A Longtime HIV Survivor Shares Concerns From Quebec
As a real senior (I was infected with HIV in February 1980 and diagnosed in 1985), I have been through a lot of despair, at one point stopping all medication. On the other hand, I was also one of the few lucky ones who were recognized as disabled in 1995, and will live on a disability pension from an insurance company for three more years, until I reach 65.
For the first time, 10 years ago, my viral load became undetectable and has been consistently since then. I have had two relationships with negative men, which lasted 10 years and 12 years. Like many long-term survivors from the early period, I also had a stroke in 2009, followed by permanent arrhythmia, which we managed to resolve at least temporarily, a few months ago.
My main concern is the same as it was on Oct. 28, 1985, when I was diagnosed -- namely that I will finish my days alone. I am not too keen on starting a relationship with a negative man as I feel that this has been a contributing factor in the interruption of my last relationship; on the other hand, finding an HIV-positive man when you are 62 years old appears to be very difficult. Negative gay men now mostly reject poz men readily. In earlier days, gay men were ready to start a relationship knowing that they could protect themselves. Ironically, now that we know more about prevention, the population in general knows less. So my hope of finding somebody is diminishing with each passing year. Yes I do have good friends and am close to my family, but a good friend is not a partner.
I go on gay cruising websites; my description does say that I am poz but I always ask whether the other person has seen this; I often get the reply from guys 30 or 40 years old, that they do not know what it means. When I explain, very often, there is not even a response; when there is a response, it ranges from "no interest" to a polite conversation where the person finds a reason to stop chatting. Also I discuss with friends and acquaintances who are also poz, some in their 20s: they do confirm a real stigma toward people that are HIV poz. So I am trying to get used to the unwelcomed idea that I will finish my days alone; of course I am open, but rather than lament over the situation, I try to see the good side of being single ... but it remains my main concern.
I do not have money concerns; and living in Quebec I know that medical services will be available, free and of high quality. I also know that my meds will remain available ... so no concern there.
My other concerns are for the new generation that does not protect themselves systematically; the frame of mind has changed from "I must protect myself" to "It is the responsibility of the HIV-positive man to make sure he does not infect others." Of course this is very dangerous for all the reasons that we know (many HIV poz ignore their status, others would not disclose ...). I fear for these younger persons as I believe that they will find it much harder to live with the stigma of being poz, and of course with the guilt of having seroconverted when we all know how to prevent transmission.
Another concern is with regards to the complacency in the public opinion that HIV infection is a manageable disease -- complacency with regards to protecting oneself as I already mentioned, but also complacency in research. The undiscerning journalists reporting on the overly optimistic researchers create a sense that a cure is at our door, and hence increase the complacency. I have seen so many news about a miracle cure over the years and I understand that researchers need to present an overly optimistic picture in order to get funds to continue their research; but I fear that the government support for research for a cure will become less of a priority in the future, before we finally have a cure.
Pierre has been living with HIV for more than 30 years. He lives in Quebec, Canada, and is a first-time contributor to TheBody.com.