Am I shallow?
I love your column—you’ve taught me a lot and I’m a new gay man, so thanks.
I realized I was gay four years ago as a 40-year-old “straight” man with older teen kids. I immediately told my wife (we later divorced) and kids, and slowly settled the family and then came out publicly and started dating about a year ago.
These were the first ever gay experiences in my life—holding, hugging, oral, and eventually real sex with the last guy. I’m absolutely scared shitless of AIDS. I really want to stay alive and well for my kids&Mac226; sake.
The sixth guy I dated in as many months swept me off my feet. He’s been out for 25 years. We were so happy and compatible. I’m extremely cautious and although we were unprotected a few times I almost always forced us to use condoms. He was negative when we met, I saw his test, but when we went a month ago for testing—he was poz. I’m still neg. HIV has always been a major fear of mine, and more so now, seeing how sick he is with the medication.
I don’t want to have sex anymore, and can’t rationally see ever having it again. There really is only safer sex—not guaranteed safe sex, especially with a poz partner. I guess if we love each other enough, no sex again shouldn’t matter… but I don’t know how possible that is. Sex is important to him and I’m not ready to stop something that I missed my whole life. The fact that I’m wondering, does it mean I don’t love deeply enough? Am I a shallow, narcissistic guy?
Re: Am I shallow?
Someone you’ve come to care a great deal about is going through hell, testing positive after 25 years of navigating HIV. And you’re thinking of leaving him. Does that mean you’re shallow and narcissistic? No.
But you definitely are very much afraid. As a newly out person you have a lot of misconceptions. It’s not your fault—it’s the fault of a society that doesn’t educate us on being gay (and certainly about HIV), even as these days it seduces us to think that gay is everywhere, thanks to “Will & Grace” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Of course, those television shows don’t discuss the life-threatening issues we face, so it’s no wonder most people are still in the dark and succumb to the alarmism that the media fostered for years.
The issue here is protecting yourself and you have had it all backward. For someone who is “scared shitless” of AIDS, you actually put yourself at risk in the past. You say that you were “unprotected a few times” though “almost always” made sure you used condoms. But that’s not good enough. Of course, for someone who was just out, you had a lot better judgment that your long openly gay partner, who was more inclined to throw caution to the wind, and obviously did. So, your instincts are good, even if you’ve got some phobias around HIV that you’ve got to deal with.
This dose of reality should have made you realize that you must always protect yourself, and it should strengthen your resolve to do that—no matter what the HIV status of your partner is. It should have taught you that even if your partner says he’s negative he might not remain that way, and it should tell you that, as long you’re safe you’ll remain negative, even if your partner is positive.
Instead, you’ve gone the other way, afraid to have sex with him at all. It’s not the sex that will make you become infected; it’s unsafe sex. True, there is only “safer” sex, as you say. But you also might get hit by a bus if you cross the street, so, according to your logic, why even go outside?
If you always use a condom for anal sex you’ll protect yourself from HIV, and if you go further and use condoms for oral sex, you will be safer still. You could even choose other options, such as not having him ejaculate inside of you even with the condom, or refraining from receptive (and even insertive) anal sex altogether.
The idea that you would choose to make the relationships sexless—which you seem to realize is futile—or leave the relationship altogether, is sad and unrealistic. If you leave this relationship you’ll be back at square one all over again. You’ll meet someone else eventually, and you’ll go and get tested together—and then what? If he tests negative, there’s no guarantee he’llremain that way. And if he tests positive, do you run away again?
There are thousands and thousands of examples across the country and around the world of sero-discordant gay couples—couples in which one is positive and one is negative—who have safe, hot sex and who remain sero-discordant. Many have been with one another throughout the entirety of the AIDS epidemic and have active sex lives.
You’ve found someone with whom you groove, which is not an easy thing. It’s true that in the end you might not be able to overcome your fears, nor might you be able to be the supportive person your boyfriend needs right now. Also, you and he may just fizzle out as the relationship itself might not have been meant to be for other reasons.
And he may have issues of his own—his becoming infected after all of these years does raise some concerns—which might impact your going further.
But the best gift I think you can give yourself this holiday season—in a time of orange alerts, no less—is to speak with a counselor, confront your fears, and let the relationship take its own path rather than let terror rule your life.
E-mail Michelangelo Signorile