Dating Apps, Disclosure & HIV

Oops, I Forgot One Little Thing
My New Normal
by John Francis Leonard

So, I’ve taken that leap and faced the inevitable. In this modern age, an age in which my shadow will never again darken the door of a bar, bathhouse, or club, I will do what so many of my brethren now do. To meet the man of my dreams or to simply meet a man who will do for a few hours, I have to interact with one. In this day and age, that means a social app. In my last piece I talked about all the easy stuff. Taking pics and picking an app to start with. What I didn’t immediately think about was my HIV status; it’s not something I dwell on every minute especially when celibate, which I had been for some years at that point.

When and how to disclose? That’s the question. I couldn’t help but notice the many (-) symbols after many men’s profile names. Further reading of profiles revealed many dates of the man in question’s last test. Not a few spelled it out in what they were looking for, “drug and disease free.” This was even from men who were taking PrEP, and the risk of sex between someone undetectable and someone on PrEP is negligible. I couldn’t help but feel I was being shamed for being poz; I felt dirty somehow.

Now, to be clear I would never deny someone their choice of whom to have sex with but with a condom there’s little to no risk regardless of status. It seemed like I’d been transported back in time to a point in the crisis when men were afraid to have sex, with one glaring difference. As long as you gave your word that you were negative, tested the day before, and were on PrEP, it was open season and business as usual.

But, there were exceptions. Not so much locally in my small city where AIDS is largely ignored, but in the bigger cities I would see much less frequent (+) symbols. It was like a beacon of hope. I myself wasn’t ready to label myself as POZ yet, however. It’s simply not all of who and what I am. I would disclose when the time was right which was whenever the conversation turned to sex. I did meet a couple of guys locally who listed their status up front in this manner. Nice men, both of them, but not mind-blowing sexual experiences. It was refreshing, however, not to have to worry about transmission at all. Yes, I fully realize that there are other STDs. I’ll actually share that experience in a later column. (And, yes, I realize that there is some school of thought that warns of the rare possibility of reinfection.)

Now, I’m not perfect, and I have something to admit that I’m not proud of. On two occasions, I have not disclosed, but I engaged in safe sex only when I didn’t. One of these times was with a handsome, boy-next-door type that I couldn’t resist. He was in town for a short while for a family event and with one thing or another, it never came up. He came over and one thing led to another. We were kissing passionately when he pulled away and said he needed to tell me something. I don’t know why I was so surprised but he confessed that he was poz. Funnily enough my first reaction was to wonder why he hadn’t told me! Am I a hypocrite or what? I soon made my own confession and we actually laughed about it and got back to business; we enjoyed each other physically and really meshed that night. Another nice thing was spending a little time together in each other’s arms talking, especially about what had just transpired and what had led us to hold back such an important fact. We talked about the stigma and rejection we had both experienced and how we had both just needed to be with someone that night. He left for a business trip the next morning and mostly because we live on opposite sides of the country, we haven’t kept in touch. I remember that night both well and fondly however and if he’s ever in town again, I hope he gets in touch.

So, I’m left with mixed feelings. Feelings about hook-ups as opposed to dates, feelings on listing my status in my profile (I still have not), feelings about being on the apps when I’m now starting a still new and long-distance relationship. It’s a mixed bag and, as it is true of many humans, I am a study in contradictions.

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for twelve years.