Majorities tend to be silent, just like the overwhelming majority of gay men — that is, the (approximately) four out of five gay men who are HIV-negative — who rarely initiate conversations about HIV.
Now, in many ways, this makes perfect sense, because being HIV-negative is, in a way, born out of a bunch of nothingnesses. The only way a person knows they’re negative is because their test results have indicated an absence of antibodies to HIV; nothing was detected, nothing’s there. Plus, lightning can strike, so an element of luck is involved no matter how risk-averse you’ve been (though, certainly, some gay men are “luckier” than others in this respect, if you catch my drift). Also, a person is interested in hearing not that they are HIV-negative but that they aren’t HIV-positive. Having heard that, they breeze out of the clinic with the knowledge that HIV is absent in their bloodstream, and by the time they’re halfway down the street, HIV has pretty much evaporated from their psyche too. And, being negative isn’t a guaranteed permanent, so there’s only so far it can be affixed to identity.
However, despite HIV being present in gay sexual networks since at least the mid 1970s, most gay men have remained negative, and annual rates of infection have remained relatively stable for decades. This must mean, surely, that millions of gay men around the world have actually been engaged with the idea of staying negative and have known themselves to be negative, in some cases for decades now. Yet there’s no fraternal vibe among HIV-negative men, no thrust of any kind of HIV-negative identity, and I wish this were different.
I think that if HIV-negative men were more assertive about their status, they could take on a fairer share of responsibility in regard to HIV prevention. Remember, being HIV-negative means that you have an HIV status — an absence of antibodies doesn’t mean an absence of status. If you’re negative, you have a HIV status: you’re HIV-negative. HIV-positive men have their own HIV status to manage. It’s not their responsibility to manage yours too, but it seems that they’re expected/demanded to do so by most negatives I know.
For example, positive men are expected (and in some parts of the world required by law) to disclose to potential sex partners the fact that they’re positive. I’m negative, but I think I can imagine how awkward disclosure can be, because the few times I said I’m negative pre-sex, the room temperature plunged, and instantly too. And it didn’t warm back up again, either. Yet as far as I understand it, the intended beneficiary of disclosure is the HIV-negative person, but it’s the HIV-positive person who is obliged to play benefactor.
Having said that, disclosure isn’t always an easy thing to hear, either. So if disclosure is going to be a drag for everyone, then I think everyone should be expected to play an equal part. So maybe it might it make a difference if HIV-negative individuals got in first, disclosure-wise, and announced their status. It can’t hurt to try, can it?
Moreover, many negatives expect positives to be relentlessly responsible in managing their status. There’s an expectation that positives will stick with their meds and other routines and stay undetectable. This is not so much because negatives care about the benefits to positives of being and remaining undetectable, but because an undetectable positive is less likely to infect a negative.
And then negatives expect positives to be exuberantly irresponsible with their status when negatives feel like toying with a bit of risk when they’re playing around with a positive guy, or even when they want to get off on some 20 Load Weekend porn. But of course, if a new infection results from a night where a negative took a step or two on the wild side, it’s the positive who gets to wear the blame and the shame.
I doubt any of this circumspection among negatives is helping prevent new infections, and none of it seems particularly fair to HIV-positive men, either, so if you are negative and you want to give yourself the best possible chance of staying that way and do your part in the general effort against the perpetuation of the epidemic, then open your mouth and be clear about who you are and what you’re up for. Say you are HIV-negative, and that you plan to stay that way, and act accordingly. Words sometimes do speak louder than actions. If you think barebacking’s lame, and some guy of whatever HIV status wants do to it that way with you or just brings it up in general conversation, tell him what you really think about it.
That’s the other reason that the silence of the negatives frustrates me. Having chosen to be as risk-averse as possible, for decades, in some cases, and therefore letting entire paths of your sexuality grow dark with cobwebs, why say nothing in rebuttal when some members of the minority, in order to make their own narratives more comfortable, dismiss your experiences and mock your choices? Take Mark S. King, for example. He’s an HIV-positive blogger who also writes blog posts here on The Huffington Post. On his personal blog, one of his most recent blog posts was titled “Your Mother Liked It Bareback.” Incidentally, when I showed that title to my mother, a retired nurse who’s lived her entire life in an Australian coal mining town, all she had to say was, “Who’s this dickhead?” And let me say I had a great time answering her question in detail. Anyway, in the post, King wrote:
Somehow, we have come to the homophobic conclusion that when gay men engage in the romantic, emotional, spiritual act of intercourse without a barrier we label it psychotic barebacking, but when straight people do it we call it sex. This double standard is ludicrous. Your mother barebacked. It is a natural and precious act that has been going on, quite literally, since the beginning of mankind. Abraham (barebacked and) begat Isaac; and Isaac (barebacked and) begat Jacob; and Jacob (barebacked and) begat Judas and his brethren (Matthew 1:2). … Maybe you have the uncanny ability to enjoy sex while your penis is wrapped in latex. … Or perhaps, by whatever Olympian discipline you possess, you are capable of using a condom each and every time you have sex, no matter what. You are to be commended, and you are, regrettably, in the minority.
It’s flabbergasting that someone in King’s position (he’s been an advocate, speaker and educator in the HIV sector since he was diagnosed in 1985) would not know (or pretend not to know) that gay men do need to rely more on condom use than straight men (and women) do. This is because gay men continue to account for more than half of the HIV-positive population in the U.S., and this is because the risk of HIV transmission during sex between men is much, much higher than it is during sex between opposite-sex partners. Therefore, a different attitude about gay men not using condoms and straight men not using them makes perfect sense. There’s no double standard here, much less a “ludicrous” one.
As for King’s biblical references, if gay pride rhetoric has come to the point where people as gay-engaged as King have started quoting from the Bible to prove points about gay sex — the main strategy deployed by anti-gay groups such the Westboro Baptist Church — well, I’ll just leave that one with you.
It insults me when King shows such contempt for people like me, insistent negatives who don’t feel like Olympians when we do something that we and many other gay men do 99.9 percent of the time we have sex where fucking is involved: use a condom. Note King’s choice of language when he contrasts the “romantic, emotional, spiritual” appeals of barebacking with “the uncanny ability to enjoy sex while your penis is wrapped in latex.” If the man can’t see beyond his own personal pleasures, then perhaps he should reconsider speaking in the public forum. I wish more negative bloggers would join in the rebuttal to the mean-spirited propaganda being peddled by King (and others — sadly, he is not alone).
So I wish more HIV-negative men would be more positive about being negative, and talk about it, and write about it, and defend the sex we tend to have, and the decisions we feel we’ve needed to make, and the things we feel we’ve had to go without, and the truths we want to tell. We are all responsible for continuing the conversation, but we (people of either status) also have a responsibility to talk to each other with compassion and empathy, but most of all with honesty.
What are your thoughts on this article? Agree? Disagree? Share your opinion below.
(Note: This article does not necessarily represent the opinions of Paul Morris or Treasure Island Media. We felt it right to post one mans perception, allowing each of you to digest what he shared, and form your own opinion. We look forward to hearing what you think.)