The gay hook-up app, Grindr, is anonymous — which is of course what makes it wonderful — and what opens the door for trolls spewing hateful comments with virtually no consequences. Even worse, thanks to a report from BuzzFeed News, it was revealed that the company has been sharing its users' data (including their HIV status and GPS location).
Since news of the report came to light, Grindr has stated they will no longer be sharing our data with third parties, but that does nothing for the trolls that are already here.
Behind every troll there is an ocean of insecurities; and sometimes people say offensive things without meaning to. Unfortunately, the stigma against HIV can also be unconscious for those who aren't poz. And just because you’ve slept with poz dudes in the past doesn't give you the right to make broad proclamations about all who are HIV-positive.
Whether you're pursuing him or turning him down, doing it right just takes a little education, some common sense, and a focus on some minor details. Think before you write any of these ten things:
#1) “Oh…," or “Ah…”
You just found out he's poz. If you were in person, you'd be excused for taking a moment to figure out how to respond. (How about: "You're still hot. How can we play safe?") But when you're writing a response and you choose, “Oh…” or “Ah…” it's for one reason only: to make him feel bad. You may not think that’s why you wrote it, but it is. The subliminal message is “we could have had fun but I have zero interest now. Sorry, not sorry.” These aren't simply words; there's an insensitive and ugly feeling behind them. "Oh" and "Ah" are veils to hide a sense of entitlement. But what it really conveys is that you’re a lot less educated than he is, and that’s what really drives your fear.
#2) “Sorry, I’m clean and want to stay that way.”
The word “clean” suggests that an HIV-positive is unclean, therefore dirty. It's the idea that you can’t touch them or show any kind of intimacy, otherwise you’ll also become infected with the virus (and we'll all turn into zombies). It's no coincidence that the terms "unclean" and "untouchable" are used both in caste systems and employed to denigrate HIV-people. They reinforce social hierarchies, where the privileged remain "clean" by avoiding intermingling with the "dirty" people (these were also ideas used to subjugate people of color). You cannot run away from HIV by segregating yourself from poz people. In fact, you stand a higher chance of infection by sleeping with a person who doesn’t know their status or claims to be negative even though they haven’t been tested in a while. In fact, statistically speaking, your chances of being exposed to HIV are significantly lower when hooking up with a poz person who is undetectable than someone who may not know (or be honest about) his statue. At least calling yourself clean exposes the kind of bigot you are, so the poz person you said it to is probably thrilled to have dodged a bullet. In the end you're not choosing to stay clean, you're choosing to stay ignorant.
#3) “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
Let's get one thing straight: like orientation, race, or gender, HIV status does not define a person. Secondly, people have every right to treat their medical information as private and cofidential until there's a need for you to know that information. Third, many poz people don’t lead with the fact that they’re HIV-positive for one reason, and one reason only: stigma. If there weren't stigma around being positive, people would feel free to disclose earlier, but questions like this reiterate that being openly HIV-positive opens people up to being stigmatized. Poz people come out all the time. They come out to every person they date; every new person they have sex with; every doctor, dentist, or practitioner they visit. It’s not something they want to share with a total stranger after reading, “Sup?”
There is no hidden agenda. You have no idea what he’s going through or how hard it is emotionally to disclose this. He’s probably learned through trial and error how long it takes someone to get to know him without his status getting in the way. If you’re offended he didn’t share his status in the first three messages, ask yourself what you haven't disclosed to him.
#4) “You infect anyone before?”
People don't infect people; viruses do. A person can transmit HIV, but it's the virus that causes the infections. Because HIV can have a long dormancy period, many HIV-positive people do not know exactly when they were exposed. Health departments do reach out to a person's past intimate partners when they test positive, but they do not share other people's private medical information. So this kind of question can't really elicit the "truth. Instead, these types of questions are an attempt to make an HIV-positive person feel like they need to sequester themselves in a shelter and never come out except to water the plants or get the newspaper. Plus, it suggests that only the HIV-positive person is responsible for preventing HIV transmission. Take responsibility for your own sexual health and play safe, and you may never need to answer this question yourself someday.
