Okay, this is going to be a long one. And I’m going to try to stay calm. This is going to be about HIV.
A few days ago, I got a message from someone I had met a long while back through Grindr when I still had Grindr. We never met up but we used to talk about meeting up but it never happened. We stopped talking after awhile and I haven’t heard from him since. Then out of the blue, a few days ago, he messaged me and asked me if I remembered him. I said I did. Then he told me that he was diagnosed with HIV last month. He got infected from his live-in partner who he was together with for a year already.
Apparently, his live-in partner had known he had HIV since before they met and he never told my acquaintance of his status after one year of being in a relationship. Also, they wouldn’t use protection when they would have sex. He only found out about his partner after he tested positive and he confronted his partner about it. That’s how he found out.
As I was trying my best to stay calm and supportive, I could feel all these emotions taking over and rushing through me. I was really, really angry. I couldn’t contain myself any more and I ended up losing my cool and told my acquaintance that what his partner did was stupid, reckless, and wrong. I was angry. I was angry that someone would do that to someone he says he loves. How could someone with HIV knowingly sleep with his partner (or anybody, for that matter) without protection? I don’t get it.
I went to Twitter to vent out my frustration and put out a five tweets about how angry I was at the whole story with the message that people living with HIV should be more responsible to their sexual partners.
The sixth tweet was an afterthought.
I was livid. How can we do this to people? I got into a Twitter discussion with Jonas Bagas, a staunch HIV advocate about the dangers of assigning blame to just the person living with HIV (PLHIV) and that safe sex is a two-way issue. He said the other guy, my acquaintance, wasn’t blameless in the situation because he shouldn’t have slept with his partner without protection. He said:
And I understand where Jonas is coming from. Jonas is a true advocate and his work influences policy and he is fighting the good fight to end discrimination and stigma. He is working on a national, even international level (if I’m not mistaken), to fight for PLHIV rights and protection. Yes, there’s stigma and discrimination and we are often left in the fringes and he is fighting that fight and making sure that we are protected and our rights are being ensured. I understand where he is coming from: the language that I used can be misconstrued to say that it’s only the PLHIV who is to be blamed and is solely responsible.
But that’s not what I’m saying. I am not assigning blame or I don’t think I am, not directly. Safe sex is the responsibility of all parties involved. My acquaintance is much to blame as the PLHIV for getting infected.
But what I am angry about is that this is an individual case where a person who knew he had HIV, for whatever reason he may have, slept with another person without protection and never told his partner until he was discovered because my acquaintance found out that he was positive.
I know that PLHIVs have every right to be in a relationship if they want to be in one . They can and should have sex when they want to as long as it is safe and protected. I understand that not everyone can disclose their status to their partners. I understand it on cerebral level. It’s for their protection. I don’t condone or advocate it, though. I believe in full disclosure for every sexual act. But that’s me. And it’s easy for me to say because I’m public about my status. Every date I’ve been in since my diagnosis and every sexual encounter I’ve had since my diagnosis, I’ve always told the other person my HIV status because I believe that the person has the right to know and the right to choose.
Not telling someone that they have HIV and then sleeping with them without protection is irresponsible, selfish, and stupid. It’s reckless. It’s careless.It’s wrong.
We have an HIV epidemic in the Philippines right now. The reason that the HIV numbers are rising is because people who have HIV, whether they are aware of their status or not, are having sex with other people and infecting others. That’s the bottomline. It means that there are people who don’t know their status who are having unprotected, unsafe sex or there are PLHIVs who are having unprotected and unsafe sex.
And in my opinion, both counts are wrong. We should have a healthy sexual awareness as a society. We should not be afraid to have sex and to demand for safe, protected sex. We should be able to go and have an HIV test every three months, depending on your lifestyle, without judgment or discrimination. We should be able to decline any sexual encounter if it doesn’t involve protection and safety.
And I believe that, as a community, we have to do our part in stopping this virus from spreading. There are over 30,000 of us PLHIV already. As a community, we have to have the decency to insist on using protection when we decide to have sex with anyone. We have the virus so we have to be responsible for ourselves and for the people around us.
