"I thought someone would tell me if they were HIV-positive"

I am an artist and work from home most of the time. Because of this I don’t get out much and I definitely never frequent the gay scene. The way I prefer to hook up or find any sort of romantic encounter has always been online. I often meet guys through apps like Grindr and I either go to their houses or they come to mine. I usually get to know them by spending some time chatting online, sussing out if they are crazies or if they have any signs of STIs or whatever. Once we meet, we talk some more and decide whether we are going to have sex or not.

“What I knew was bullshit that was based on misconceptions like ‘you can tell if someone is HIV-positive’

I’ve always considered myself a people’s person and thought that I could quickly and easily judge someone when I meet them. I’m also very optimistic and believe in the good of people; or so I did. I also thought I knew everything I needed to know about HIV, how it’s transmitted and how you can protect yourself. Unfortunately, I soon realised that most of what I knew was bullshit that was based on misconceptions like ‘you can tell if someone is HIV-positive’ or ‘it’s the responsibility of the positive guy to not put you at risk.’

So, it was spring. The weather was getting warmer and the birds were chirping. With the titillating sunrays came the excitement of starting a new relationship with one of the two guys I was currently seeing. I must admit, I liked them both and had been seeing each of them for about three weeks. I met one of them on a website and the other one on Grindr and we not only had sex but also hung out, talked about art, life and future plans. Because neither of them knew about each other, it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to do the balancing act but I managed. The sex with both of them was amazing and even though we initially used condoms, we quickly stopped because, I had painful haemorrhoids and condoms made things worse for me when getting fucked. I also thought, as they are tops, they are not likely to have HIV. Red alert! I’d already had long and honest conversations with both of them and I assumed that they are both fine and that they would have told me if they were positive. Red alert!

“When the sore throat, fever and rash were joined by extreme muscle ache and unbearable night sweats alarm bells started ringing

A few weeks passed and the romance with one of the guys fizzled out and I started seeing the other one more. I was starting to fall for this one but unfortunately, he had other plans and our relationship soon came to an end. I called it what it was and started to move on but one morning I woke up with the worst throat ache I had ever had (it was swollen glands galore). As the day progressed, I started developing a rash and got a fever. For three days, these symptoms simply wouldn’t go away so I called my doctor who diagnosed me with glandular fever and sent me away with referral to bed-rest, Paracetamol and plenty of fluids. When the sore throat, fever and rash were joined by extreme muscle ache and unbearable night sweats alarm bells started ringing and my GP suggested I have an HIV test. I went to a GUM clinic; an establishment that in my 19 years of existence, I’d vaguely heard of and got a full STI test, something I’d never done before. Turns out, my GP’s diagnosis was incorrect and I was in fact sero-converting. I was not only HIV-positive but I’d also picked up gonorrhoea.

My whole world collapsed. Up until these two guys, I’d always had safe sex. HIV was not something I ever considered I could get. Because I had trusted everyone I’d ever had sex with and they didn’t look like they had HIV, I didn’t know where I could have possibly picked it up from? I started crying uncontrollably and the health adviser did his best to console me. When I calmed down, he explained to me that for research purposes because I had been diagnosed whilst I was seroconverting, they would like to closely monitor the development of my HIV and the way I respond to treatment closely over the next couple of months. I agreed to take part in the research. He also explained to me that with the current medication and because I had been diagnosed so early, chances are that I have a normal life expectancy.

When I got home, I immediately sent angry messages to the two guys I had been seeing asking them why they hadn’t told me that they were positive. One came back to me in shock and said that he’d recently been tested and he didn’t have it. I never heard back from the other one. I messaged him again threatening to sue him (which in retrospect is ridiculous) but he never responded.

“It’s just as much my fault as it is the guys I barebacked with. In fact, it’s probably more my own stupidity

Looking back, I cannot blame anyone. It’s just as much my fault as it is the guys I barebacked with. In fact, it’s probably more my own stupidity. I wasn’t educated. I trusted people that I barely even knew. It’s my health and I was the one that had something to lose. You can never assume that your partner will tell you if they are positive. There are countless reasons why someone might not tell you; yes, there is the slight possibility that one of the guys knew he was positive but didn’t want to tell me which indeed would be pretty messed up – but I doubt many guys would do it maliciously. He could have also thought that I am positive and it wouldn’t matter if he was, after all I did let him bareback me which I now realised could be suggestive that I am myself positive. But more likely than not, whichever one infected me, he probably didn’t even know that he was infected and thought he was negative. I didn’t have to read too much to understand that, logically, if you are unaware of your HIV infection, your viral load is likely to be very high because you are not taking suppressive treatment for it. This ultimately is when you are the most infectious. Pair that up with a heavy case of bleeding haemorrhoids and tadaaah! - “You’ve tested positive for HIV.” 

Either way, I am now positive and there is not much I can do about it now. What I can do, and what I have done since my diagnosis, is advocate the importance of regular testing, educating people about how HIV is transmitted and spreading the important message that if you want to stay safe, you should use a condom with every person whose HIV status you are uncertain of.