Finding My Worthiness, Finding Love
When they told me I was positive, my heart sank. I believed in that moment, at only 22 years old, I would never again find love. I was doomed, I felt, to a life of stigma and shame, where no one would see me as sexy or beautiful, handsome or funny -- they would see me as Poz.
While those thoughts and feelings were normal to have, I am so grateful for the way life actually played out. It isn't as bad as I had feared.
Coping with stigma and shame
It was nearly a year before I even flirted, let alone actually considered dating. I didn't want to; I didn't value myself, so who would value me? I remember that, as I worked to become more accepting of myself, I could come to a place where I was okay with being Poz, but I just couldn't imagine others being cool with it. I didn't realize how not alone I actually was, or that advances in medicine had brought forth the possibility of mixed/serostatus couples where a Neg and a Poz person could viably date.
Powerful words from a friend
When I got a call from a friend asking me why I hadn't been out, I replied, "I'm okay with being Poz, but I am not ready to be turned down because of it." Thank goodness for friends; the response I got was powerful:
"You're Poz? So's my boyfriend and so many others out here. No one is withdrawing in disgust. This isn't the 80s or even the 90s. Come out and play! I will show you just how accepted you really are. HIV didn't make you any less sexy. You've still got it."
Figuring out the dating scene
I argued, but quickly felt a spark of hope. I opened my hair products, breaking through the crust that had formed from a lack of use. I wore clothes I had pushed to the back of my closet, relics of an earlier time. I allowed myself to get excited. That night, I met up with friends outside of my home for the first time since diagnosis.
Welcomed back to local queer nightlife
The local queer nightlife scene was as I had left it, and it welcomed me back in. I found myself laughing, dancing, playfully interacting, and even though I was Poz, that wasn't at the forefront -- the rest of me was.
Still only 23, I was at the start of adulthood in so many ways, and I could again see possibilities where I wasn't isolated. I felt...good. Truly, it was an emotional event, feeling good for the first time in a long time.
Living and loving with HIV
Then came the man who would pull me the rest of the way out of my funk. Looking back, he wasn't a hero. He wasn't anyone too special, really. But he was someone who gave me a chance, who saw me as sexy, who saw my sense of humor and my accomplishments rather than my diagnosis.
We dated, only briefly. But from there, I saw myself as worthy, and I didn't retreat from dating others. I could still find human connection, could still have romance, could still make love. I'm still me, living and loving with HIV 11 years later, now happily married.
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