Relations Between Poz And Neg Men Need Work
8/23/2012 3:00:00 PM
By Alex Garner
We live in a sero-discordant world and you would think that thirty-one years into the epidemic we would have made great strides in the relations between poz and neg men. However, it’s increasingly clear that is not the case. While we do have some exceptional and strong relationships between the statuses there lingers a great deal of shame, judgment, fear, distrust, blame and frustration in the community. Can we get to a place of better understanding between poz and neg men?
The recent Gawker article, “Please Don’t Infect Me, I’m Sorry,” attempts to explore the complicated sexual relationships between poz and neg men. The headline is wildly sensationalistic and the piece is problematic in many ways but it’s a candid description of one man’s experience. I admire the writer’s honesty even if some of his facts are inaccurate and he’s is a jumble of contradictions. It epitomizes the gay male experience –contradictions and inaccuracies. And lots of fear.
Our sex life is all about the contradictions of risk and pleasure. When we see a hot guy we’d like to have sex with we either worry he could give us a disease or that he’ll reject us because of our disease. Of course the levels of fear and desire fluctuate depending on just how attracted we are to the guy in question.
We also have to sort out all the mixed messages we receive. HIV prevention often stretches the boundaries of truth in order to scare men into using condoms or getting tested. The CDC says one thing but a local AIDS organization might say something different. Is oral sex safe? Does reinfection really exist? Right now we’re seeing plenty of mixed messages around the PrEP debate. The whole thing is more complicated then it needs to be and it only creates confusion and inaction.
There are a number of simple things gay men can do to get a handle on the facts, their risks, and their sex lives.
First, we need to be proactive. There is plenty of factual information at our disposal. We have to be better at knowing where to find it and critically analyzing it. And if we need help we should ask for it. It’s our body and our health. What’s the point of gay liberation if we aren’t going to taking control of our lives?
Get the facts, stay informed and know how best to reduce harm. If you have the information and you’ve taken control you won’t be scared of sex. Being scared of sex is unhealthy and a life of fear is no way to live.
I want to remind all negative men that positive men were negative once too. Most of us can still remember the challenges of living life as a negative man. When we were negative some of us even rejected poz guys or stigmatized them. We understand where it’s coming from and we want to help you work through it. I’m happy to talk to any and all negative guys about HIV. I welcome all questions, especially the ones you think might be offensive.
For the poz guys out there, we’ve got to be a little patient and remind ourselves of what it means to be negative. At the same time we have to do a better job of speaking openly and honestly about our experiences. We shouldn’t be ashamed and we don’t have to defend ourselves. We just have to tell the truth. If our honesty threatens prevention, then prevention needs to do a better job.
Finally, let’s put disclosure into perspective. In the grand scheme of things it’s useless. It’s a one-way street that places the entire burden on positive men. Disclosure only tells you if someone is HIV-positive. It can never tell us with 100% certainty that someone is HIV-negative. So why do we place so much emphasis on it?
Disclosure should be seen as something aspirational. Like when a guy’s profile says he has a 9-inch penis. We take it with a grain of salt and it doesn’t radically change the risks we are willing to take.
Gay men need to figure out what risk levels work for them and be ok with it. There are plenty of options – PrEP, treatment as prevention, strategic positioning, condoms, etc.
And let’s remind ourselves, gay men are not liars. Not all poz guys are lying about their status and not every boyfriend is a cheat. Our lives are complicated and honesty can be hard. But it’s nothing new. At some point, each of us decided we wanted to come out and live honestly as a gay man. So let’s continue with that honesty while extending trust. We can’t build a community if there is no trust.
The lives of neg and poz men are intricately intertwined. We marry each other, fuck each other and build friendships with each other. Our relationships built this community. The better we understand each other the stronger we will be as individual and as a community.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/alexgarnerla and join me on Facebook.