Would You Marry Someone With HIV?

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HIV still offers a particular stigma, a particular brand of isolation.

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Last June, I was having lunch with my old friend, Steve. He and I briefly dated in the late 1990’s. We didn’t make a good couple but remained good friends ever since. Steve and his partner, Rick, have been together for seven years and legally married last winter.

A few minutes after we finished our lunch, my phone chirped: I had a new message from “GentleLatin42” on SCRUFF (a gay dating and sex app). Steve playfully snatched the phone out of my hand and started grilling me about GentleLatin42.

Clean? You think people with HIV are dirty?  

I had first messaged GentleLatin42 the day before and I was already smitten with him. We had been texting and conversing through the site every couple of hours and I could tell he was interested in meeting me. This particular handsome man was a guy I wanted to get to know, not just have casual sex with. Steve listened to me talk about the hottie while he went through the details on his SCRUFF profile.

I jokingly commented to Steve, “Better get your tux out of storage. This could be the guy I marry.”

Steve looked at me like I was crazy.

“You could never marry this guy,” Steve said, looking at my smart phone. “It says here on his profile he’s HIV-Positive.”

♦◊♦

THE DEBATE BEGINS

Me:

That doesn’t matter to me. I’ve had HIV-Positive boyfriends before.

Steve:

Oh, come on. Would you really marry a guy with HIV?

Me:

Yeah. If I loved him. HIV isn’t a death sentence like it used to be.

Steve:

Still …that’s crazy.

Me:

 Why is it crazy?

Steve:

What if he gets sick?

Me:

“In sickness and in health.” If my theoretical husband got sick, I would take care of him. What if Rick got cancer? Would you leave Rick just because he got sick?

Steve:

 Of course not. But cancer isn’t HIV.

Me:

Well, what if Rick had told you back in 2006 when you met that he had cancer …or he was, say, epileptic or had diabetes? Something that wasn’t necessarily fatal but required constant medical treatment. Would you have still gotten together with him and married him?

Steve:

Of course I would. But not if he had HIV.

Me:

What’s the difference? A disease is a disease.

Steve:

I know what you are trying to say, Dennis. But there’s still such a stigma attached to gay men with HIV. Wouldn’t it be better to start your marriage off with a guy who’s clean?

Me:

Clean? You think that people with HIV are “dirty”.

Steve:

I personally don’t feel that way, but I know some who do. If Rick was HIV-Positive when I legally married him, my parents would have flipped out. It would worry them to death. It was hard enough for them to accept a gay son. But having HIV in the family would be too much.

Me:

It’s none of your parents’ business. It’s personal and doesn’t have to be discussed outside of the bedroom.

Steve:

I know that, Dennis. I know it sounds bad, but I would just hate to see you marry a man with HIV. You deserve a man who’s healthy and that you can be proud of. You shouldn’t have to worry about all the stuff that goes with that. All that drama.

Me:

You’re pissing me off. I’m going to the rest room.

ROUND TWO

Steve:

So …when you had an HIV positive boyfriend before, did you have unprotected sex with him?

Me:

No. We were always safe.

Steve:

See, that’s another problem. Rick and I are monogamous and we can fuck without a condom. That’s really important to our relationship. I can’t imagine marrying someone and not being able to fuck without a condom.

Me:

Steve, I’m forty-eight years old. I’ve had lots and lots of sex in my day. I don’t have the sex drive I used to. If I really loved a man and wanted to marry him and spend the rest of my life with him, then I would compromise and learn to accept using condoms—which I’ve been doing, anyways.

Steve:

Sex without condoms is amazing.

Me:

So is my theoretical husband. I’m not you, Steve. I am more into affection than fucking.

Steve:

Dennis, Be honest. What if the condom breaks and your husband infects you.

Me:

Then we’ll have HIV together. Now give me back my phone.

THE MESSAGES

Steve and I dropped the subject, but the conversation had a profound effect on me. My gay friend was judging HIV-Positive men by their disease …and I was judging him for being judgmental.

Steve’s a good guy. A few days after our discussion, he came around.

“Sorry about the other day,” he said. “The horrible messages about AIDS our generation heard when we were young are hard to forget. But things are different now. I can’t think of a good reason to not marry a person with HIV if you love them.”

There was no need for an apology. But I suddenly felt so old. I realized that me and my friends had all spent our entire adult life –three decades– listening to negative banter about HIV and AIDS.

It’s time to change that.

GENTLELATIN42

I ended up meeting GentleLatin42 for lunch (his real name is Jason). He was a lot of fun. One of the first things we talked about was the exciting news that had been announced in the Seattle Times earlier that week: a Seattle native had been cured of AIDS. According to the article, there was still a long ways to go before there could be a replicable cure for the disease, but it was fantastic news.