Yes, we have HIV, it sucks. But that’s what we have and we have to shoulder that responsibility. Aside from having to take care of ourselves, aside from having to face stigma and discrimination, we also have the added burden of insisting and demanding for safe sex. Because no one else is spreading HIV except for the people who have it.
If we still want to have sex, as PLHIVs, we need to be responsible about it otherwise I find it very difficult to champion a community’s rights when they don’t care about the rights of others. Disclosure is a different matter altogether. I am all for full disclosure but people who have really done the research and has gone into the grassroots of the advocacy has discovered that its best for disclosure to be a case-to-case basis and I will follow their lead about it. But if you aren’t going too disclose your status then you have to insist on condom use. Otherwise, don’t have sex. You aren’t mature enough to handle it.
When it comes to relationships, I have a different thinking altogether. If you are in a relationship with someone and you cannot tell your partner about your HIV status, I would really suggest you evaluate that relationship. If a relationship is based on trust and honesty, why are you in a relationship with someone who you cannot tell something as important as this? What kind of relationship is it that you have to hide your condition?
That’s the other thing that pisses me off about my acquaintance. Yes, he is to blame as well. HIV prevention and safe sex is a two-way street. But they were in a relationship for over a year and they were living together. I assumed that he believed his partner was negative and so he trusted his partner, the man who says he loves him and loves him enough to live with him, to tell him if there was anything he should be aware of. But that’s an assumption.
It would be great if we were in a society where new couples could take HIV tests together on their first or third month anniversary. Maybe we can make that a thing?
What made me so angry was that the PLHIV voluntarily entered a relationship with someone and didn’t tell his partner. Maybe I have different standards and requirements in being in a relationship but I’m not just going to get together with just anybody. If he cannot handle you having HIV then he shouldn’t be your partner. You deserve better. And anyone who leaves you because you have HIV is not someone you should be with anyway. It’s his loss, not yours. As a PLHIV, you deserve to be with someone who cares, who will try to understand, and who will take you in as you are.
And, yes, that’s going to make it really, really hard to find someone but that’s the added burden that we all have. It’s one of the reasons why I have been single since my diagnosis (thought there are so many reasons more than just HIV).
We have HIV now and we have so much more to think about everyday. We have to think about our health. We have to take our pills. We have to watch out for stigma and discrimination. And now, we have to be responsible and we have to always, vigilantly practise safe and protected sex.
We have to protect each other and everybody else. It’s our burden as a community. When we are careless, reckless, selfish, or stupid people get infected. We cannot afford to be careless or selfish anymore. We just can’t. There’s stigma and discrimination going on out there and we have to be better than what they think of us if we are going to have a chance to stop them from controlling and dictating our lives. We have to be better people if we want the stigma to end. If we keep acting recklessly and selfishly, they won’t stop discriminating against us. I believe that.
I am not going to ask PLHIVs to disclose their HIV status. It’s not my place to. I don’t know what your story is and I don’t know how difficult or challenging it is for you to disclose. But I can ask PLHIVs to please insist and demand for safe and protected sex when you find yourself in that position. Like everybody else, you deserve to still have sex if you want it, if you’re the type. No one should take it away from you. It’s your right. But it’s also the right of your partner, be it in a relationship or casual encounter, to be safe and protected.
You know your status so you have a responsibility.
Please be responsible.
Please be safe and protected.
Please protect and ensure the safety of others.
Please care enough and be decent enough to think of others.
We are instrumental in the fight against HIV. We are instrumental in the fight for acceptance. If you have been diagnosed with HIV, it is your responsibility to find out everything you can about it. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your counsellor and find out what you can and cannot do. Build your support system. Find people you trust; people who will support you and give you good advice. Surround yourself with good people and don’t get into a relationship until you can be completely honest and with someone you feel safe with. Otherwise, there’s no point.
Our lives are tough enough as it is living with HIV but it is our lives now and we have to do everything that we can to make it better. We can make it better but we have to do our part. We have to work on it. No one else is going to do it for us.