March 19, 2012

HIV+ MSM: When Cleanliness is next to Godliness

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Written by: Steven

I’ve always found it difficult to meet people in bars, being pretty shy in nature; so like many, I turned to the internet and tapped in to the chat sites. With a few simple clicks my online profile is on the world-wide web – a perfect forum to present whatever persona I wish, to as many people as I’d like.

Let’s begin with three chat sites, I slyly think to myself; and if that doesn’t work, I can always expand. Should I just stick with Toronto, maybe Vancouver (never been there before); or what about Asia…so many possibilities…the world is mine!

Of course, online hook-ups have their draw-backs. The first tipping point is the online profile pic. As you peruse people’s profiles, there is a wide range in quality. It’s kinda like shopping at No Frills and Whole Foods at the same time. Pics may be accurate, poorly taken or out of date, give or take 10 years. No quality control here.

But in the online world, everything moves at incredible speeds; the whole process of human interaction is crushed into a series of one-liners that overlap with each other, in the hopes of piquing someone’s interest. It’s like throwing out a fishing line to see what bites.

Of course, there is the element of surprise, intrigue and suspense. Every time you get up to go to the washroom, you’re computer bleeps and there’s another message from another site, from a new person…so many pop-ups…everyone vying for my attention. How will I get to them all? Look at me, I’m so popular! How I love adrenalin.

Finish peeing quickly…

Dave:                    U Looking?
Me:                        For sure
Dave:                    Top or bttm?
Me:                        Vers
HandyGuy:         Sup?


Dave:                    U still there?
Toronto4u          Nice pic
(crap…ignore…I have a live one here!)
Me:                        Yeah…u looking 4 now?
Dave:                    DT now. Mobile.
Me:                        Cool. Can ent

(Pause) Alright, so you’ve caught the attention of some guy called “Dave” through a picture taken with your cell phone in the bathroom mirror; you’ve snagged their interest from your mixed bag of one-liners (nothing too original there). You are now poised for action.

Here comes the clincher…

Dave:                    Stats

Think…quick decision… What do I include and how much do I fudge the numbers…

Me:                        32/175/cauc/5’8”/horny

Ok, so I embellished a bit.



Dave:                    u clean?

And therein lies the rub! If someone asks me that question, everything grinds to a screeching halt. Reality comes flooding back. Adrenalin levels unhappily decrease; and my hopes for a quicky dashed.

So I let the pause falter into a prolonged silence.


Dave gets the message. Not clean here – HIV+ male.

Dave has jetted back into cyberspace, to pick up the loose ends of other hopefuls. Nothing lost, nothing gained.

Well, speak for yourself. As this scenario played out again and again, I subsequently grew tired of online semantics and my roaming days are now over.

But it pains me to sense the fear and loathing towards those with HIV that still pervades our community – the online world, although somewhat rooted in fantasy, is still a nasty manifestation of this. And that, like a bad marketing campaign, has branded those who have HIV with the rather derogatory term of “unclean”. To me, this has the inference of dirty laundry that is too far gone to be washed, like soiled underwear – no matter how much bleach you use the stains just don’t come out.

The nature of on-line hook-ups is that “people” are relegated to categories; they are no longer human beings, but a series of statistics: bear, twink, asian, top, bottom, aggressive, passive, clean, unclean. Hence, our medical status has been simplified as just another checkbox, an easy method to eliminate and weed out the bad apples.

Yet, as someone who is now two years into my journey of living with HIV, I will state for the record that we face enough medical issues and a readjustment of self-identity without it being further compounded by our very own community.

This online banter that I playfully presented is really only the tip of the ice-burg. In a sub-culture of endless promiscuity, likely, many have unknowingly had sex with numerous HIV+ guys, they just felt too guilty, embarrassed or selfish to tell you.

In my life, before I became positive – and yes it feels like another lifetime – I too was fearful of those who are HIV+, especially online, where anonymity is such a comfortable place, where the shackles of social norms are released and “truth” becomes whatever you choose to make it.

But the truth is, as I have learned through necessity, there is no basis for fearing those with HIV. This fear stems from a misperception of the disease and resulting paranoia. HIV is no different than if a person has Diabetes or Cancer; in fact, it is far better managed than those more “mainstream” diseases.

The misperception lies in the old belief that contracting HIV is a death sentence. Where this might have been the case several decades ago, it is not anymore. But this overwhelming fear of death and a miserable demise inhibits people from learning more; and this hazy notion of HIV propagates inflated paranoia, based on supposition, not fact.

The fact of the matter is that if you are practicing safe sex, as we all should be, there is little to worry about.

About the Author

|Toronto Contributor| Steven began his career in the television industry during the late 80’s working as on-air host for The Life Channel Satellite Network. In 2003 Steven founded Madog Productions Inc. – a Toronto based marketing and communications firm. Creatively, he has a passion for the written word, and strives to provoke thought, contemplation and hopefully affect change through the power of the pen.



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  1. Adan

    This is a very interesting issue. Online the term clean equates disease free, but what surprises me most is that a lot of those looking for “ONLY CLEAN” will do bareback.

    I agree with your last statement, it is a non issue to play with a positive guy (at least for me) because we are practicing safe sex.

    I know there are some campaigns trying to eliminate the stigma of being positive, but we should do some more communication to the community.

  2. Steven

    Thank you Adan for your response. I agree that more public/community awareness is necessary. I think it’s all in the approach. Currently, there are campaigns; but they feel like just that, “campaigns”. And we are too used to this type of marketing strategy, to the point that people don’t really notice them anymore. We need something different, in order to jolt people out of complacency.

  3. Mits

    Yes, there are so many subconsciously used discrimination terms and behaviours online that people never show in real social situations. I think anonymity allows people to be more insensitive. It’s not easy to control/educate them as a user. I hope that those gay MSM services would take more action to prevent stigma.

  4. Steven

    If only it were that easy. :) I seem to think that it really isn’t up to the MSM provider to educate. But this falls to the individual to use a little more discretion. Granted, we are haggling over semantics, but it is these seemingly insignificant details that have a profound effect.

  5. pat

    “The fact of the matter is that if you are practicing safe sex, as we all should be, there is little to worry about.”


    I cannot believe that people are crazy enough to have unprotected sex with complete strangers they met on the internet.
    HIV is not a death sentence, but the drugs are no picnic either.

  6. Kris

    There seems to be a disconnect between the statements “The fact of the matter is that if you are practicing safe sex, as we all should be, there is little to worry about.” and the fact that you yourself have only been positive for two years, meaning in an age of safe sex you contracted anyway. I can’t reconcile being told “don’t worry” and how apparently easy it is to get even with safe sex.

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