By Matthew Hodson | @matthew_hodson


When it comes to dating, what’s your deal-breaker? Personally, I couldn’t be with anyone who’s racist, misogynist or rude to waiters. Life’s too short to be with people who are like that.
In the distant past I dated a guy who told me that he’d never date a guy with HIV. This was many years before I was diagnosed (was I HIV undiagnosed at that point? I don’t know - but it’s possible). At the time, I found his view challenging. I’d enjoyed sex and at least one long lasting relationship with someone who had HIV. I hadn’t felt fearful for my own sexual safety in those encounters. My greatest fear when I was in that sero-different relationship, back in the days before effective treatment, was that he would get ill and die. Although a blanket rejection of anyone with diagnosed HIV was troubling, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me then.
A lot has changed since. On a personal level I was diagnosed with HIV and chose to be open about it, so it’s not like dating a serophobe is still an option for me (NB I’m not on the market anyway). Much more has changed. For starters, treatment is effective now; HIV is a liveable, chronic infection, not a killer. And crucially, we have moved to a position of certainty that when we are virally suppressed on HIV treatment we can’t pass it on to sexual partners.
If you won’t date someone with HIV your prejudice is against those who have tested, are likely to be uninfectious on treatment and have chosen to trust you with that information. People who haven’t tested, who may be HIV with an unsuppressed viral load can still climb aboard. Essentially you’re swapping the zero HIV risk of sex with an undetectable partner for the greater risk of sex with someone who may not know their status, even if they believe they do. It’s a pretty crap strategy for sexual safety.
On most issues I tend towards being libertarian. People make choices. The sexual choices people make are, plainly, personal and so are hard to condemn. Through my work at aidsmap and, prior to that, at GMFA, I’ve tried to ensure that people are informed and empowered to make the choices about sex and sexual safety that are right for them. However my patience is limited when people brag about a sexual strategy that is ineffective, hurtful and based on prejudice rather than science.
Unfortunately sero-apartheid persists. You see it in messages on Grindr. You hear it in our bars. A prejudice against someone living with HIV is still considered socially acceptable, people will happily voice it without recourse to anonymity. The challenges that gay men face when dating with HIV are amplified for heterosexual men and women.
What lifts me up is that increasingly I see evidence of gay men who do not have HIV stepping up, ensuring that the burden of sharing information about up to date information about HIV isn’t only carried by those of us with the virus. There are gay men whose response to ‘Clean - UB2’, and the many hurtful variations on that theme, is to wave them goodbye. Why be with someone who trumpets their ignorance? Why be with someone who is lead by fear rather than by facts?
Life has taught me that when you think that you can only be with someone who fits a narrow specification, whether that be looks, ethnicity or HIV status, you are only cutting yourself off from opportunities for happiness. Obviously I’m not suggesting that anyone is obliged to date someone with HIV, the same rules of attraction and compatibility apply. But dating someone with HIV isn’t a sacrifice or a token of your generosity. We are as charming, witty, caring and sexy as those who do not have HIV. If you dismiss the possibility of finding love (or incredibly satisfying sex) with someone who is HIV it is your own options that you limit. If your romantic choices are based on prejudice you may well be judged for them.
Matthew Hodson is the Executive Director of NAM aidsmap
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