From the Windy City Media Group…
by Lawrence Ferber
Hearing the words “I’m HIV-positive” made Bryan* ( names and some details have been changed ) freeze. A 23-year-old graphic designer, Bryan had met a guy at a Boystown gay club, a svelte 25-year-old tourist, Zach, with whom he danced, drank and laughed. Around 1 a.m., just before heading to Zach’s hotel for more private activities together, Zach disclosed his positive HIV status. His viral load was undetectable—successfully suppressed with a drug regimen to the point it was low to no risk for transmission; also, he was clear of other STDs and he packed an ample supply of condoms.
Bryan declined to go back with him, though, offering a politely worded excuse rather than saying what he really thought: “I don’t sleep with HIV-positive guys.” Zach, however, had heard those words, or variations of the same, more than a few times since his diagnosis a couple of years ago, and he could see them clearly in Bryan’s green eyes. He felt like shit—judged and tainted—and while Zach wouldn’t lie and tell someone he was negative, he understood why so many others in his shoes have and do. Bryan ended up getting lucky a couple of hours later at another bar with Alex, an architect-in-training who said he was negative.
There’s a twist: Bryan, in fact, was positive, although he wouldn’t find out that until six months later, when he got tested for the first time in almost three years—something he put off because, in the back of his mind, he was concerned about a bareback encounter with someone he met on Grindr who, the next day, deleted his profile and disappeared, as if in a magic poof of smoke.
“Stigma is really damaging on both ends,” said Matthew Rodriguez of the comprehensive HIV/AIDS resource site The Body. “For negative people, stigma can sometimes stop them from getting tested. If they feel they did anything that put them at risk, they may not want to get tested because the result may be devastating. I think it also stops people from interacting with those living with HIV as full people. People just look at you as a status, as a virus.”
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