September 23, 2013
"How do I know you're not an axe murderer planning to store my limbs in the freezer?"
"Do I look like an axe murderer?"
Well now there's the question. Does he look like an axe murderer? Answer ... yes ... c'mon admit it; that turns you on a little bit! Answer ... no ... what made you say it then?
We often know little about the backgrounds of many of the people we meet and yet we'll invite them into our homes, tell them our life stories, maybe have sex with them and possibly never see them again; all based on what sort of judgements exactly?
You often hear people boasting that they're a good judge of character and can spot a "wrong 'un" a mile off but these sorts of assumptions are exactly what's at the bottom of many problems associated with HIV infection and even disclosure. Someone may look trustworthy; they have that kind of face and when they tell you they're negative, you believe them. In fact you may be trusting in that intangible thing called the sixth sense. You may look at a profile on line, love the photos and even forgive the "clean and dd-free, UB2" crap because you have that "gut feeling" that this person is not only okay but worthy of sharing bodily fluids with. It may not even be online and maybe no words will be spoken. You look at someone across a crowded floor ... boom ... into bed you go!
Now really, what sort of a basis is that for a sexual encounter and yet many of us do it and the younger you are, the more likely it is to happen? In these cases, the sixth sense is primarily pheromone based; if they're hot, they're hot. Chemistry, spark, whatever; if that person clicks your sexual, sixth sense buttons, it takes a strong man (or woman) to say, "Okay, all that aside, what's he/she really like as a person?"
The sixth sense is a powerful instinct and one which can as easily save you from danger, as propel you into it. It goes by many different names too: hunch, instinct, intuition, ESP (extra sensory perception), telepathy, presentiment, clairvoyance, gut feeling, premonition and third eye. All these words try to describe that feeling you get when something's wrong, something's right, something's going to happen, or has already happened somewhere else. It can even apply to someone stepping into your personal space and you feel slightly violated as a result.
The sixth sense is therefore what happens when you perceive something from outside the normal five human senses of touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. It is thought that humans have a subconscious way of detecting and identifying chemical signals that our environment gives off, including during interaction with other animals. Other animals still use clearly much better defined instincts based on sensory perception of the world around them and use them frequently for fight or flight, migration, defense and offense. Humans however, seem to have lost their edge in that respect, possibly due to other parts of the brain compensating and devising other strategies and also due to the overload of information and distraction that the modern human brain has to process. Therefore, when we experience a sixth sense about something, it is possibly a reaction to chemical changes in our immediate environment, or a response to chemical signals from other sentient beings. We've lost the ability to "read" these directly but nevertheless often get a strong feeling that a certain course of action is necessary.
Have you ever felt that your dog or other pet knows when you are upset, or angry or pleased and responds accordingly? It's very possible that they're "reading" the changes in chemical, or electrical signals you're giving off. Have you ever wondered why animals also have the ability to migrate thousands of miles, through all sorts of weather and return to places they were born or bred in? They are probably 'reading' the earth's invisible magnetic fields which lay out a satnav-like map for them. Some people also have an unerring sense of direction but there's no logical reason for it. These are all skills most humans have lost over time and only occasionally reappear to warn us of something about to happen. You may even be one of those people who get a strong sense that something has just happened miles away and then the telephone rings ... or the telephone rings and you know who it is (without caller-ID). There's so much we don't understand about this extra sensory ability but there's little doubt that its vestiges are still within us. Maybe, as LGBT individuals with HIV in the back pack we should open ourselves to our sixth senses and if possible, try to fine tune them.
Just as most animals do, analyzing body language may have a strong connection to any sixth sense we might have about someone; it's a survival instinct. For instance, there may be something in the eyes that doesn't ring true; we don't actually have to identify that but can just sense it and feel insecure. Somebody's whole physical presence may feel threatening, or intimidating, or conversely you may see them as a walkover, or too passive. Either way, you're making subconscious judgements based on very little logic.
When does the sixth sense kick in? It's often claimed that we make judgements about people within 20 seconds of meeting them but many people will be getting on fine with someone for a period of time before you suddenly get the feeling something's not right and you should get away. There's even a twenty question scientifically accepted test which can establish if someone is psychopathic or not (really, it's true) but it's not exactly ideal for a first contact situation.
It's also clear that our intuitions can let us down. Look at how easy it is to be fooled by optical illusions and apply that to interpreting clues from people who are, by definition, not being their normal selves during a flirting phase. Our first impressions of someone may therefore turn out to be completely wrong but that's maybe because we're jumping to conclusions based on our experiences and learned stereotypes. You probably can't really think a sixth sense through either. It's a gut reaction and out of your control. You're feeling it from beyond your normal sensory range but there's little doubt you can get it wrong and can be fooled by it.
Mind reading would be useful in the dating game. MRI scanners can already accurately interpret brain activity and in effect, "read thoughts." It may not be too many years before we can have portable MRI technology and read someone's mind via Google Glass or whatever eye-gadget they think up for us. Embarrassing idea really that the guy chatting you up may take offense at your unspoken thought that you wouldn't sleep with him in a million years. Hmm! Maybe mind reading's not such a good idea so maybe we can train our sixth sense to work better and more accurately.
As LGBT people living with HIV, can we nurture our intuitive senses and use them as life tools and find ways of stimulating our bullshit monitors so that they're more accurate?
