HIV Diary: You Can't Go Back Into Any Closet
By Robert Levithan
I was dating a spectacular man, who often traveled for business. We saw each other about once a month. He had finally negotiated a permanent return to New York'a coup in his field'and I was looking forward to spending more time together, to finding out if this 'relationship' had legs. This man was HIV+ and quiet about it for understandable professional reasons.
It was fall, and we had seen a dance concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and then driven back into Manhattan to have dinner at my favorite Italian bistro, Bar Pitti. While dining, many memories of other evenings in this restaurant came flooding back. After a second of hesitation (as I remembered later), I told my date about a particularly poignant evening there about seven years earlier: It was January of 1996, I had been on an early HAART regimen for three months, and my T-cell count had hit 212. This was big to me. When I went on Crixivan after winning an early access lottery, with a T-cell count of 22, I had jokingly said to my doctor that "if my T-cells go above 200, I'll throw a party.' It seemed an impossibility back in the fall of 1995, but had already occurred by January. So, I hosted a dinner for about 12 at Bar Pitti: my closest friends and my dad were there. The staff, who knew me, wondered what the occasion was, so I explained and they loved it.
My date sat in a tense silence. Then he got out through clenched teeth: 'I think it is disgusting that you would talk about this in a public place.' I was stunned. We had an uncomfortable whispered conversation about it. We went out to my car, which had a parking ticket, and talked some more. The next morning he called to apologize for the tone of his reaction, but not for his beliefs about what is appropriate to discuss in a public place. Something was forever changed.
A colleague of mine, Eric Schneider, runs dating workshops for gay men: He stresses having a 'non-negotiables' list. I had thought I didn't have any. Wrong. Very high on the list is living my life as an out man: gay, HIV+, whatever. I have been a guest on national TV and radio talking about my relationship with HIV/AIDS. I am out. And I can't be in a relationship with a man who is uncomfortable with any of that. If my public stance, professional and private, is too much for anyone, I am unwilling to change. At this point in my life, I won't go back into any closet'
The man I am currently seeing is HIV-, and in a sensitive industry, but he respects my work and my professional persona enough to chance the possibility that someone might make a false assumption, labeling him as HIV+ by virtue of his relationship with an openly out HIV+ man. The other guy didn't pass the test, making it possible for me to meet someone who did.