#5) “I’ll bareback, but only if you know you’re undetectable.”
Again, stop depending on poz people to take precautions for you. According to a Centers for Disease and Control report, only 36 percent of HIV-positive people under the age of 34 have managed to lower their viral loads to undetectable levels. So what are you doing to protect yourself? Are you taking PrEP? Are you bringing condoms and using them correctly? Are you following advice on having safer sex without a condom? Maintaining your sexual health is up to you — no one else. Taking control of playing safe adds to your sex appeal, while saying stupid things like this does not.
#6) “Sorry, I don’t want to risk it.”
You’re taking a risk every time you have sex. It's impossible to know the status of each person you slept with. It's just as easy to type “neg” as it is to type “poz” in your dating profile, so tossing someone aside because of their status doesn’t make sex risk-free. It’s a way to convince yourself you’re making a smart choice, when in reality you are making a blind one. Educate yourself on what your risks actually are; expecially when using a condom, taking PrEP, and/or having a poz partner who is undetectable.
#7) “So, you have AIDS?”
Stop stamping HIV-positive people with the AIDS term. They are two separate diagnoses. HIV-positive people only develop AIDS if their immune system fails. Confusing the to diagnoses is ignorant and shows a lack of empathy towards those lost to AIDS, which has killed and continues to kill people around the world. Expanded access to antiretroviral therapy, and increasing HIV testing have reduced the number of AIDS cases. Because of the extreme stigma attached to the term "AIDS," many scientists and providers prefer the term Stage 3 HIV. While the crisis of decades past should never be forgotten, we must all know the difference between HIV and AIDS. Science has come a long way and continues to do so, thanks to activists who led the fight for proper treatment.Now we have access to it, there really is the potential of ending AIDS diagnoses in the future.
#8) “Maybe you shouldn’t have Grindr.”
I would rather have a slew of friendly poz guys on Grindr than spontaneous jerks trying to be policemen. Telling HIV-positive men they shouldn't be on Grindr is ridiculous in our post sexual-liberation world. People who want to be on Grindr should be on Grindr. That said, we should all be playing safe on Grindr. This statement just reiterates how much you want to abdicate the responsibility for your sexual health. The only reason to kick HIV-positive people off Grindr is so you can convince yourself you're free to bang anyone on the app without practicing safer sex without putting yourself at risk. People who know their status are far safer to play with than those who don't. If you are the kind of person who is in denial about STI risks, or who needs other people to protect you from those risks, it is you who should not have Grindr.
#9) Bombarding him with personal questions if you aren’t willing to answer any of them yourself.
If you are going to ask an HIV-positive person questions like, “How did you get it?” or “Do you hook up a lot?” or “How many partners have you had in the last month?” and expect genuine responses, you better be willing to answer a few questions yourself. This is a level playing field. It’s Grindr — not an interrogation.
#10) “Drug/Disease Free Only.”
Stop expecting all risk to fade away just because you've said some magic words. A phrase is never an adequate substitute for PrEP, condoms, or a partner who is undetectable. Even if everyone is totally honest (including horny guys and drug-users), not everyone who is HIV-positive knows it. So asking people to self-select out of your dating pool is hardly a useful safer sex strategy. Grow up, pull your head out of fantasy land, and take control of your own sexual health. Using the phrase to filter guys is a little like "no fatties;" it demonstrates your shallowness and is only attractive to others who share the philosophy (who will also be the first to dump you if you gain 6 ounces or smell drank a little much at a party). It says, “you aren’t good enough and never will be.” Maybe that's why you say it? Because you want someone else to feel as toxic, discarded, unwanted by the world, and underserving sex and love — as you do?
The truth is, when you say these ten things, you don't just offend HIV-positive people. So don't be surprised if the next message you receive is "No bigots/Hate Free Only." Before you type ask yourself two questions: Am I taking control of my own sexual health? and Is this offensive to people living with HIV?