When I first tested positive for HIV, I wrestled with whether or not to disclose my status to every potential sex partner after that. I had safer sex with a couple of guys who didn't ask and I didn't tell. Within a year of testing positive back in January of 1994, I realized my conscience wasn't going to let me get away with that for long. Morals. Ethics. Integrity. Whatever it was, my mind and libido were at odds. Eventually, it became clear that in order for me to maintain any degree of self respect, I was going to have to tell each and every man with whom there is a remote chance of sexual activity that I am living with HIV. I do tell. Every time.
You may be surprised to find that I have never been rejected after revealing the truth about my status. Of course, rejection is a relative term. They may sleep with me anyway, but I've no doubt been scratched off the list of candidates for dating or long-term partnership a few times just because of the HIV thing. I've felt the shift that occurs when someone's inner voice screams, "Don't invest a lot of emotional energy or time in him because he might get sick and die on you." Well, certainly I'm going to die. We all are. Thankfully, my inner voice still has a sense of humor. Recently it said, "Maybe the fact that you smoke, speed, have a family history of heart disease and eat a buttload of foods containing partially hydrogenated oils will kill you first." Or did I say that out loud? I forget.
HIV-negative people surely have the right not to date or fornicate with HIV-positive people. Yes, even uninfected gay men have the right to pass on infected gay men. They're allowed to write senseless, cruel personal ads proclaiming their negative status and warning the rest of us poz guys not to bother responding unless you're "disease free." They're also welcome to vacation in Oz and ask the Wizard for a heart and a brain.
Obviously we know these guys are talking about HIV. I suspect most of them couldn't name another sexually transmitted disease. They frequently use a word like "clean" to describe themselves when "delusional" or "shallow" would seem to apply much better.
For your consideration, here's an actual personal ad I saw recently in a local gay and lesbian newspaper:
"Woof! Masculine GWM, 32, 5'8", 200 lbs, lean/muscular, tan, very hairy, brown/hazel, drug/disease free, nonsmoker, runner, hiker, 8 years ex-Army, degreed, stable, buns of steel. Seeking similar GWM top."
Okay, let's dissect this ad. What is this man telling us? He barks like a dog. At 5'8" and 200 lbs he's, well, how can I put this . . . his height and weight aren't proportional according to government guidelines. Probably uses a tanning bed. Rarely trims his nose hair until it's mistaken for a mustache. And there's that disease-free proclamation thing, a bit of information that tells me absolutely nothing since you and I know this guy probably took an HIV test five years ago and thinks hepatitis is an island in the Caribbean and herpes was a Greek god. Still, he claims to be stable (so did serial killer Ted Bundy) even though he was apparently in the army around the time of the Gulf War being exposed to God knows what kind of chemicals that are hiding out in his body now . . . just like a virus, lurking until the day he develops some never-before-seen syndrome. But, hey, I can forgive the unrelenting smarminess of this ad because he does mention those buns of steel. Unfortunately, I can't help thinking he's just an ass who deserves to be with Suzanne Somers.
Regrettably, personal ads running in gay papers have developed a creepy "Us versus Them" quality. Gay men, of all people, ought to be able to recognize that words can hurt. Rejection is unpleasant enough without the added implication that people living with HIV are somehow not clean. That's simply insulting. And by the way, it takes a lot more guts to say you're HIV-positive, unashamed, and still worthy of love, companionship and hot sex than it does to write rigid, exclusionary personal ads that bear little resemblance to reality and shout, "I'm emotionally unequipped to handle HIV and proud of it!" My suggestion is that us poz guys start answering these ads and politely direct these disease-free gentlemen to stop looking for a man and run instead to the nearest insurance company to seek employment. They're keen on scrutinizing folks for pre-existing conditions as well.