I wanted to send him the link to "Being Positive:Ted Talk." I had the impulse to reach out to an ex-boyfriend after a 7-month breakup. I wanted to share feelings I wasn't able to articulate yet had experienced. Feelings of HIV stigma that I was to be feared, that I was infected, and sexual intimacy with me was a risk. I didn't send the link. I blogged instead, reaching out to my community of awesome educated women living with HIV. I love you, you are an inspiration to my empowerment!
I have lived for 20 years with the belief that I was a health risk to sexual partners.
2016: U=U. Undetectable = Untransmittable. I had been undetectable since 2004 and still lived with the stigma I could transmit HIV to others and was to be feared. In 2018, I discovered the U=U campaign randomly as an HIV survey participant. This was new information for me. I knew transmission from woman to man was less likely and I was undetectable on HAART. The U=U campaign supported scientific evidence that I could experience normal healthy sexual intimacy relationships. Or could I?
Summer romance of 2019, my first since a 10-year partnership breakup, I disclosed my HIV status and U=U information. He seemed apathetic to the disclosure and wanted to continue our romantic exploration. I never asked him about his sexual history, never asked if he had any STDs, or when he had last been tested. I never asked him to use condoms. I was in menopause so pregnancy was not of concern. Our summer romance was just that, and ended by August. I can't be sure how HIV was a factor in the breakup. I chalked it up to dating experience.
2021, 1 year Romance: I really liked this guy. I was enchanted and excited for a physical and emotional connection, and after my disclosure he was in. He could be present with my status and move forward in sexual intimacy. I didn't ask him for STD testing. I didn't ask him to use a condom. I believed I was the risk to him and didn't question my own safety. Eleven months in, he got scared. He talked with my doctor. He asked for a trial separation. He was unable to commit. We agreed to part. I grieved my loss and moved forward as a single woman.
I've learned much in the last four years. Men would rather not talk about STDs or consider what risk to a woman they are. I didn't know enough to advocate for myself and request use of condoms and STD testing. I've learned a sex conversation before sexual intimacy is so much more than my HIV status. If a man isn't open to STD testing and condoms in the initial phase of dating, they are in denial about sexual intimacy responsibility and not boyfriend material. I am responsible, care for others, able to grow, and learn from mistakes. I am aware and learning how best to take care of myself. I love myself, family, and friends. I have life experience that matters. I have a voice of wisdom to be spoken. I embrace the gift of living with HIV as a SuperPower and my discovery of being an HIV advocate continues.