I was recently asked a very interesting question regarding how “accepting” people were of my HIV status at IML. My first reaction was, “Well of course attendees to IML are accepting of HIV” but then I thought about it a bit more. Not everyone’s experiences are mine and vise versa. So I will share my experience…
While wandering in and out of the hotel I immediately clicked with this little hottie who was new to the leather-scene. We hung out and alcohol was flowing… We bounced from party to party and it was easy to forget that there was something that made me a little different; I am HIV positive. As the night went along, I knew that there was a conversation that would need to be had. On one hand, I could simply withhold the news regarding my HIV positive status and go against everything that I stood for; on the other hand I could disclose and completely ruin any chance that I had with this hottie.
Well there was really no choice; I knew what I had to do… I had to disclose. For anyone who is HIV positive, disclosure is something that places you in a vulnerable position… a position that allows you to be rejected. There were people around and I did not want to pull him to the side, I simply texted the following, “I don’t want to weird you out. It doesn’t really matter since we are not doing anything and it doesn’t put you at risk. I am HIV poz but undetectable. You are really sexy. I understand whatever your thoughts are but I would never place you at risk. I wanted you to know.”
Normally this is not a conversation that I would have via text message however it is sometimes the safest medium for difficult conversations. I hit the send button and watched as he read the message. I waited… nothing. Well it was late and everyone in the hotel crashed. The next day the hottie got up and went on his way and I was left to think about the previous night’s perceived rejection due to my HIV positive status. I sulked around the hotel and I spoke to several leather-men who I admire and look up to. They both offered their words of wisdom and they both agreed that I did the right thing for disclosing. My friend even went on to provide an example of how he approaches the conversation with people. As I spoke to two of the wisest people I know, Jon and DJ, something was said that definitely resonated with me, “sometimes you plant a seed and that experience of disclosure sets the stage for future interactions with those who are HIV positive.” In my mind however I was rejected and I had this huge “HIV POSITIVE” and “DAMAGED GOODS” tattooed on my forehead.
After milling around in the market it finally hit me. 1) The news that I had given to the hottie was a lot to digest. 2) He did not get up and run away, a reaction that believe it or not I have experienced once before. 3) Ultimately I had stuck by my principles and disclosed my status even though I knew that it might result in me being rejected.
Later that evening the tone from my iphone signaled that I had just received a text message. As you might imagine I was elated to see that it was the hottie from the night prior. He was not running scared but instead was texting me that he wanted to hang out that evening. We end up having a deep conversation at the Victory Party and without doubt I feel as if I have a friend for life. There are all types of connections that we make with people and not all intimacy is sexual. Sometimes we are lucky enough to make that connection with a person who allows you to learn about yourself and to grow.
So to that person that asked about how “accepting” people are of my HIV positive status at IML, I say this… people might react positively or negatively but in the end that is more about who they are instead of who you are. Whether they accept my status or not, I am still HIV positive and I have nothing to be ashamed about. In this situation I allowed the perceived stigma of HIV to affect me when in reality I was stigmatizing myself.