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Positive and Undetectable

September 18, 2014

Positive and Undetectable

Since when does being clean have anything to do with serostatus? Recently, I was at Sunday brunch with friends. The euphoria created by our many mimosas was unceremoniously interrupted by a newcomer. Our new friend pulled up an Adam4Adam profile he just "stumbled upon." He proceeded to put it on full blast. With a tone of incredulous disbelief he said, "check this shit out!" and began reciting the following words from his iPhone, as if talking into a microphone:

"Healthy, undetectable. If you think that NOT having sex with a healthy poz guy will keep u neg if u bareback, think again. You don't become poz from playing with a healthy poz guy who's on meds/undetect. Playing with a healthy poz guy should be the least of ur worries; it's the supposed "neg" guys who lie or don't know their own status you should be worried about. "Clean" defines hygiene, not serostatus. Get the facts and be mindful of your words. The only thing you'll get from a healthy poz guy is one hell of an orgasm!"

When he lifted his eyes the silence was deafening around the table. I knew I was probably not the only positive guy at the table. But surely I am the only one whose face is plastered on bus shelters, subways ads, and magazines. I am an openly HIV-positive spokesperson in the "HIV STOPS WITH ME" campaign. Who would speak first? Was everyone waiting on me?

In a stifling instant I realized that this profile dared to "turn the tables." With a mouth full of food, I shared that positives have long been concerned about checking the positive box on sites like this-- what if that turns people away? Maybe it was this profile's audacity or self-esteem that surprised us all. Did we expect him to be shy about being positive? Does anyone ever talk about being 'undetectable'? Another friend asked if people know what being 'undetectable' means. One thing for sure, this headless torso pic took away any refuge of ignorance.

As I chatted back and forth, I wondered if "positive" isn't enough. Should undetectable be the new conversation?

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This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also
Fact Sheet: HIV/AIDS and Young Men Who Have Sex With Men
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Personal Views on HIV Prevention for Gay Men


Reader Comments:

Comment by: craig (arkansas) Sun., Sep. 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm UTC
If it weren't such a sad and dangerous fiction, it would be funny that HIV+ men honestly believe that HIV - gay men lie about their test results and go so long between tests that any man who says he is negative is a predatory liar. Miraculously, however, once a man becomes HIV+, he is incapable of lying even by omission and he checks his viral load to make sure that it is undetectable every week. The hypocrisy that HIV immediately cures a man's meth habit and perfects his integrity is so ridiculous that it makes every HIV+ man sound like he I'd already exhibiting HIV related dementia.
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Comment by: Tree Alexander (NYC) Sun., Sep. 28, 2014 at 11:00 am UTC
Craig, you raise a important topic. In my opinion a habit can be changed, altered, and/or replaced with ease but, an addiction is something completely different. A man's integrity is heavily grounded in his self-esteem and the amount of oppression he has experienced and/or aware of especially a man of color. Now everyone's personal and environmental experiences are different. Here in NYC one of the epicenters for HIV where we first saw the rapid spread of death in the streets, this city was filled with stigma. The thing now is that a lot of the people who were around then are now parents and grandparents and that stigma has sadly been passed down. The building blocks of our self-esteem were put in place by those who raised us and taught us what's right and wrong. As we grow older we come to our own understandings and break free from those boxes and much as we can but certain conversations remain taboo. If someone can't be honest and have these conversations at home with family why would they even try to in the streets with strangers? Telling people its "OK" to be honest is not enough. There and much bigger walls and systems that need to be infiltrated first. HIV positive or not.
Comment by: Seer Clearly (Denver, CO) Tue., Sep. 30, 2014 at 4:48 pm UTC
I think you have to look at the motivations. And, if you're positive, you may have personal experience with them as I do. I know that when I was negative, I was terrified of becoming positive, so I presumed that partially unsafe events were safe, and postponed getting tested as long as possible, and told myself things I did which were marginally safe were actually safe. In other words, I manipulated to lie to myself that I was sure I was negative when I actually didn't know for sure. Given the stigma of being positive, and knowing that people naturally avoid difficult topics, you can assume that most "neg" guys are less sure of their status than poz guys are. It may not be intentional "predatory lying" but it is human nature. Not to mention that the time it takes a test to show positive can be used to assume you're negative. This relates also to studies that show a large fraction of poz guys were infected by guys they thought were negative.

On the flip side, once you've accepted that you're poz and are on treatment, it's harder to fool yourself into thinking your negative (impossible if you're reasonably sane!) And, with current studies showing that undetectable partners don't have a significant risk of contagion, both factors help support people in being honest about their poz status. There are still doubts about how surely you can know your undetectable status, but in general there is little incentive to lie unless you're living in a highly stigmatized environment.

I'm not going to disagree with you about your doubts regarding HIV and meth. Addiction is so powerful that no mental concept of yourself will cause it to go away, only extreme self-inquiry and deep personal change will help with that.


Comment by: Devon (Washington, DC) Sun., Sep. 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm UTC
Great question. Sometimes people make being "undetectable" as if it is the Gold standard for being positive and being at low risk and for the most part it is but people should understand when explaining undetectable and bb sex or for that matter any sex that people have blips and although the risk is minimum and close to zero there is still a risk of someone having a big enough blip where it might make a difference.
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Comment by: Tree Alexander (NYC) Sun., Sep. 28, 2014 at 10:10 am UTC
Great point Devon! I completely agree with you and the more we can get people to engage in conversations around being undetectable and safer sex and not just agreeing on a safe word or positioning. The goal is to help remove a lot of the judgement and fear of judgement from these conversations. We all have engaged in unsafe sex, including our parents and our parent's parents. But we have been so brain washed into thinking that conversations that include sexual organs should be kept private or the notion that the person you sleep with is only sleeping with you. I think next we should be talking about the advances in medication and diseases because as the medications get stronger so does the infections.


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Tree House Talk (All Strength No Shade)


Tree Alexander

Tree Alexander

Tree Alexander, born in Chicago, Illinois, now living in Brooklyn, New York. HIV-positive AIDS activist and Case Worker. "I am the change I wish to see." Motivational speaker and youth advocate. Tree's target is to empower the youth and reduce stigma. Tree found out his HIV status one month after he turned 20 and HIV has changed his life completely. Tree travels and tell his story, letting people know that if we continue to conceal and fear this disease, we shall never overcome.


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