An Open Letter to My Future Sex Partners
I wanted to write this, not only because I still struggle with the right words to use each time I disclose, but also for others to read and understand the thought process someone has when disclosing his HIV status. Hopefully it will help others with their own, personal disclosure, either through inspiration or by simply being a link that is shared with others to help start the conversation.
So there's something I want to discuss with you before we take whatever this is to the next level. I wanted to bring it up right away, but I thought I would first see where this is going. It's not an easy topic to bring up, but here goes. I'm HIV-positive. I'm healthy, on medication and have been undetectable for years. It's not a huge deal to me, but I fully understand that it may be to you. Or maybe you already know all you need to know about HIV, and you are up to date on information. I don't know what you are thinking at this moment after reading this, but here's how I'm feeling.
Right now, I'm feeling a sense of relief. Disclosing is obviously not an easy task, especially when it comes to something as stigmatized as HIV. I'm feeling relief because I told you what I needed to tell you and on my own accord. If you had asked me, I would have told you, but it would have been a lot more difficult because I am not yet programmed to verbalize my carefully thought out monologue about my positive status. But now that a sense of relief has kicked in, I'm also beginning to feel anxiety and fear.
I'm asking myself, "What if this news is a deal breaker?" I mean, it very well could be. And just so you know, if it is, I'm not going to be upset because you wouldn't be the first person to reject me because of my status. But if you are going to reject me, I'd like to know exactly why. Because if it's due to a lack of knowledge and information about the topic, then I'm more than willing to share what I know, which happens to be a lot.
You know, when I first was diagnosed, I had my moments of darkness when all I wanted to do was grieve and forget about the rest of my life. I think I deserved that time, as I needed to put myself back together after my world came to a halt. But when I was ready, I took the time to become somewhat of an expert on this virus that is going to be a part of my life for the foreseeable future. I realized that knowing everything there is to know about HIV ... and more was to my benefit, not only because some of what I learned is vital to me staying healthy and alive, but because the more I knew, the more empowered I felt.
I have put up a bit of a guard since finding out, and it's mostly for my protection and sanity, because even with all the amazing advancements out there and news of new forms of protection, HIV is still a highly stigmatized disease. But every day when I wake up, I honestly don't think about it anymore. At night before bed, I'm fortunate to have just one pill to take before passing out. To me, that pill could easily be a cholesterol medication, or an allergy pill or even an aspirin. I realize the importance of that one pill, as it's keeping me healthy and allowing me to live a normal life, but each night when I take it, I don't think too much about it. The only time I am really slapped in the face with reality is when it comes to sex, and having to disclose my status. That's the moment when all those initial feelings of being scared, ashamed and alone set in again, the same way they did after I was diagnosed, even if just for a brief moment or two.
I want you to know that I'm an open book, for the most part. I believe in putting it all out there because honesty is just so much easier. If you have questions, I'm here to answer them. If you want to know how I came to be HIV-positive -- which at times is the initial question after I disclose -- I understand. Curiosity is a natural response. And if you really need to know right away, I'll let you know, but does it really matter? I just worked up the courage to tell you something extremely personal about myself, and I would prefer not to open the wound any further by rehashing the trauma. But at some point, if this goes anywhere beyond just sex, it's something that I am open to discussing.
Before I open up the floor to questions, here's some information that I'd like to share right off the bat. It's all good information, and I'm hoping you already know it, but just in case here's a refresher. There have been all sorts of studies on whether or not a person who is undetectable can transmit the virus. Some studies have concluded that it's not possible to transmit, while others say there is a minute possibility of transmission, but I can't tell you which to believe. What I can say is that even those studies that find a possible risk of transmission say that the risk is so small that experts argue it's equivalent to saying it's not possible to transmit. Regardless, the information is out there. And it only applies only if we decide to have sex without a condom.
That all being said, I don't know if you are aware about PrEP, a once-a-day pill that protects HIV-negative people from becoming infected with the virus. I mean, I'm being open and honest about my status, and I'm comfortable enough with being undetectable to know that I am not putting you at risk, but not everyone is like me. And whether or not you decide to have sex with me, I'd like you to know that you have options to protect yourself. So if you don't know about PrEP, you should check it out, because it's the most amazing advancement helping to stop the spread of the virus.
So there it is. I realize this is a lot of unloading, and you can take all the time you need to process the information. Again, I just wanted to be open about it all, and to make sure you are good with it and that you know you can use me as a resource if you want more information. I know it's a heavy topic, but it doesn't have to be, and it really shouldn't be. I hope that one day soon those of us who are HIV-positive will be able to verbalize these thoughts with greater ease, and without so many emotions arising. Let me know what you are thinking. I'm here when you are ready to talk about it.
David Duran is a freelance journalist and writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at @theemuki.