. What can we do to stop this from happening? Well, one thing is to admit the existence of such people (although the idea of bug-chasing may be bigger than its actual occurrence) and to have compassion for whatever misguided motivation might be behind it. And to carefully check what messages we might be sending that could promote such potentially destructive behaviors. Please join me in keeping our eyes and hearts open.

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