Welcome to !Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm a late twenty-something queerdo who was diagnosed with HIV a year ago and has decided that the most reasonable thing to do is become celibate, not tell anyone my status, and generally manage my illness on my own.
Here's a little backstory. A year ago, I became involved with someone I considered to be a friend. I was living with him because I needed a place and the rent was cheap. One time, he drunkenly called me up and told me I was a coward and an idiot because of the depression I've experienced since my diagnosis. "It doesn't matter," he told me. "No one cares that you're positive."
Well. I care. I care quite a bit.
I know it's not a death sentence, and we have PrEP now. But my head is still screwed up, and my heart is broken. I feel entitled to those feelings and don't appreciate them being belittled.
Papi, am I wrong for that?
Signed, Positively Private
Hey there, PP!
Let's start here: We shouldn't surround ourselves with people who make us wonder if we're entitled to our own feelings. How you feel about and deal with your diagnosis is up to you, and this guy saying it "doesn't matter" sounds more like he's trying to hurt you rather than help you.
Also, just because we have PrEP now and HIV isn't a death sentence (for those with access to adequate care), that doesn't mean the stigma around the virus has magically gone away. It hasn't. I'm not HIV-positive, but I encounter that stigma out in the world and I imagine navigating it can be utterly exhausting. Those of us with poz friends would do well to support them in that, not shame them.
All that being said, I don't think becoming celibate and not telling anyone about your diagnosis is the way to go here, and it sounds a bit like self-flagellation because this person's negativity got into your head. You were with the wrong person. Serodiscordant relationships -- when partners in a relationship have different HIV statuses -- are abundant and entirely possible. There are people out there who will take no issue with your status.
Making ourselves vulnerable to others is never easy. When we share something important and sensitive about ourselves with someone we care about, we are saying, "I trust you." When they take advantage of that trust or don't rise to the occasion, it can make us reluctant to share any part of ourselves ever again. But relationships are inherently vulnerable things, PP. Being intimate with someone requires some degree of trust. Sealing yourself off from the world because you're afraid makes sense in a purely survivalist sense. But we are not here to merely survive life. We are here to experience it, to find out what it's like to love and be loved, to be in communication with the people around us, and hopefully to enrich each other.
I also care that you're poz, PP. I love my poz friends dearly, and I've learned a great deal from them about what their diagnosis means and how we can be better about undoing the stigma we've been conditioned to accept. Ditch this guy and find some folks who accept you for who you are. We all have things we're afraid to share, but sharing them is necessary if we want to find the right people.
Con mucho amor, Papi
This article appears in Out's 2019 Fashion Issue covered by Janet Mock and Dan Levy. The issue will be available on newsstands on October 1. To get an advanced look at the issue, preview other articles here, or view it on Apple News+, Kindle, Nook, and Zinio beginning September 24. Grab your copy by subscribing now.