We communicate in different ways these days. We talk to people online almost as much as in face to face situations, so picking up clues about people via a third-party medium demands different skills. Even if we use webcams to meet each other, we may be at a disadvantage because we can't use the full range of our senses and detect chemical changes in the atmosphere between us. So we have to use our eyes and ears to make the necessary judgements. That said, people are becoming more and more adept in subconsciously interpreting another person's online text and use of language. You probably know the feeling when you read someone's profile or chat stream and immediately dismiss them as being unsuitable purely because of the tone of their personal details. So the unfortunate person who only communicates in certain clichés, or describes him or herself within the parameters of what they themselves are looking for may be rejected and possibly unjustifiably. However, there's a lid for every pot, so that approach may well appeal to people looking for precisely that. My point is that we are increasingly using instinctual responses to react to someone's online presence but we should be aware that there's probably far more room for error.
As a person living with HIV, do you value the honesty of the person who openly states that they're also HIV+? I do personally but I'm not sure everyone feels the same. Your sixth sense may reject the openly positive person even though that's what you're looking for. You may feel that they've crossed an invisible line and you won't feel comfortable with someone who is so "public" about themselves. After all, ask yourself what would you think about the profile that proclaimed they had hepatitis C, or syphilis, or herpes, or chlamydia? In the best of all possible worlds, being open about those things should be possible, if not advisable but your gut reaction might not agree. All this is saying that although we are honing our sixth sense skills, they may not always be fair or justified. We may be rejecting someone online who we would have clicked with in real life. It's more complex than you think and it may be a long time before we can truly trust our online instincts.
It really depends what you're looking for either online or face to face. If you're after a hook up, you may not want to hear about his or her prize Dahlias and may respond to a cruder form of correspondence. Do you like a person to cut the crap and get to the point, or does that in fact put you off? Whatever we're looking for, we may not want to admit it but one wrong word or sentence can trigger the off switch. Whether that's prejudice or presentience is the question.
I think most people would agree that knowing if a person is genuine, or lying through their teeth is important, although perhaps impossible to ascertain for certain online. Take a look at this (genuine) profile from a hook up site: what do you think? Is this person trustworthy or not and does it matter either way?
"Versa, hung GWM, business guy, 45, discreet, looking for hook ups in the Chicago area. Into most scenes with other discreet guys, love group play. HIV negative and STD free." (headless nude photo of Mr. Average attached)
Okay, how many of you screamed "married" on reading that? I certainly did purely because of the repeated word "discreet." Someone who wants discretion has something to hide, or doesn't want the world to know (theoretically okay) but please; "into most scenes" and "love group play" ... not much discretion there. Okay, he doesn't say "Bi" so maybe we can let the discretion part go but our instincts may well have gone "strike one." Based on the requirements of this guy, do we then trust his assertion that he's HIV and STD free or have the alarm bells already gone off? He doesn't say, "tested as of ..." which means very little anyway but this is clearly not LTR material and his preferred sexual scenes don't exactly inspire credibility in his STD claims. I still say "married" but have no evidence to back that conclusion up, except my sixth sense that this guy is not all he says he is. Now I realize that one man's meat is another man's baloney, so maybe you came to totally different conclusions.
The point I'm trying to make is that consciously or not, we use our sixth sense to evaluate people even where the contact is minimal. Where HIV is involved, it's much easier to lie online than when speaking directly to that person. However, in social and possibly sexual real-life situations, that piece of information may be crucial. Certainly when chatting someone up in a bar, or anywhere else, you should try to be open to your sixth sense abilities. Most people won't ask outright if you have HIV, or talk about their testing practices. They may talk about condom use, or may claim to be "clean" but we all know that you should assume every new contact is positive and look after yourself.
In lands where criminalisation of non-disclosure is an issue, it's vital that you get your evaluation of the other person's credibility right. So we have to have all the radars working at optimum and look for clues and try to analyse them before going any further. Look at their eyes when they're talking about difficult subjects. If they won't look you in the face, that may trigger a sixth sense reaction. Similarly, body language, discussion avoidance, bullshitting and so on, will help your gut feelings form. You may have to set aside the sexual attraction aspect for a while, to get an unbiased feeling of what he or she is like but either way, you need to establish a firm opinion of where they stand on HIV before having sex with them. That doesn't always mean confessing all yourself. Your sixth sense may warn you that that would be premature and have consequences but after what may be a short conversation and interaction, you will probably have an idea of how you want to proceed and that will be based on intangible conclusions arising from your interpretation of signals ... in other words, your sixth sense.
You may think that sharpening your sixth sense skills is an impossible task when you don't really know what you have to work on. However, it may sound horribly New Age but every day, opening your eyes and really looking at something may help. By looking, I mean looking beyond your first impressions. Look out of your window and for a few minutes, count the number of new things you can see. You'll be amazed at how much you normally miss. Cannabis users will know what I mean but really seeing that there's so much more to a scene than at first appears, helps you become aware of what that scene contains. Similarly, closing your eyes and really listening; how many sounds can you now hear that had passed you by? Eat a sandwich and try to taste the different components separately, not just as one homogenous taste sensation. Stand on a street corner, close your eyes and cover your ears and just smell your environment; you get the idea. Sixth senses employ these skills all the time, so practicing them can't be a bad idea and besides which, you can appreciate the world around you so much more.
Finally, you're chatting to the hottest guy, with the smoothest lines ever and already imagining what you're going to do to him later. Suddenly you get a feeling that you can't shake off: this guy isn't good for me; sexy as hell but bad news; there's something that just doesn't fit. It's going to be difficult but trusting your instinct may save you a great deal of trouble later. Open yourself up to your sixth sense; you may not always be right but it's maybe better to be safe than sorry.
Read Dave's blog, HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck.