Father Tony

Would you date this guy, or is he a jerk?

Filed By Father Tony | October 23, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: advice column, gay advice, HIV+, HIV+ dating, HIV/AIDS, poz guys

Hey Fr. Tony,

HIV poz here and looking for a man to share my life. My on-line profiles say 32. Muscular. Gym built. VGL professional (yup, that does mean financially well-off) hung, drug-free, etc. etc. etc. All true except for the part where I say I am HIV NEGATIVE.

I know what you are going to say. No lies, no way, But I want to get to know a man not just fuck. I'm not going to infect anyone. I play safe. My viral load is undetectable and I am very careful about my meds and my health. I'm a better risk than all those druggies and boozer-losers.

I want to find a man I can get to know and love. I have to get my foot in the door. The man I want to meet will pass me by if I say I'm poz. He has already passed me by a hundred times.

For years I went to poz groups and met nobody who was boyfriend material so don't tell me to do that.

I would never put anybody at risk with unsafe sex. I just want to date a guy for a good long time before I tell him my status. If it's love, it ought to be strong enough to deal with the news, right? Or am I a shithead who deserves to be alone and assigned to the junkheap? You tell me. I'm just so tired of being alone. I am sick of getting my hopes up over some guy who disappears when I feel comfortable enough to tell him the truth.

Bad news Bear

Dear Bad News Bear-er (or not),

I had to read your letter through a few times, and know what? I still cannot decide whether I like you or dislike you. Whether you are a shit-head or not a shit-head. Whether you are pitiful, despicable, stupid, owner of a repulsive personality or simply lonely and worthy of (and desperate for) love.

Let's break this down.

As you guessed, we have to begin by putting on the table the premise that being truthful about yourself is always golden. (Yawn). Do you want a man to fall in love with a fake you? (Yawn.) You can't hurry love. No you just gotta wait. (Yawn. Yawn. Even though you are young enough not to identify that lyric. It's from a Supremes song.)

There is a flip side, my identification and espousal of which will surprise you.

There are some things about which you may lie. For instance, you are allowed to lie about your age. You may say that you are 28 instead of 32 (although from where I stand, the difference is inconsequential.

You may also lie about your hair color. You probably don't yet have any gray in your hair but you will, and if you decide to wash it away (until the day its tide comes in like a tsunami and you just give up), you are allowed to deny this.

Liposuction is something you needn't disclose to your new boyfriend.

If you are a cancer survivor, I don't think you need to disclose that to a prospect.

If you have collagen pumped into your lips, or change their color with lipstick, or just shine them up with gloss, the cosmetic adjustment is obvious, but is an acceptable "deception".

If a woman has breast augmentation, the procedure is commonly acceptable but the owner of the vavooms is not obliged to warn a grabby suitor that her parts are synthetic.

How about someone who has had sex-change surgery? Over dinner last night I ran this question past my partner who replied with conviction that such a one ought to disclose his or her surgery before the second date. I challenged this. "Why before the second date? Why not before the first date? Or why not after the thirty-first date? Is the person's integrity somehow burnished by the timing of the disclosure?

What if you are a convicted sex offender who has done his time and been rehabilitated? What if you were incarcerated many years ago for some other reason? What if you once had a serious meth addiction. When should these things be disclosed to a man who is interested in you?

What if you once had a serious gambling problem and lost a huge personal fortune?

What if you had attempted suicide as a teenager and had been diagnosed as seriously depressed but through counseling had learned successful techniques for dealing with occasional and inevitable bouts of depression?

Are you carrying a loaded gun?

What if you are a serious Republican?

Let's reframe this perusal in terms of a summary question:

Is being HIV positive to be considered as disclosable as age, hair color, lipo, old cancer, collagen, lipstick, silicon, sex-change, old convictions/jail sentences, gambling, depression or gun-toting Republicanism? Or, is it somehow different because it constitutes a threat to a prospective boyfriend in a way that those things might not? Because it is an ongoing condition and a stigmatized trait? Do we need to divide all of these items into two groups: those that must be disclosed with some immediacy and those that you may withhold? Or, are they all personal and to-be-proclaimed at a crucial moment, as in, "Before we jointly buy that property, you should know about my gambling problem."

The answer to this is simply yes. You may disclose something at its naturally crucial moment. In the case of HIV status, you would probably want to disclose it before you had higher-risk sex with your new boyfriend. Even if you do use a condom. Pistol packin' mama, lay that pistol down. (Even your grandmother might not recognize that lyric.)

But the real question involves more than the propriety of what you do not say. If you claim to be HIV negative, you are not just skirting the issue. You are faking your persona. To avoid stating your HIV status would probably imply being positive. I see your dilemma. But, if you lie, you are setting yourself up for some resentment and a sense of betrayal.

There is also the fact that if someone who checks out one of your on-line profiles decides that he can have sex with you, protected or un-, based on what you say in that profile, he is the fool. He is a fool for entrusting his health to a stranger, and he is a fool to ignore the fact that a man who is negative on Monday when he writes his profile may be positive on Sunday when he meets him for a date.

That final consideration almost gives you license to lie about your status. Almost.

Here is my conclusion. I cannot help but suspect that with your attractive stats, you would be able to find a boyfriend/lover/partner even with full disclosure of your HIV status unless perhaps you had some personality traits that are off-putting. You may be using your HIV status as a scapegoat for the real reasons for the bachelorhood you are trying to shed.

Did you save the phone numbers of the last five attractive men you dated who ran the other way? Call them up and say "Hey Randy, I know we're not going to see each other again, but it would be really helpful for me to know your reasons for that decision. Please be honest. I can take it and I really want to know. Was it because of my HIV status or was it because of other things?"

Having said all this, I still might consider the possibility that you could in good conscience misrepresent your status in an on-line profile. Really, doesn't everybody punch up their stats? How many extra inches is an acceptable fish story? Where should you draw the line between good or false advertising?

If on a first date, you were honest about the deception and said that you wanted to use the disclosure to judge your date's reaction and see how his mind worked, you would have to expect that some guys would excuse themselves to go to the bathroom and never return to the table. But maybe one would stick it out. Maybe one would be empathetic about your plight. Another lonely but beautiful man who might respond "That's OK. I was just about to tell you the same thing."

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Not disclosing or telling someone you are HIV negative when you are not, is a criminal offense as soon as you have any sort of sexual contact. Including oral contact.

At what point do you decide to tell this person you are dating that you are HIV positive? Why would you expect them to trust you if you so blatantly lied about your status for a date?

At what point do you decide to tell this person you are dating that you are HIV positive? Why would you expect them to trust you if you so blatantly lied about your status for a date?

Agreed 110%.

Besides, if the guy isn't willing to give you a date because you're HIV+, is this really a guy you want in your life to start with?

Maybe it was the safe sex and honest communication mantra that I grew up with in a post-AIDS world with a liberal sex ed curriculum, but I can't see such misrepresentation as being okay at all. I know that I'd be more likely to get herpes from the person who doesn't know they have it than HIV from the person who hides that they do. And I totally support the choice not to put HIV status on your profile (if someone doesn't ask, then they can't blame you for not telling). But announcing your negative status when you know that not to be the case, and having sex (albiet with barriers) with your partner being mislead? I know that I'd want to have a say in the decision making process about how to manage HIV transmission risk, and to latex or not is only the most basic question. What kind of sex you have makes a huge difference too.

But not only would I feel upset about the lie, I can imagine it coming out in a really poor way. At least in the circles I run in, people pick up on the difference between "I don't know my status" and "I'm negative". The latter indicates you've had a test. So the common response would be, "Oh, when were you last tested?"

Will Bad News Bear make up a random date? Talk about a fake clinic? Give a test date that's been a while ago? What will happen if his date suggests they go get tested together because he's overdue for his next test? Maybe I just run in really different circles, but those are real risks in my I can see that would create a very tangled web of lies.

I understand that HIV can be a put-off and I don't think one has to disclose if not asked, but I want to put it out there that smart people know that the risks can be reduced to be almost negligible. I've certainly found myself crushed out on folks with HIV, especially a few who I admired for their strength and openness in discussing their status and being involved in HIV/AIDS activism. So while Bad News Bear says the man he wants will pass him by if he discloses, I'd suggest that perhaps he should pay attention to the one who doesn't.

Not a jerk, but desperate.

I'd say the line is before having sex as well. If these dates don't involve sex, there's no need to disclose.

Besides that, the men that I've slept with who were poz (whether I found out before or after), have been far more careful than anyone else. In general it's a pretty good group of people.

