I'm an ass man. Doesn't matter your gender, race, or status, if you have a plump bubble butt, I will (most likely) want to sleep with you.
In my decade of dating people, I've been with folks from all walks of life: gay and bi men, bears, straight women, trans and gender nonconforming folks, twinks, and the list goes on. In an era of sex-positivity, I rarely get flack for my sexual openness, but when I do get judgement, it's when I date men who are HIV-positive.
I exist in numerous kink-friendly queer spaces, where it's not uncommon to meet positive men because these atmospheres in general tend to be more welcoming. So my inner circle would never outright shame folks living with HIV. We're liberals who "know better" than that! Rather, their shame is more subtle and insidious. They act as if getting HIV is a fate worse than death, and when discussing the virus, they'll lower their voices as they caution me about my supposed risk, as if by saying the words out loud, I'll magically acquire HIV.
But that's simply not true. When I am on PrEP and my partner has an undetectable viral load, meaning copies of HIV cannot be detected through standard tests, I am more likely to get hit by lightning than acquire the virus, even if we're having sex without a condom.
In an era filled with misinformation, alternative facts, and old-fashioned lies, peer-reviewed research is one of the few ways to get to the truth. Luckily, there have been numerous studies which include "thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)" that confirmed the inability to pass on the virus if the person has an undetectable viral load. In fact, there's been enough research that on National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in 2017, the CDC declared, "When [antiretroviral treatment] results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200 copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission."
Put simply, an HIV-positive person can suppress their HIV levels though taking antiretrovirals daily, maintaining an undetectable viral load. At undetectable levels, it's not possible to transmit the virus, or what's commonly referred to as Undetectable = Untransmittable or simply U=U.
Like many queer men, I used to live in fear of acquiring HIV, even as a teenager, before I was having sex with men. I used to force my pediatrician to test me for HIV when I had unprotected oral sex with a woman. He insisted I didn't require testing, but seeing how anxious I was, he would eventually concede. The results, not surprisingly, always came back negative.
Once I started PrEP at 24, I told my therapist that I still don't feel comfortable having sex with HIV-positive men, even on PrEP and using condoms. I felt guilty about it because I knew, logically, there was no foundation for my discomfort.
As queer men, we've been conditioned from a very young age to fear this virus and to avoid it like the plague. Depending on our age, many of us growing up were told it was a death sentence. At the time, it was a plague, and in lesser developed countries and some parts of the United States, it still is. And if we've learned anything from Trump supporters it's that intense (and even not-so-intense) fear can override logic.
Today, however, it is a no longer a death sentence and men with HIV live rich and fulfilling lives. Still, we continue to perpetuate this culture of fear by using terms like "clean" to describe individuals who are negative, implying that being positive is somehow "dirty." Or we reply "I don't f*ck poz guys" the moment after an HIV-positive man messages "Hey!" on Grindr. In doing so, we reduce this man to his status.
To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how I grew comfortable sleeping and dating positive men, but it likely had to do with getting drunk and thinking "Screw it! He's undetectable and I'm on PrEP." Then after sleeping with HIV-positive men repeatedly and remaining negative, I began to fully trust science.
Nevertheless, I understand the fear many of you have of acquiring HIV. I understand how it impacts all our lives. I understand why you might not feel comfortable sleeping with positive men. I hope through sharing my experience, I can help put some of those fears to rest.
But I also want to note that quality men are hard to come by. Finding a quality man who loves you as much as you love him is even harder. I've been lucky to have dated incredible men who are living with HIV, and the thought of not having dated and loved these men deeply saddens me. And all for what? Fear that was once - but is no longer - based in reality.
That's why on today, on World AIDS Day and every day moving forward, I don't want queer men to choose fear. I want us to choose love instead.