I shared a sweet goodbye kiss with Jason. Although a nice guy, I knew he probably wasn’t the man I would marry. But there are plenty of other men out there that I can marry…in thirteen states and counting.

With or without HIV.

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Dennis Milam Bensie

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Life and his essays have been seen in The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press, which was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at the Montana Gay Pride Festival. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

Comments

  1. Very cool article. My uncle passed from AIDS years ago. It was rough watching him go, and it’s been good watching the developments since then that have allowed people to live much healthier and longer lives. Your rational approach to it is a breath of fresh air, and really it’s great to see the amount of progress not only on the AIDS front but also on the demolition of bigotry out there. Recently I was in Lithuania for the first Baltic Pride Parade. It was awesome to be a part of. While there were bigots there too, they were few–much fewer than the people marching and those, like me, standing as supporters out in the crowd. Progress is being made on a lot of fronts, and it’ll keep being made. Articles like yours can do nothing but help.

  2. Daniel Cairo says:

    I’m HIV positive and married my partner of last September; that is now five years and counting. Being honest about our health is something we take serious. When I get my labs, he gets tested — and he’s still negative. We talk about the possibility of a future when I might be sick – or both of us.

    I have mix feeling about the piece. I am not in denial that this is how some conversations happen but while I understand the nature of how it’s written my hope is that one day we go beyond the either/or conversation.

    I hope that one day we can advance the conversation about serodiscordant couples that goes beyond the condom breaking or “for better or for worse”. It appears that when this particular conversation comes around it’s dichotomized in a way that limits the complexity of the experience of both parties (or more if that is the relationships you have). What does that look like? I don’t know, but it might be that it is not either/or but rather ‘both/and’. Maybe it can be that people can marry HIV+ but still know that at some point they might get sick and fear it. It means that we validate all feelings. “For better or worse” seems like a trap to me. I love my partner and he loves me and we live happy healthy lives. But if things get real bad I don’t want to hold him here. If he stays than that is something else.

    ‘Both/and’ allows us to be real about our fears while working together to enjoy what we have. It’s taking us a while to get here – and it might look different tomorrow. But today, we talk about it. And we enjoy the good moments. Having pensive thoughts about the future is healthy.

    So, thanks for the piece. Its purpose to ignite conversation was met. I will say that the headline continues to play on the negative stigma of living with HIV. Maybe next time it can read something like, “Discussions on magnetic couples” or “HIV, Choice, and Marriage”. But hey, it’s your piece… I just leaving a really long comment. Thanks for writing it.

  3. Thank you for your comment, Daniel. I wrote this piece hoping people would comment and invite deeper discussion. Me being single and HIV-negative, I can only scratch the surface on this topic.

  4. Yes I would marry someone with HIV. Full disclosure… I’m a woman, and I’m already married… but I hope I still get to comment ;o)

    I believe that we all take risks every day of our lives. Some of those risks we take knowingly, which allows us to take precautions as necessary, if we choose to and if we are able to. Sometimes those precautions fail us, and we end up in trouble anyway. Other times bad stuff happens without warning, and all we can do is deal with it as best we can. In this particular case, knowing ahead of time would at least allow for precautions (safe sex, tests, etc.). And as far as “sex with condoms is amazing”… well… so is sex with someone who really sets you on fire… condoms or no condoms ;o)

    Entering into marriage (or any kind of intimate relationship) with an HIV-positive person is just one example of a situation we wouldn’t CHOSE to get ourselves into, ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL… and that’s the catch right there. Of course it would be nice if the person in question were free of the virus. But all else isn’t equal, so the only choices in this situation would be to a) get involved with the HIV-positive person, or b) not get involved with the HIV-positive person. Option c) get involved with this particular person, minus the virus… doesn’t exist. I believe that if it really is love, if you really care about the person and truly want to be with them, then option b) is not really an option.

    Like you said, Dennis, marrying a (seemingly) healthy person is no guarantee that you’ll grow old together, or even that you won’t get infected with HIV or who-knows-what by your husband — or wife, for that matter. A friend of mine found out that her husband of several years had recently taken an interest in, shall we say, interesting sex practices that required a multitude of partners found via Craigslist. She ended up with an STD. Yet when they got married he was a “regular guy” and never in her wildest dreams would she have expected she’d end up in this awful situation. I’m only mentioning this because we tend to assume that what we see is what we get… yet that’s not always the case. People change, yadda yadda.

    To sum it up, I believe that when we find that one person who’s special enough to marry, disease (HIV or otherwise) should not be a deciding factor. Just like (in)fertility, money or lack thereof, skin color, height, beauty, fashion sense (lol), and so on shouldn’t be deciding factors. The truth is, if you really love someone, you accept their less-than-ideal parts just like they accept yours. Because being together is what matters.

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