I was recently thinking about all the things I meant to write about, but for one reason or another, I haven’t. Maybe I didn’t want to be judged and subject myself to stigma. But I’ve come to the conclusion that there will always be people who can’t understand my choices because their minds are already made up. So be it.
I need to confess something. Ever since those early days of the AIDS crisis, I have been attracted to guys who are HIV-positive. Mainly, I wanted someone with a job who was able to support himself, a place to live other than his parents’ basement, and a sense of style and humor that most people would appreciate, but above all, someone who sees the whole picture. By that I mean someone who can see past his own nose—a good deed doer, in other words. Those are the guys who, I think, have potential for the best chemistry.
It just so happens that many of the guys I started dating in the 1980s and early ’90s turned out to be HIV-positive. Coincidentally, they were also real and unpretentious.
Think about it. Just for a moment, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. After weeks of running a low-grade fever, an occasional bout with thrush, and some nasty skin rashes, you decide to get yourself checked. After a grueling wait period, the diagnosis comes back. You are HIV-positive.
You let this unwanted stranger sit with you and follow you everywhere. What goes through your mind? Josh Robbins, who writes the blog I’m Still Josh, says he seemed to expect the news but still needed to stop and catch his breath. Then he moved forward and said, “Well, I got some work to do to bring that viral load down.”
Another blogger, Patrick Ingram of Poz+ Life of Patrick, admits to leaving the clinic feeling scared and alone after he was told he tested positive, but then he immediately turned it around, offering to help anyone who suspects that they might also have the virus.
“I’ll go with you if you live in my area,” he said. “Please, please don’t do this alone.”
You can’t get any more real and compassionate than these two guys, and they put my other friends to shame—people who seem more concerned about where to travel for vacation than they do about the greater good.
Yes, I know some HIV-positive guys who keep their illness at a distance, compartmentalizing their life and pretending everything is OK. My former partner Robert, who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1994, first told everybody, including his family, that he had “a blood cancer.” He thought it would get him a little more sympathy than an AIDS diagnosis. He was right, but in the end, his denial only delayed his healing.
I’m sure that my positive friends have some down days like everybody else. But what I see in them is a passionate push to move forward and get past the bad stuff. They have a brand of courage, optimism, and strength, oddly coupled with a sweet vulnerability, that, quite frankly, I find attractive. These are the kind of qualities I want in the person I grow old with.
The first week of November, my boyfriend and I attended the wedding of one of my friends, Jay, and his new husband, Angelo. To me, there was no discernible difference between this wedding and any other. There was love, excitement, apprehension, and all those emotions that come with the ritual celebration of marriage.
This wedding also marked a victory of sorts. Like so many HIV-positive men I know, Jay once wondered whether he would be seen as lovable with his HIV-positive status. I suppose Angelo saw the same kind of thing I have seen so many times in Jay. He is flawed like every other person I know (myself included). But he’s also a guy who is always real and kind, who has a clear-eyed focus on the future—a man you’ll find laughing and crying like the rest of us.