An interview with my boyfriend

By Kristian Johns

Brace yourselves. I’m going to have one of my famous rants. It doesn’t seem like five minutes since we took down our Christmas decorations and swore allegiance to Weight Watchers, before Valentine’s Day is knocking at our door.

And with this Hallmark holiday comes the inevitable horde of singletons bemoaning their un-partnered status and spitting venom at people in relationships. For many HIV-positive people, especially the newly diagnosed, finding a partner can seem like an uphill struggle. But here’s something I realised a long time ago: HIV isn’t stopping you finding love, you are.

HIV can be handy to hide behind. You can blame it for a lot of things: weight, energy levels, diarrhoea, insomnia, you name it, but I’m fed up with listening to professional victims trotting out the ‘poor me, nobody loves me’ card and blaming it on HIV. Similarly, I’m getting sick of people who congratulate my boyfriend who ‘must love me so much’ to be able to ‘stick with me despite my status’, as if he’s made some sort of compromise. 

Fuck off. How would you feel if I turned around and said: “I think it’s wonderful your boyfriend can see past the fact that you’re overweight and have a small dick”?

Newsflash, people: the guy who rejects you for having HIV is not the ‘one that got away’. Relationships are hard fucking work, and if your status makes him nervous, he’s already unlikely to stick around when things get tough. But you’ve heard this all from me before, so this issue we’re going to switch it up. Allow me to introduce you to my fella, Mark. I interviewed him about what it’s like being with a positive guy, and as you’ve come to expect from my column, I haven’t sugar coated his replies:

Kristian: How much did you know about HIV before you met me?

Mark: I had a friend who’d been diagnosed with HIV. I was living in Basingstoke at the time, and to be honest, I knew nothing at that point, so I read up on it. I’ll admit that as soon as he told me I thought of the ‘tombstone’ ads from the 80s. I had no idea how things had progressed since then.

So had your knowledge of HIV deepened by the time we met, and have you learnt anything since?

I know all the drug names now.

Well done. I don’t.

Yeah, I have learnt more. Little things, like that time when I was playing around with your spunk, and I was obviously doing something that would have put me at risk and you stopped me. Things like that.

What was your initial reaction? Did you disguise any worry you had to save my feelings? You acted pretty smooth when I told you.

Haha! I think my immediate reply to you was “How’s your CD4 count?”

I remember. I was thinking “How does some dude from Basingstoke whose previous relationship lasted ten years know about CD4 counts?”

To be honest though, I hadn’t thought “Am I chatting up someone who has HIV?” beforehand, because I didn’t know anyone else with HIV. When I asked about your CD4 count, I was asking whether you were healthy.

Out of concern for me or you?

I thought a great deal of the fact that you were telling me before we’d even gone near each other. You wanted to be upfront and I respected that. To answer your question: did I spare your feelings? No. Did I have any doubt in the back of my mind? Perhaps. I guess if you’d told me you had a huge viral load and you loved barebacking I’d have run a mile. There’s having HIV, and there’s choosing to ignore it.

What was going through your mind the first time we had sex?

Haha! Unprintable! Are you asking if I was nervous?

Were you?

Well of course I was. The same as I would be with anyone. It wasn’t because you had HIV though. We didn’t just cop off with each other in a club, there had been a build-up of dates and chats. So I didn’t feel like I was at risk. If I was nervous it wasn’t about your status. I would have been like that with anyone.

How does it affect the mechanics of sex? Have any problems arisen as a result?

Well, there was the time your meds failed and you wouldn’t come near me for weeks, because your viral load was sky high again and you wanted to speak to your consultant. We were ultra-cautious for a while, you wouldn’t let me use your razor for instance, and you threw away my toothbrush head after you used it by mistake, which was annoying because they’re bloody expensive. But I have to accept that you’re protecting me.

Who’s more worried about you getting HIV? Me or you?

(Laughs). I think you fret about it more than I do. I’m not saying I’ve resigned myself to the fact that one day I might catch it. But as your consultant says, it’s a safer bet to have regular sex with someone who has a handle on their HIV, than it would be to rock out of a club at 4am every weekend with a random shag. It’s always in the back of my mind though.

