You Can Live With HIV, But What Happens When You Do?
I found out that I was HIV positive when my wife and I were tested when we became pregnant with our youngest son. We had been having unprotected sex for four years, in spite of my history with IV drug use. I had been blessed to be clean and sober for the four years we were together prior to our getting pregnant, but denial prevented us from believing that I could possibly be positive. I was elated when my wife's test came back negative. Through God's grace, she remains HIV negative. I thought her diagnosis was a good sign for her and our child, and possibly me too, but my luck was not as good. My test revealed that I was HIV positive.
My wife, Dionne, has been the most instrumental person who has played a role in helping me maintain wellness while living with HIV. We have been married for 25 years, and together for 30. Before medications were available to us, it was evident that we would need to find hope in other ways. As an HIV-diagnosed person, I had to fight depression and low self-worth. Fear of not being loved, and/or not having a sex life at all was very real to me. My wife Dionne never gave me the sense that she was not willing to have sex with me, as long as I did everything we could to protect her from contracting the virus. We both, however, still had fear of the HIV retrovirus being transmitted during sex. We knew condoms made us safer, but we also knew that nothing was 100% sure to keep her safe from becoming a host. It took us many years before we began to really verbalize the many unspoken issues that hetero-magnetic (serodiscordant) couples are dealing with.
My wife came with me to all my doctors appointments, and when meds became an option, she helped me to decide when to begin to take them. All of my family, support networks of recovering people, my church, and others have been supportive and important. My wife Dionne has been heroic! Attitude is everything when living with HIV. I have seen people worry themselves into bad health. Dionne and I keep something to look forward to. Now, we look forward to seeing our eight grandchildren grow and flourish. I relish any opportunity to share my/our strength, hope and experience, especially for those stigmatized by this disease, and needing to see hope reflected in a heterosexual relationship.
There are many issues that people who are living in hetero-magnetic relationships are dealing with. We all know that HIV is not a gay disease, but the stigma around HIV is rooted in homophobia, and not wanting to be identified as being gay. That aspect of stigma is especially true for men of color. As a result, heterosexual men of color often do not get tested or miss out on crucial information about treatment and resources. Importantly, heterosexual men pass the retrovirus on to women. Sometimes it is because men are secretive about their sexual history or present HIV status (if known). Other times, women show willful neglect in requiring protection or asking about HIV status. All that is good until somebody comes up HIV+.
There are important conversations we need to be having right now so that we can stop the spread of HIV. Many of those conversations need be had amongst the straight community. I know that there is a lot going on with the fight for rights for the LGBT community. I think that is appropriate considering the type of discrimination they face as humans. It is also a fact that heterosexual people have much to discuss and do, behaviorally, if we are going to successfully stem the tide of new HIV infections. Our youth are certainly contracting the retrovirus at an alarming rate. Our approach needs to be multifaceted, and I look forward to engaging the conversation, here in TheBody.com, as well as in Rise4War.com.