The slippery soapbox

I foolishly got involved in a heated online discussion about HIV and dating and disclosure this weekend. Foolish, that is, because in the midst of a lot of passionate — and often mean-spirited &mdash opinions firing back and forth, I chimed in without really anticipating that in the true spirit of the internet someone would anonymously choose to be a real asshole, and it would really rattle me. Aside from that unpleasantness, though, I made a few points that are probably worth sharing.

It all started with this anonymous post, which hits very close to home:

I’ve been dating someone and have recently discovered their HIV status. I do like the person but don’t think I can carry on seeing them because I over worry that somehow I will catch the virus. I will forever worry that somehow I’ll catch it. And I’ll worry what will happen if they get sick.

Does this make me a bad person? To end a relationship because of this?

To which I replied:

This is why I barely even try anymore. Sigh.

I was talking about why I’m a bit reluctant to date or even look about that much these days, but judging from the nature of some things that came up later I think some people may have assumed that I don’t even try to tell guys my status. But as things developed I tried to avoid the fray and pitch in some calm, reasoned opinions now and then, such as:

Also, consider that talking to him about your worries may give him a chance to talk about his own. Even if things don’t work out, you might both get a lot out of getting it off your chests.

[Someone else, later]: This isn’t a competition.

[Me responding]: It’s not about a competition or whose feelings count for more: relationships of any kind never are. But it’s not bad to try and see the other person’s side of it while you think about how to handle the situation.

This was mostly a quick aside referring back to the original poster’s situation, and I stayed out of the fray while conversation/argument developed. It hit that point were people were shouting statistics and risk assessment and moral judgement back and forth, and I eventually felt compelled to say something a little more thoughtful about the personal side of things:

In the decade or so that I’ve been dealing with being positive, it’s been occasionally difficult but mostly helpful to be up-front about my status. Although I know my candor has made it easier for some other people — infected and not — to understand things better, I’ve always spoken up because it makes things easier for me to handle.

I’d rather write about it or acknowledge it in my own terms, at my own pace and let other people figure out their feelings without either one of us being put on the spot. The truth is that I really do feel a burden of responsibility when I’m with negative guys, if only because I’ve usually been the one who’s dealt with serodiscordance and its hassles. It’s fucking stressful, and I’d rather avoid it being a surprise.

Disclosure has often been easy, but not always. As much as I try to think of the whole thing as just a health situation, the truth is that I find it really hard to ignore all the judgement and the emotional baggage that the world around me — not all of it, but certainly enough of it — attach to HIV. Sadly, it’s a disease that’s a convenient focal point for a lot of strong feelings that apply to all kinds of situations. I really, really like to shield myself from that. I have enough to fret about, and frankly dealing with people who treat me like I’m radioactive — consciously or not — is more trouble than it’s worth.

I understand why someone who’s negative would have misgivings about getting involved with someone like me who’s not. Honestly, it goes both ways. But that’s also why I like to bring it up: I may not want to make the effort to deal with YOUR status unless I think you’re really great.

Things raged on in other directions while I was off having a nice day, but the subject overall had gotten under my skin, so I later wrote:

[Someone else]: If negative people want 100% disclosure, then they should be the ones actively creating an environment so that that can happen.

I think a lot of the back-and-forth comes down to this. Like I said, I really do think that I and other folk with HIV ought to disclose, for a bunch of reasons. But the occasional awful reactions I’ve had to being candid have also made it a really awkward thing to do in many cases, and I really do understand why guys may avoid it, regardless of whether or not they should. Emotional risks, after all, feel just as valid as physical risks when you’re in the thick of things.

So maybe we do have the duty to disclose, but realistically everyone who would like us to disclose every time for his sake ought to be doing every damn thing in his power to help create a culture that encourages us to do so without it being a big deal. Then it gets better for everyone involved. That’s definitely not the vibe that I see arising out of this issue EVERY DAMN TIME it comes up again around here, or elsewhere.

[A question about how that works is raised]

You publicly encourage a culture that makes private disclosure easy. As in, you try to handle it well and you convince other people that they should try to handle it well, too. Like when you call people out because they’re being racist, or sexist, or mean to your friends. It’s not easy to get people to treat each other respectfully, but it’s not rocket science, either. Slow and steady wins the race.

It got pretty ugly after this, with some anonymous person firing off some pretty mean quips — general ones, and a couple about me in particular — that really hit below the belt, and referring to me as an “AIDSTER”. Happily, there was a much-needed show of support, but when someone commended me for having a thick skin, I had to point out that I definitely do not:

Like I said, it’s easier for me to talk about it in a way that lets me offer my perspective carefully and lucidly. I don’t mind people knowing: it fends off guys who don’t think they can handle the situation, and that makes life less complicated. And being candid, and trying to be helpful, is also my contribution (I hope) to making it easier for other guys to talk about it. In ten years, this is the first time I’ve run into this kind of shear meanness, and I’ve got to say: it fucking stings.

I withdrew from the proceedings after this. It was too obvious to me that my feelings were becoming pretty raw, and I was letting myself get dragged into a debate that I took too personally. It’s complicated, to say the least, to navigate the physical, emotional, and social waters of this situation. Even though I often think I’ve successfully made my peace with those challenges, I’m still reminded that the wounds run deep.

3 thoughts on “The slippery soapbox”

  1. I’m sorry (but not surprised) that you got so much crap from anonymous internet assholes. I’m sorry and surprised that people somehow can’t understand that common decency and compassion make things better for everyone involved, especially in relationships. Treat people with respect–what’s so hard to grasp about this?

  2. Debates online are too planned you have ← and ctrl + z plus an almost unlimited time frame. Most folks will also add an extra 2″ to their cock and remain anonymous. In reality they’re probably morbidly obese and fantasizing about having a manga character as a fuck buddy.
    The results of this argument would be totally different if it was face to face. There would have been much more of an emotional response from all participating. I wouldn’t fret about this, there’s more important stuff in life than debating with strangers online.
    Take it easy dude!

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