What would happen if you caught HIV? How would it feel? 

I think I’d just be disappointed. We go through a lot to avoid me getting it and that can sometimes make the mechanics of sex a bit sterile. The chances of having a spontaneous quickie are low because you can’t just go for it wherever. So if after ten years together I found out I was positive, I’d be pissed off, but nothing more than that. I look at you and other positive mates and see what full lives you lead, and it’s no different to my own life.

Does it bother you that people might think you’re positive too?

We’ve had this a lot, haven’t we? I’ve had people just walk up and ask me outright. But no, it doesn’t bother me. In some ways it’s not hugely different to being asked if you’re gay. If there’s a part of you that feels ashamed of it, then it’s going to bother you. 

What about family and friends? Have you ever felt scared they’ll judge you if or when you tell them?

Yes. Obviously your family know, and so does my dad, and we’ve both discussed telling the rest of my family. The only reason we haven’t is because I almost want that ‘need’ to go away before we do. I don’t want to go on a crusade to educate everyone in my family about HIV, because you haven’t long been a part of it. I want them to know you first. But on the other hand I don’t want to hide anything because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. When I told my dad, his first worry was if you were all right, and his second was for me, whether I was.

What’s the hardest thing about being the boyfriend of a positive guy?

Well, I’ve never really been much of a swallower anyway… No! Don’t put that in!

Too late! That was gold!

Oh God (shakes head), seriously though. Most of the time I forget you have HIV. The only reminder is seeing you take your pills in the morning. Likewise, I don’t sit there all day thinking about your bad eyesight and the fact you wear contacts. It’s just part of our life together. There’s no ‘hardest thing’. 

Is there a best thing?

Yes. Cheesy as it sounds, with you, I’m aware of your status and I know how healthy you are at any one time, so it’s easier to protect myself. It’s far less risky than going to bars and picking up virtual strangers for sex. 

What would you say to positive guys who don’t think they’ll ever find someone?

I don’t like the “poor me, HIV” excuse. It just doesn’t fly with me. People aren’t attracted to people who sit there navel gazing and feeling sorry for themselves. You can blame any number of things on your single status: living in suburbia, work, baldness, beer belly. And if that’s what’s dominating your life and defining you, then naturally you’re going to assume it’s also why you’re not having any luck in love. Dunno, that’s just my take on it.

What advice would you give to a positive guy who’s looking for love?

Be yourself. Be proud of who you are and don’t try to hide it. Be ready for some knockbacks though. But honestly? If you meet someone who’s worth spending time with, then this won’t matter to them. I think it’s a much bigger problem in people’s heads than it really is. I know you probably built it up in your head before telling me.

Yes, I liked you a lot. It’s easy to dismiss a casual shag or a someone on Grindr if they reject you for having HIV, but we already had a connection. I thought it could progress into something more, so yes, I was scared.

I get that. It took me ages to come out as gay to my parents and I know I’d built it up into this huge thing in my head. So yes, I get where you’re coming from. If you’re emotionally invested it makes things much harder.

Have you changed your opinion on HIV since you met me?

Yes, since I met you and moved to London I’ve met a ton of people with HIV, and they come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. You can’t ‘tell’ they have HIV. Nobody is walking around with two heads. Once upon a time being gay was something of a taboo, and still is in some parts of the UK, but times have changed, we’re now more visible and the stigma has lifted. I think the same thing needs to happen with HIV. If you’re ashamed of it, then people will pick up on that.

So there you have it from the horse’s mouth. I realise I‘m a lucky guy to have landed someone with his head screwed on, but it’s not all roses, rainbows and white picket fences. Relationships take a lot of work, even without HIV in the mix. But come on guys, stop blaming HIV for your love lives and do some work on your self-esteem. Because positive or negative, nothing is more attractive than a man with confidence.

| Kristian Johns is an author and former editor. When he’s not raising awareness of HIV issues, his sole mission in life is to convince his boyfriend to let him have a dog. Twitter: @guy_interruptd 

| For more information about living with HIV, click here.

This article was taken from FS magazine issue 134, which was published in February 2013. To read this issue in full, click here.