Real Messages Sent to HIV-Positive Guys on Grindr: The Stigma Is Real

A recent video from the HIV Foundation Queensland depicts real messages sent to HIV-positive men on the dating app Grindr. The video shows some of the horrible stigma that still exists and is directed at people living with HIV.

Watch the video:

When this video started making the rounds and popped up in my social feeds, I knew I had to watch it but wanted to be prepared, so I waited until the right moment, when I was alone, just in case I couldn't control my emotions. It started off cute and silly, so I thought, "This isn't going to be as bad as I'd imagined." But, of course, my naivety was quickly proven wrong.

Maybe it was the accents of the people featured, or the dynamic that the people reading the Grindr messages had with one another, or maybe it was just me, trying to find a justification for why this wasn't as hurtful as it was, but in the end, it hit home and it hurt. At first it was the expressions and reactions of the folks reading the messages that made my eyes water up a bit, but after the second and third time I watched and listened, it was the words they were repeating from these messages. And then I read the comments. They were words I had seen many times, and often.

David Duran
David Duran
Sean Marier

When I posted the video to my personal Facebook page, I remember the first reactions were from gay men living in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. "Thank God that doesn't happen here," someone commented, pointing to the fact that the video was produced in another country. Someone else chimed in, "That's awful, but thankfully the Bay Area is more educated about HIV." It was hard not to immediately snap back because what they were describing was utterly false. Yes, many gay men are knowledgeable on the topic of HIV, and that's largely due to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) being accessible to the gay community and everyone else in these more fortunate cities, but that doesn't mean that stigma and ignorance have been completely wiped out there.

I knew that replying to these comments would be best done by including a personal element, something that would let people know that I wasn't merely contradicting what they had to say, but instead trying to help them understand that it was plain wrong. "It happens to me often, and I live in Los Angeles," I replied. I also added that my time spent living in San Francisco wasn't much different. After that, I opened the floodgates and more of my friends who are HIV positive joined the conversation and acknowledged that, indeed, these types of horrific messages are being spread through gay dating/hook-up apps … even in cities where we wouldn't expect it.

I know that, for me, posting this video was a way to get gay men within my social circle to engage and discuss. And, hopefully, to provide those who may be guilty of sending these types of replies at one point or another an opportunity to silently observe the hurt, pain and sadness that can come from receiving messages from strangers via an app.

It doesn't matter how strong we are or think we are, degrading messages about ones' HIV status are going to hurt, and the pain will last. I can relive many messages in my head and recall exactly how I felt after reading them. One of my biggest fears of disclosure is having to wait for the reply, hoping that it's not going to gut me inside if it comes back negatively.

As someone who is HIV positive, I have many struggles, mostly internal ones that I keep to myself and deal with by myself. The root of most of those struggles comes from the stigma that is still out there in our communities, in our cities, in our country and in our world. Just because you may never think to respond in a way similar to the messages read in the video doesn't mean that others are like you. There's only one way to end HIV stigma, and that's to talk about it.