Love as the Best Intervention
The humanity of living with HIV is often lost with so much focus on treatment and prevention. The fact is we talk way too much about the fight and not about the complete, complex human experiences of people living full lives after diagnosis. We fail to recognize the chosen families this condition creates and the strong loving partnerships formed by a common understanding of living with the virus. We don’t usually discuss what it’s like to love while HIV-positive or how love is in fact the most crucial of survival tactics and key to successful long-term suppression.
Your whole approach to love can change after diagnosis. There wasn’t a sense of pressure for me to find a partner, but my search for both romantic and platonic love became much more intentional. Being confronted with your own vulnerability and mortality makes you consider all the things you’re actually looking for with the time you have and in the relationships you cultivate. We know that we can live long lives with this virus, but the quality of the time ahead becomes priority.
What I Now Know For Sure
It’s true that in many ways people who are poz navigate love and sex like anyone else. Much of the same wisdom applies to our love lives. We learn many of the same lessons, sometimes the hard way. And there must be so much I’ve yet to learn. One takeaway from my dating experiences thus far has been that loving myself fully and first is a must before I can love someone else in the way they need; RuPaul is right. More importantly though, I’ve also learned that we attract people who love us in ways that mimic how we love ourselves. When our self-love practice is found lacking, the love we receive from a partner will often match. My most recognizable barrier to adequate self-love over the years has been guilt I carried surrounding my seroconversion. In the past, blaming myself for acquiring the virus led me to accepting unhealthy relationships that I believed I deserved. Difficult conversations with myself and with a therapist were necessary to sort it out.
Throughout my twenties, one monogamous commitment was followed by another. My longest relationship was just shy of five years. Those were my first five years being poz, actually. It’s the relationship that taught me to take full control of my health. They were my second adult relationship and my second partner with HIV. Having dated Black men exclusively but across a range of ages and education levels, not once have I been with someone who was HIV-negative. We’re talking about a span of twelve years and counting. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding a serodiscordant relationship, though I know it’s simpler to date someone who is knowledgeable and personally familiar with HIV. The paths I’ve crossed romantically in Boston, in Charlotte, and now in D.C. have all happened to be similar to mine in the way of coming through a tough diagnosis and feverish Atripla dreams. It really speaks to the prevalence of the epidemic among Black gay men, in a way that statistics can only show abstractly. Much of what you really need to know about the virus doesn’t come from those statistics but from loving people who are living with this.
What I know to be true, despite what you may see depicted, is that HIV-positive people find both lovers and deep, lasting love among each other. From conversations with poz peers, actually, it’s preferred. And as much as loving while poz and loving someone who is poz is an education in human fortitude, it’s revolutionary in quite the same way Marlon Riggs noted the love between Black gay men. For Black gay men who are HIV-positive then, as well as for the people who love and sleep with them, love and sex are doubly radical or revolutionary. At thirty, I know for sure that love after diagnosis is not only possible, but how we’ll endure and have endured. It’s the intervention of learning to love ourselves and each other defiantly and passionately that will beat HIV in our individual bodies and within whole communities.