Cruising with Lazarus
Interviral Dating and Sex
A few weeks ago my friend Al called to tell me that he ran across an old personal ad of mine on some gay Web site I had all but forgotten. I looked it up, and sure enough, there it was, a three-year-old snapshot and bio just floating around out there on the Internet. No one had even responded to it since way back in 2000. As I couldn't figure out how to delete the damn thing, I ended up editing it so that it would at least be reasonably current. Then I left for a week's vacation in Vermont and Maine, never anticipating the half dozen responses that would be waiting for me when I got home and turned on the computer again.
By updating my personal profile, I had inadvertently rescued myself from Cyberobscurity. The Web site displays profiles chronologically, therefore I was right back on top of the list again, effectively cheating my own expiration date and placing myself back on the market. I wasn't even sure I wanted to date again. It's been almost a year since my last boyfriend, Vince, and I amicably untied the knot, primarily because my ambivalence toward men, relationships, romance and sex had effectively undermined any chance we ever had as a couple. The fact that he doesn't hate me says a lot about him. And just last week he even said, "I think it's time for you to get back on that horse again."
And so I started thinking about how I've been responding to men the past couple of years and whether or not I really want another relationship. I do. I don't. Maybe. But only if he's responsible and hairy and stocky and intellectually engaging and witty and a little bit kinky and reads and has a social conscience and votes and cries and cleans up after himself. And positive. Yes, he definitely needs to be living with HIV. Because if he's not HIV-positive, how's he ever going to understand what I've been going through physically and emotionally for the last nine and a half years? The universe is not allowed to send me anymore HIV-negative horses to ride. I've made my decision. Thank you very much.
To my surprise, no man has ever sexually rejected me for having HIV. I can disclose and start babbling about condoms and so far nothing stops them. Even when I confess that I'm a Gemini, which is very much like having a personality disorder, they still want to take me to bed. I have, however, certainly been eliminated as potential long-term relationship material because I have the virus. I know this because men are so easy to read. Hell, they might as well come with subtitles. They say: It doesn't matter to me that you have HIV; we can still have fun. What they mean: I'm horny. Right now. I don't want to marry you; I just want to have sex with you. Right now.
Seriously, if an HIV-negative gay man is willing to consider sex with me, but can't see a future of dating and coupling, I don't really care as long as he's honest about it. I don't take it personally because hidden deep in some secret brain closet of mine is the notion that no sane, rational uninfected gay man would be willing or able to go down that path with me anyway. It ain't no yellow brick road. And frankly, I'm more than a little suspicious of any man who says he wants to try. It's almost incomprehensible to me.
Did you ever see that old Bette Davis movie, "Dark Victory," where she develops a fatal disease and her doctor falls in love with her, marries her anyway and sweeps her off to some New England farmhouse where she goes blind while planting a flower bed and then stumbles gracefully upstairs to die, off camera, all in glorious black and white? Or maybe you caught "Love Story," in which Ali McGraw beds and weds wealthy Harvard hunk Ryan O'Neal, then develops a fatal disease and dies despite looking like a supermodel even on her deathbed. These doomed chicks and their benevolent spouses are Hollywood creations and those fatal diseases seem almost eerily benign.
That's not the movie playing in my head. My flick is a garish, Technicolor nightmare where HIV and lipodystrophy transform me into an unrecognizable creature who frightens small children at the grocery store. Meanwhile, the virus-free partner who swore my HIV didn't matter now refers to me as The Burden, needs Viagra just to get an erection with me and keeps asking where I keep my Directive for Final Health Care.
I know. Worst-case scenario. So perhaps now you can see why I don't have much faith in my own ability to navigate a positive/negative relationship. The prognosis, as they say, is negative.
Most of the time we hear about HIV-negative men rejecting HIV-positive men. In my case, the opposite has always been true. I remember the first time I rejected a man because he did not have the virus. 1995. Tim. I met this big, bright bear of a man at a conference. There were a lot of long conversations over hot tea. He engaged my heart and mind in a way no man ever really had before, and I knew that we were at the threshold of something that might very well be love. And then he told me how he'd lost his last lover to AIDS barely two years before, but remained free of the virus himself. "I'm certainly not going to put him through that again," I said to myself. Standing at that fork in the road, the one where you can choose love or friendship, I made the decision for both of us. Tim, though still my friend, has since scolded me for that choice and for robbing him of the opportunity to see how a romance might have played out between us. On some level, where good intentions mean diddly squat, I know he's right.
I've dated about a half dozen negative guys since Tim, never once believing for a second that we had a prayer. In late 2000, after one date with a virus-free California dude who showed me photos of his family, I called it quits with him via e-mail after imagining his mother freaking over my status and threatening to kill me if I accidentally infected him.
Then I met Vince, who's positive and shares the same philosophy. We had long conversations about how you can't really get what it's like to have HIV unless you have HIV. We dated, we became a couple, and in the end we separated over my unwillingness to commit to a long-term relationship. Sharing the same HIV status couldn't make me love him anymore than I did. His being positive didn't resolve my ambivalence about relationships. HIV -- the one indisputable thing we had in common -- didn't make things better or worse for us because it's not a magic virus or a miracle, permanent-bonding relationship glue. Nope, it's just HIV, the most freakish love bug of all time.
Lately, I've been having conversations with other single HIV-positive friends who feel their best shot at happiness lies with other positives. They won't even consider dating anybody who claims to be negative. Like me, they justify that preference by reciting a litany of logical, intellectual reasons for rejecting uninfected persons and the possibility that love or great sex could flourish when there are different HIV statuses involved. It's like we've all joined the Fraternal Order of Pozzies or something. And bless our hearts, some of us rail like fundamentalist preachers, all rigid and absolute in our beliefs, unwilling to acknowledge the rather blatant flaw in our reasoning about interviral dating and sex. See, love and sex aren't particularly rational or logical, but rather emotionally-based, so intellectual arguments about them are mental masturbation, more or less. It's all about attraction and chemistry, and yes, compatibility. I think I've finally realized that I spend entirely too much time persuading myself that I, infected with HIV, cannot possibly be compatible with a man who is not infected with HIV. I'm willing to admit, and I'd like others to consider, that sometimes we give HIV way too much power in our lives.
So I read through the six e-mail responses I received after updating that Internet profile. Two men said they were HIV positive. Four did not disclose. I ruled out three of them because their responses contained too many grammar and punctuation errors. (I'm a writer, what did you expect?) I also eliminated two who lived out of state. That left only one. We've exchanged a bunch of e-mail and spoken on the phone. Last time he got tested he was HIV negative. I'm going out with him anyway.
This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News.