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.
How often does someone offer you unsolicited advice on your health?