November 3, 2011
No good deed goes unpunished.
-- Cynical aphorism often attributed to Oscar Wilde.
I had an experience a while back that I wanted to share because it involves a question with which all us poz folks must wrestle -- disclosure. Specifically, I want to discuss the most common and vexing disclosure problem I've confronted as a poz gay man -- revealing my HIV status to potential sexual and/or romantic partners.
Since my diagnosis, I've adopted what I think is a pretty simple and consistent policy on disclosure. Basically, I tell any guy I'm going to get physical with that I'm poz. To me, it seems like the cleanest solution to the problem, and it has a number of advantages. First of all, if a guy can't handle my being HIV+, then I might as well know it right up front. I don't want to waste my time on a man who has problems with my serostatus, and I don't want him to waste time on me. Second, making the disclosure at the outset avoids awkward situations. As a trans guy I know likes to say, it's better to be rejected with your pants on than with your pants off. Seriously, I just can't imagine making the revelation after dating someone for weeks or months. How would I explain keeping something that important a secret for so long? I sure as hell don't want to have sex with some guy and only tell him after we've done the deed. (This is true even though I only have protected sex.) For all these reasons, I've decided that honesty is the best policy. Which it is . . . most of the time.
That brings me to the experience I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Some time ago, a guy I'll call Alex introduced himself to me at the gym. He's an attractive man, and I'd noticed him working out for a couple of weeks. We first exchanged glances, then smiles. Eventually we spoke, and he seemed both personable and intelligent. Alex was also very flirtatious. The next time I ran into him we traded phone numbers, and I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from him that same evening. He invited me out for a beer at a local bar, and I happily accepted.
We met up at the bar and chatted while we sipped our beers. He flirted with me, and I flirted right back. There followed the usual knowing smiles and increasingly suggestive banter. I was about halfway through my hefeweizen when Alex leaned over and kissed me lightly on the lips. After a bit more conversation, I could see he meant business. He's an attractive guy, I thought, and having recently gotten my groove back, so to speak, I figured I wouldn't mind a little physical intimacy. I decided it was time to take the plunge. I honestly wasn't sweating it. Here I was, in a gay bar in the middle of San Francisco, talking to a well-educated, forty-something gay man. Surely he'll be able to deal with a poz guy, I thought. I mean, we're not exactly a rare species in this city.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, though, I could see it was a deal breaker. Alex's discomfort was written all over his face, and I wasn't in the least fooled by the exaggerated smile he used to try to cover it up. He complimented me on my honesty, and he told me how rare it was for guys to discuss their status. At the same time, he drew back instinctively. Suddenly he was talking a mile in minute, in the way some people do when they're really, really nervous. There was no more flirtation, and more than anything, he seemed desperate to change the subject to something other than sex. He never actually said that my being HIV+ was a problem, but he didn't have to. I knew from experience we were headed nowhere, so after continuing the conversation for what I judged to be a period sufficient to satisfy the requirements of good manners, I politely said goodnight.
Mind you, I'm totally cool with the fact that Alex didn't want to have sex with me. I'm also cool with the fact that he obviously rejected me because I have HIV. After all, that's the whole reason I disclose -- so that my partner gets to make the choice. I just wish he'd been honest enough to tell me to my face that he couldn't deal with the fact that I'm poz.
I also have to wonder what would have happened if I'd said nothing. Would Alex have had sex with me? He indicated that in his experience, it was rare for guys to volunteer their status. Does that mean that he doesn't usually talk about HIV before he has sex with someone he's just met? Is he willing to have sex with guys who stay mum about this issue? Because if he is, then I'm really confused.
Here's why. You see, I know that if Alex and I had had sex, we'd have played safe. I know because that's the only way I play. So the risk of him being exposed to HIV by having sex with me would have been virtually zero. I'm on meds, have an undetectable viral load, and would have used a condom. In other words, if Alex had had sex with me, it would have been no riskier (and possibly far less risky) for him than if he had sex with some guy whose status he didn't know. But maybe Alex has convinced himself that guys who don't volunteer their status are all negative. Maybe he thinks he's protecting himself by rejecting poz guys like me who are honest enough to disclose our status in advance. If that's the case, then I'm afraid he's just deluded. (And that would really be a kick in the ass, because in his work life, Alex is a shrink.)
So I guess you could say I got dissed for my honesty. I was rejected because I told the truth. That's okay with me, since I know I did the right thing. I refused to be dishonest with Alex. The experience makes me ask, though, whether Alex is being honest with himself.