I have a good job. I am athletic and health oriented. I am the boy next door. I live right outside of one of the largest and gayest cities in the world. I have awesome family and friends.
Oh, and I happen to have HIV.
Because of the latter, all the other traits I can bring to the table seem not to matter when it comes to dating. I have tried HIV dating Web sites and social events but I have been unsuccessful. Since my status does not define me and I do not like limiting myself to just HIV+ guys, I am open to dating anyone who fits into what I look for in a man. Although the statistics amongst gay urban males regarding HIV seem like this would not be an issue in 2011, it still is.
My question is how do I deal with HIV stigma and dating without giving up hope?
Seriously single and losing hope.
I love that you do not define yourself by your health status! Leading with who you are as a person rather than your health status as your primary image of yourself is going to shape your dating experiences. Using one's status as an excuse or feeling victimized by it is a recipe for poor self-esteem and bad dating experiences.
I agree that even in 2011 the HIV stigma exists among gay men -- and straight men and women as well for that matter. I had a client who is very handsome, physically in great shape with everything a partner could want in a man in terms of both looks and personality. He experimented on dating sites by posting two different profiles; one, which doesn't mention his HIV status, and one that does. He received more inquiries than he can handle when he left his HIV status off and considerably less when he added it to his information.
I also like that you are not limiting yourself to only HIV+ men as a way to protect themselves from rejection. I have had clients tell me that after 23 dates they told guys of their status (before having any sexual contact of any kind) and have had gay men say insensitive things like, "Why didn't you tell me that from the beginning I wouldn't have wasted my time" or simply honest things such as, "You're good looking and totally my type but I can't put myself at risk."
Whether said with sensitivity and honesty or in a mean, uncaring way, both can feel rejecting and be very upsetting.
While it makes sense to me that someone would protect themselves from rejection because of HIV infection, limiting yourself to one type of man makes dating all the harder.
While I want to make it clear that I am not minimizing the effects of having HIV and being in the dating scene by comparing to other health issues and physical traits, I do want to minimize it in the same way I would want anyone else to minimize an issue they have during dating.
My answer to your question is basically to treat it like any other physical or personality trait you may have in terms of disclosing something unique about yourself which might turn a potential partner away. I have had clients with issues around their penis shape and sizes, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, recovering sex and/or chemical addictions, weight issues, and other various health and physical issues which they could not change.
Each of these men had to disclose to dating partners and had to face being rejected and judged.
When do you tell? I always encourage sooner rather than later by being transparent and getting things out on the table as you are getting to know each other. When is that? It is different for everyone. There is no specific time other than sooner. You have to feel it out yourself and by talking to friends, therapists and dating coaches about what feels right for you.
We all have something that to a potential dating partner could risk rejecting. Dating is brutal and I consider it to be one of the most barbaric social requirements we have in finding a partner. There are no rules to follow or any allegiance to someone's feelings. People come and go and say things that are insensitive or say nothing at all both of which can be very hurtful as you are exposing your heart and placing yourself in vulnerable positions.
That said, the most important thing to remember is someone else's judgment of you is 90% about them and 10% about you. So if they choose to deny dating you understand this is about their own concerns and has nothing to do with you. You cannot take any of it personally.
You have to keep up your own hope and not give up whatever the issue is that you have -- in your case it is being HIV+. I have seen many HIV- gay men not care about HIV status and both date and partner with HIV infected men. You cannot predict who those men will be.
All you can do is keep putting yourself out there and take care of your own feelings and protect your heart knowing it will get hurt and that is part of the dating experience for us all!
Joe Kort, PhD, is a sex and relationship therapist specializing in GLBT issues, Imago Relationship Therapy, Sexual addiction and male survivors of sexual abuse. He writes for www.MaleSuvivors.org, www.365gay.com, and is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do To Improve Their Lives.