It’s almost here. Valentine’s Day. It’s this Friday, Feb. 14. And if you’re super excited for it—well, at least you’re in keeping with a new poll that found more Americans get jazzed for V-Day than they do for the December holidays. Fancy that!
But it’s also no secret that many dread the holiday, with its annoyingly manufactured (thanks, Hallmark!) focus on romantic love. It can be tough on single folks or those struggling in, or having recently terminated, relationships. And it can be especially hard on us folks living with HIV, bringing up issues of stigma, intimacy, and rejection related to our status. Few of us, including this writer, have not been romantically rebuffed because of our, er, viral enhancement, as I like to call it, at least once.
That’s why we reached out to some of our favorite folks in the HIV community—mostly, if not all, positive and single—to find out how they cope on that day when we have to watch folks hurrying home with an armful of red roses, or pass romantic restaurants full of canoodling couples. And just to be spicy, we also asked them what single word turns them on.
Guess what? In keeping with the aforementioned poll that found that many people enjoy V-Day precisely because they spend it not with lovers but loved ones—family, besties, even furry companions (and we don’t just mean muscle bears!)—many of the folks we talked to said they were going to use the holiday as a chance to catch up and kiki with BFFs, or even simply with themselves.
Have a look below! And if none of this softens your V-Day dread, remember—you can always just stick your head under the covers until Feb. 15!
Brenda Emily, living with HIV, activist, Milford, Pennsylvania:
“I’m flying down to Tennessee to spend a few days with a newly diagnosed friend. I’ve never really celebrated V-Day in the past, because I’ve never truly dated due to my status, so it will be nice to spend it with someone in the same situation. I’d suggest reaching out to other positive people as a way of coping with the loneliness this day can bring about.”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Being called “babygirl.”
Howard Grossman, M.D., longtime HIV specialist and medical director, Midway Specialty Care Center, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida:
“I’ll be opening a new office for our medical group in Key West, bringing LGBT primary care and HIV and transgender care to the island. But I’ll have my best love, my dog, Dante, with me.”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Kisses.
Sherri Lewis, living with HIV, activist and performer, Los Angeles:
“I love Valentine’s Day! When I was a little girl, my grandfather would send two heart-shaped boxes of chocolates [to us] at our house, one large and red for my mom and one small and pink for me. This year, I was gifted a spa day—but my plans remain open. Wanna be my Valentine?”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Chocolates.
Waheedah Shabazz-El, living with HIV, cofounder, Positive Women’s Network, Philadelphia:
“As a woman who is happily married for the third time, I continuously work on fostering an ambience of romance in our home throughout the year. When Valentine’s Day arrives, I reach for the low-hanging fruit. Simply create a music playlist, click on those LED flameless candles, prepare a seafood specialty such as deviled eggs stuffed with white lump crab meat and fried flounder. Taking a virtual stroll down memory lane by screening photos gives us both a real appreciation of each other and of time well spent. We embrace over chocolate—and in the end, our toes are curled.
As a member of a larger community of women living with HIV, I know many of us to be hopeless romantics. We want to get married and live happily ever after. But many of us have completely stopped dating. These are times when Sister Circles provide support. We assure one another that we are good and worthy enough to be loved—even in the face of HIV. We remind each other to take time to love ourselves as a way of preparing to be in intimate relationships. Echoing the words of our beloved RuPaul, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: While others call me “The Legend,” at home my husband’s pet name for me is “Little WaWa.” Hearing it turns me on!
Kevin Sessums, living with HIV, author, activist, and publisher of Sessums Magazine, Hudson, New York:
“I am going alone to see an evening of dance in New York City, with a piece choreographed by [longtime openly HIV-positive dancer/choreographer] Robert La Fosse. My ex-boyfriend [activist] Peter Staley bought me the ticket as a gift. Like gay marriage, Valentine’s Day serves as a romantic metric to make me feel like a failure in that part of my life. Is that too negative to say? I’m happy for Hallmark, though.”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Maybe.
Patricia McNeill Shelton, living with HIV, peer educator, Harlem, New York:
“I’m spending Valentine’s Day with my bestie—my girlfriend since sixth grade. Feb. 12 is my birthday, so Val’s Day after work will consist of dinner, drinks, gossip, memories—and hopefully a gift! Then we’ll go back to my place and watch a Denzel Washington movie in our PJs and have a sleep-over. We single chicks have spent the last Valentine’s Days going to dinner together and wondering how we became senior citizens!
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Denzel.
Sean McKenna, living with HIV, advocate for HIV/AIDS longtime survivors, New York, New York:
“My partner and I go to our single friend’s house for a big dinner with couples and singles, reaffirming that love is for everyone.”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Humor.
Larry Bryant, living with HIV, community engagement manager, American Civil Liberties Union, Washington, D.C.:
“This year on Valentine’s Day, after living with HIV for 34 years, I will participate in a celebration of the love and greatness that live within young Black and Brown people in here in D.C. at an event called “For the Love of You.” It’s an evening of spoken-word and musical performances organized by young people in D.C.”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: You mean, besides “bacon?”
Catherine Donarumo, living with HIV, retired, northeastern New Jersey:
“It’s just another day! I can hear Jon Secada singing that in my head, and that’s all it is—another day! I’ll buy myself a red bag of Lindt truffles!
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Hope.
KeivaLei Cadena, living with HIV, community engagement coordinator at Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center, Honolulu, Hawaii:
“I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. Being single and very active, I look to it as a day to hang out with good friends—with a theme. LOL. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the relationships that matter most to me are my close friends. So maybe a movie or a night swim at the beach. Whatever we do, I’m sure we’ll have some laughs. Maybe we’ll do horror movies and some very un-romantic dishes like BBQ ribs and garlic mashed potatoes. That sounds amazing!”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: BBQ!
Damon Jacobs, psychotherapist and creator of Facebook page PrEP Facts: Rethinking HIV Prevention and Sex, New York, New York:
“I’ll likely be seeing couples in my therapy practice. This is where I help people unlearn harmful paradigms of ‘romance’ that cause suffering, and instead embrace models of loving abundance and joy that enhance connection. Every day (and night) is the optimal time to demonstrate gratitude, appreciation, and affection for people we love in our lives.”
WORD THAT TURNS ME ON: Breed.