How to Survive a Plague

Fascinating. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. Amazing. And, for me personally, a searing tribute to the men and women who are quite literally responsible for my being alive today. (And, just to digress a bit, yes, I am distinctly aware that these men and women are generally white and middle- or upper-middle-class. Am I complaining? N0 – but it’s quite difficult not to notice, particularly given that, today, new HIV infections in the U.S. disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos. Oh, and as long as I’m digressing, my title for this post originally had a typo and was Hot to Survive a Plague – which is kinda funny enough to have left as-is, but then kinda not so much. Is there a limit to how long a parenthetical phrase can be? I’m sure there is and I’ve violated said limit long ago. Ah, shit – I suck at writing. OK, not really. Well, I mean I do, but I just refer to it as my “style.” Also, I am not so hot. But enough about me…) This film is available on Netflix streaming. Watch it now. It is excellent.

plague

I suppose I’ve established a level of comfort with being HIV+… Certainly, anytime I meet a fellow with with whom I may be physically intimate, I let him know that I’m poz (that is, I’m neither “clean” nor “disease-free” – such charming terminology we gays have! Ugh). This is not particularly burdensome, given the paucity of my intimate encounters (not attempting to elicit sympathy – just sayin’…). And I’m OK with discussing it in a general sense, though I’m not exactly shouting it from the rooftops. This is due more to my discomfort with sharing genuinely personal components of my life than it is with HIV itself. Or so I tell myself.

The fact is, having HIV remains somehow different than being diabetic or having cancer or multiple sclerosis or just about any other disease. While I certainly don’t want to become some bore, constantly talking about my medical condition, I think my reticence in talking about it on the regular serves to reinforce my own internalized view that I am indeed somehow a lesser person because I am HIV+. As much as I hate to admit it, I do regard my status as a negative (no pun intended) thing – and this is certainly (and depressingly) reinforced by many in the gay “community” here in SF. By this I mean that my being upfront and very candid about my status is, for many (I would even venture “most”) single gay men I meet, a dealbreaker – despite shared interests, mutual attraction or any of the other number of things that might lead to a date or a series of dates or even an ongoing relationship. My HIV status defines me above all else – and not favorably.

So, will my writing about this in a decidedly public (though not especially widely-read) forum help me get more comfortable with this component of myself? I have no idea – but I suppose it’s my own small way of recognizing that “Silence = Death” has a meaning that is both literal and figurative.

And don’t get me wrong. I am extraordinarily aware of how lucky I am to be not just alive but healthy and with my medical conditional extremely well-managed. I live in SF, where I have access to some of the best HIV care on the planet; the side-effects from my meds are tolerable; I have health insurance; I have a supportive family and friends; I have a reasonably secure job and income; and I have the skills and perseverance necessary to navigate my medical care, treatment and insurance coverage. But, still – you know, what with dukkha and all – it can feel like a tough row to hoe.

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