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.
It is a superpower
It can be a superpower if you let it. One of self-awareness and new confidence in who you are and how you wish to be. Thanks for sharing. I think women sometimes have a hard time having the hard conversation after diagnosis and disclosure because we feel like we have to settle for what we get with HIV. It's just not true and I'm so happy you are sharing your experience. Advocating for ourselves isn't just medical care. Its sexual equality and balance and pleasure as well.
Light and blessings!