So this is the thing…you can’t tell who has HIV by looking. That we already know. That we learned in primary school in the nineties. “Anyone can have HIV.” That is a fact.
Fact number two: People lie.
Your mother should have told you this when you were six years-old. People lie all the time. In fact eighty percent of people lie at least three times in the first five minutes of meeting a new person.
And the third thing—the most important thing—the thing that we should all remember—is that no one and I do mean NO ONE can “give” you HIV.
Sex is consensual. If you accepted a penis without a condom into your body you also accept the known risk that accompanies that behavior. And if at some point after said interaction you become HIV-positive, the responsibility lies solely on your shoulders.
Because to go over the facts again:
1. You can’t tell who has HIV by looking.
2. People lie all the time about everything.
3. Unprotected sex requires personal consent.
We are not wide-eyed creatures innocently frolicking through forests of candy-coated penises. This is not some Disney cartoon where we relinquish our responsibility just because we were “kissed” by an HIV-positive prince. Adults are responsible for their own protection, because outside of the context of rape (and we are not talking about rape), no one can “give” you anything without your expressed or implied consent; however, just a few months ago a young man was convicted of just that.
Michael Johnson was slammed with thirty years to life for “recklessly infecting another with HIV.” As if it is possible to just maliciously slap someone on the back with the virus and suddenly they have it. It does not work that way. The likelihood of seroconversion is not a simple science of “one exposure equals one infection”—and even if it were, someone has to open their legs first. And many many eager white boys opened their legs for this young black HIV-positive man who went by the handle of Tiger Mandingo.
This is the thing that terrifies me. I’m black. I’m attractive. I have a big penis. I like sex with white guys. I sometimes wear my sexuality on my sleeve like a leather daddy in a pride parade. I don’t always make the best sexual choices. And most incriminating…even though I am HIV-positive, I don’t always use condoms. I don’t always use condoms because I’m an adult and I live in America. And in this country we have the freedom to make complicated morally ambiguous choices for ourselves. Disclosure is obviously a huge part of my vocabulary (and perhaps part of my saving grace), but at least one of the people Michael Johnson was convicted of “attempting to recklessly infect with HIV” was well aware of his status on the multiple occasions they had sex. And yet, still this young black HIV-positive man was convicted of a thirty-year sentence. Am I next? Is some jilted lover that I dated a million years ago going to decide that they no longer want to take responsibility for our interactions and press charges against my known HIV status? In fact what’s to stop someone who I have never had sex with (but only passed casually in a bathhouse) from pressing charges falsely? And God knows I’ve been with more people than I can actually remember, so then even the idea of what is fact becomes fuzzy.
Luckily I live in California which is an “intention” state. One would have to prove that I intentionally intended to infect someone with HIV, which obviously, based on the rules stated above, is nigh impossible in a consensual interaction. But for how long am I safe? How long until the witch-hunt comes for all of us? How long until making love becomes a jail sentence? How long until making mature complicated personal decisions about how and with whom we choose to have consensual sex becomes a matter for the courts? It is already happening!! And I promise you the young handsome black man named Michael Johnson who was vilified and crucified as Tiger Mandingo is only the first to fall.
What if I’m next?
I admit it. This is not a well thought out article in a magazine. This is a personal rant! A frantic call to action! An irate bell ringing in the night! Let us not let this go unchallenged. The easy thing to do is to say that we are not like him. He was a sex worker, he was a whore, he was dishonest about his status, he was sloppy, and stupid, and callous, and he had lots and lots of partners….But imagine the things they will say about you once the torch is lit and the fair citizens of the city are chasing you through the streets.
This is what they will say about me: “He was a whore, he was deliberately unsafe when having sex (he even wrote articles about it), he used phone apps to find sexual partners, he dated guys who were negative, he was sloppy, he was stupid, he was callous and he had lots and lots of partners….”
And they will say the same thing about you.
Corey Saucier is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and Non-Fiction and is currently penning his first novel. His musings and wanderings on Love, Life, and Nonsense can be found at www.justwords.tumblr.com.