Who Is Straight, Bi, Gay, HIV- Negative or Positive?
Thank you for your contribution to the discussion of HIV disclosure to sex partners.
Me, John and Pedro were chatting over coffee recently, as we listened to John’s dating woes. John identifies himself as a straight man and he has not been having much luck on the dating scene for a while. Pedro convinced John to get out of his slump and try something new – Blendr, the straight version of Grindr, to search for a potential female date. Pedro helped John set up an account and a few days later when we met up again Pedro asked John how it was going on Blendr. John explained how he was getting lots of responses in the form of messages and lascivious pics, but they were indeed from men. Men who purported to be straight, flexing their abs in topless pics. John was perplexed as he was certain Blendr was for heterosexual dating and he decided to ignore the responses. Pedro had a discussion with John about the dating scene and the many surprises to be found there. I can certainly vouch for that and added my two cents worth of surprising experiences. As part of what was deemed as practical problem solving, Pedro asked John to forward all the messages he had received to him, and he would follow them up as possible leads for his own gay hook ups, a move that proved rather advantageous for Pedro, as he got a date from one of them.
As I listened to this story several thoughts came to mind. One’s sexuality is of course very fluid, so why do people have to identify with a specific preference? If someone has more than one sexual preference, why not just say so? Is it for the same reason that many people do not simply state their HIV status outright to sexual partners – stigma and risk of being rejected? If people are struggling to acknowledge their sexuality which is not straightforward, how do they sort out their HIV status, which carries even more stigma and risk?
How do they know when they go on Blendr or Grindr what a person’s HIV status is? Do people claim to be negative as of their last HIV test, which could have been months ago? Do HIV-positive people claim to be negative to avoid all the bashing, rejection and discrimination they would receive if they openly declared their status? Does anyone know with certainty what their status is or what their sexual preferences are? I do know from speaking to many people living with HIV that those who do openly declare their status on a dating site perceive themselves automatically at a disadvantage, experiencing an imbalance in power, with the odds of finding a date working against them. Some people who outwardly show support of people living with HIV take advantage of any opening to let the world know they aren’t HIV positive but their very good friend, colleague, fellow activist is. Is this a way of clarifying those feelings of guilt by association -“it’s not me, it’s him”. Why is it necessary to point this out? Who cares? There must be a concern about perception that many people do in fact care or they would not be clarifying their status, at a given opportunity. A status that can easily change.
After mulling over these thoughts I understand better how declaring one’s sexual preference is not as easy as it seems. If there is so much stigma about sexuality, the struggle to encourage acceptance of one’s HIV status on the dating scene seems even more challenging, and at times outright discouraging. Stigma is deeply embedded in all of us, whether we care to acknowledge it or not. The dating scene, is not easy, without questions of sexuality and HIV status. After a brief experience with online dating John decided it was not his preferred method of meeting women, and deleted his profile.
Although this was a unique way to announce their status, by tagging it onto a public wall as graffiti, I would not recommend it. Because status changes often and they may have to go back and change their tag. As many changes take place, the city will not appreciate the growing mess on the walls and the time and costs involved of cleaning it up. Can we do it on dating sites instead, where the mess can be cleaned up by simply clicking on the edit button? I do not have immediate answers for these dilemmas. As mentioned they were thoughts evoked by John’s experience on Blendr that I felt compelled to write about to remind those who are not aware, how oppressive sexuality and HIV can be on many levels.