a man holds up a very bright, decorative shirt

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:

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"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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