Either way, the obligation to disclose doesn't absolve anyone from the responsibility to practice safe sex. There's too much "I don't want to use a condom, and I'm sure he'd tell me if he had something, so it's OK" going around nowadays.

"If on the first date, you were honest..."

If this is the route to go, the writer really ought to put a line in his profile about being a lover of head games. If you're willing to lie to me to put me to some kind of test: 1) who the he** do you think you are, 2) what else are you willing to lie to me about?

Disclosing or withholding one's HIV status in a personals ad is a matter of discretion, lying about it is not.

From a practical standpoint, why would someone reason that a person who passes by an HIV+ disclosure in an ad would suddenly change is mind about dating an HIV+ person simply because he's just been lied to about it?

I have to agree with the above. Just omit your status if you insist on nondisclosure. At least that will allow the other person to be in a position to inquire about it if safety were a concern for them.

Years ago, I had a brief fling with a hot guy who suddenly dropped me. Couldn't figure out why until he finally sent a letter(!) weeks later, disclosing his positive status and his mega-guilt about it. I went for a test, which turned out positive, but then the follow-up test showed it was a false positive. Talk about an emotional roller-coaster. So I vote in favor of disclosure up front. Otherwise you're setting up both yourself and the potential boyfriend for a lot of needless grief.

If this guy expects to create a long-term relationship that starts with deception, he's fooling himself. He will continually undercut his chances until he deals with his internalized stigmatization of his HIV status, much like men who haven't dealt with internalized homophobia struggle to maintain a relationship.

It's a self-esteem issue. Easy to recognize from the outside, I know, but until he finishes the work on himself, he's going to be lonely.

As an HIV+, person, I understand your dilemma, I think. Rejection is tough and we all want to be loved. I'm not saying this would work for you, however, have you considered simply keeping your status confidential.

I can say from experience that little makes a man wish to pursue you more than polite rejection. My husband of three months, with whom I've been together for five wonderful years, spent the first few weeks of getting to know me in frustration because we had a great time; however, I always went home alone, even if he suggested we "just talk."

When we finally had "the talk," and he'd spent time getting to know me, it didn't matter to him what my status was; he wanted me, not my status. And here were are, married ever after and I love him more than anything for his love, not because he accepted my HIV.

We're still careful, and we enjoy a deep and fulfilling relationship.

Just because a question is asked doesn't mean it has to be answered. Likewise, sometimes when the path is unclear, patience and getting to know someone is the best course of action.

Dishonesty, as has been pointed out, however, is a dangerous path if one seeks love, Deception leads to lies, lies lead to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate..., well, I'm not going to be Yoda here.

Meditate more on this, I will. And good luck. If you need someone to talk to, get in touch.



I was in a sero-discordant relationship for 4 years. Starting out, I said that I wouldn't make his poz status a problem until it became one.

I have to say that practicing safe sex is only a piece of the issue. I know now that there is so much more to the dynamic.

(And regarding safe sex, what if the two of you have different ideas on what is safe and what isn't? Will you, as my partner did, come to resent the sexual boundaries of your partner?)

Now, from my experience, I don't think I would date a poz man and I have a real problem with this person withholding that info. Of course, that doesn't mean that he isn't worthwhile or that I wouldn't want him in my life in some other way. Yes, yes, some of my best friends are poz.

It's just that I'm unable to overcome the issues presented in a life partnership situation. I tried, even with counseling, and couldn't. In a way, maybe Bad News Bear should be thankful that I've done the work on myself and know not to waste his time.

On the flip side, I think my ex came to the conclusion that he would only want to date a poz guy since they would more readily understand him.

So, it may be equally plausible that he will find his true love among those that only want a poz partner as those that don't.

I have wondered about this a bit. My baseline thing is that you should not lie about your status, because it is a transmissible disease, and because people should be able to make an informed decision about risk.

However, I do have a little idea what you're writing about. I have terminal cancer. It won't kill me this year, but in 10 years time there is a 90% chance I won't be around. You can't catch what I have (so it is different to HIV there), but if we're looking at a long-term future, what do I say? Luckily, I have a partner, so I don't have to cross that bridge, because I know from experience that most gay men are after ideals, and are more than willing to return someone not quite meeting their expectations to the shelf in the most callous way imaginable.