Over the years, reactions to my HIV status from lovers and boyfriends have varied. Often, they've been neutral, if not warm. But then again, there was that one guy who called me a deadly weapon.
For me, the most excruciating part of being HIV-positive has been telling a boy about it. I was always convinced he wouldn't want to see me anymore if I told him my status, yet I was incapable of moving forward -- especially sexually -- without telling him. And if I didn't tell him right away, would he be angry? Would he decide to call the Enquirer on this former child star? It was emotionally exhausting. More exhausting than worrying about my health or viral load. So exhausting that I decided, for years, to date only men who were also positive -- it eliminated the fear and gave us something we could both relate to.
Unfortunately, sometimes it became the only thing we could both relate to, and I realized that strictly dating positive men was too exclusive, and limiting my options. I also learned that if I had a glimmer of a connection with someone, I had to tell him right away, and release the inner anxiety that a romantic spark could increase tenfold. Eventually, telling became more stress-free than not telling.
Still, it took years before a first date provoked only mild anxiety instead of flat-out terror. One such date, over sushi and beer in a crowded Las Vegas restaurant, was going very well, and it quickly became clear that there'd be another one in our future. There was no question about it: I had to tell him. Typically, this was the moment when my latent fear crept in and my default mode of heavy breaths and a pounding heart took over as I prepared to drop the bomb. Yet I learned from experience that all that buildup never worked. It made me look uncomfortable, and it made the whole thing seem especially scary -- which isn't a good way to start with someone unfamiliar with HIV. So I didn't drop a bomb; I simply dropped the topic into conversation:
"Yeah, moving here was a really big change," I said. "All of my best friends are in L.A. I had a great house and a terrific doctor. I don't even know if Vegas has any HIV-focused doctors..."
And that was it.
My date would later tell me that, up until that point, he'd had very little personal interaction with HIV. He was generally informed, of course, but he never had to face it head-on. He told me he was caught off-guard when I spilled my secret, but he also said that because I showed no fear, shame, remorse, or anxiety about it, he decided to do the same. It just...was.
As the date continued, I let myself open up emotionally, and we talked about everything: our animals, our favorite foods -- and my HIV. I admittedly kept my history of meth use off the table that night (one big reveal on the first date is enough, right?), but still, nothing felt taboo.
During the date, we had our first kiss, but I decided to take it slow. It wasn't because of my status, but because I'm a little old-fashioned -- at least, as old-fashioned as a gay, social-media-obsessed gamer living in Las Vegas can be. And we entered a relationship, taboos and all.
One year later, on the anniversary of our first date, he proposed. And nearly four years later, Wil, the man who is now my husband, is still with me and still HIV-negative. We're more in love than ever. To the HIV-positive guy out there who's worried he'll never find love, remember: You are not a deadly weapon. And to the HIV-negative guy who's afraid to date someone positive: Consider lowering your guard. All love can be scary, but no love is doomed to be fatal.
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