By Aby Sam Thomas
In a November 2011 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV infection. The report says that, despite increases in the total number of people in the United States living with HIV infection in recent years, the annual number of HIV infections has remained relatively stable. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) of all races and ethnicities remain the population most severely affected by HIV, with white MSM accounting for the largest number of new HIV infections.
But, contrary to the early eighties when being HIV positive was deemed to be a death sentence, being HIV positive now is considered a “manageable chronic disease,” thanks to the advent of anti-retroviral drugs. Although a cure for HIV/AIDS remains elusive, these drugs, or a cocktail of such drugs, have been able to successfully help HIV positive people live longer lives, by keeping the amount of the virus in the body at a very low level while boosting the number of T-cells, the white blood cells that fight infection in the human body.
Anthony has been HIV positive for more than six years now, and he swears by the drug he takes, a combination drug called Atripla. “I take one pill a day, and I’ve never been sick a day of my life because of it. I’ve been sick for other reasons, but not anything ridiculous tied to that,” he says. When saying “ridiculous,” Anthony is referring to exotic diseases like cat flu that struck, and killed, people with the disease in the '80s when people were just beginning to learn about HIV and AIDS. “It’s not like that now,” he says. “It’s so manageable.”
While figures and studies in the United States validate Anthony’s view, there still seems to be a stigma attached to people who are HIV positive, despite strides made in treating the disease and information on the same being more readily available on the Internet and elsewhere.
As an HIV positive man dating in the city, Anthony has been subject to a number of varied reactions when he tells this truth about himself to a potential mate.
“Some people have no problem whatsoever; they’re like, ‘No biggie,’” Anthony says. Then, there are others who don’t want to seem uncomfortable and so, turn apologetic instead. What irritates Anthony further are people who turn him down and then go on to tell him that there are “tons of other positive people” he can date, just so that they feel better about themselves.
“I would respect them if they say, sorry, I am not interested,” Anthony says. “But if you go on this litany, this whole list of reasons why they don’t want to, I’m like, okay, I got the no! I’m okay with a no! You don’t have to tell me why, you don’t have to assuage your guilt with me!”
Anthony pauses for a moment, before his grin returns to his face. “Dating is hard,” he says. “It is hard for anyone. With me, I just have that one additional moment to handle.”