A disclaimer: I am not so young anymore. However, I go through these streets as the people’s favourite aunty, the coolest prevention activist, young people say I am “oppit”, or in more traditional lingo, “with it”. As February, the legit month of love, has come to an end, I’m reflecting on love, relationships, sex and living with HIV.
You see, 19 years ago, when I was 25, I was diagnosed with HIV. I feel like this gives me a free pass to write about being HIV-positive and dating.
I realised very early on that I was facing a triple challenge: being a woman, being a black woman and being a black woman with HIV. It means triple the stigma and triple – or what sometimes felt 10-fold! – the struggle to deal with life, sensuality, relationships, the future. I thought (and still think) that it is easier for HIV-positive men to date than it is for us women in a similar situation.
But my view has always been that, for one to love others, you need to love yourself enough first. To give love, you need to have love to give. That is why I was able to identify non-loving actions from a partner and let go before it became toxic. But for many, this is not the case. Many women feel the need to be loved by another person and that is how they give up their agency and self-love.
Our entire society needs to change the view of what love is, and see that women who are HIV-positive deserve love and can be loved, too. There are days like Valentine’s Day that focus on love. I’m calling on us all to celebrate “inclusive” love – “positive love” and love between discordant couples is LOVE too!
If we want HIV-neutral messages, we must show it. Many people are totally fine with dating people of unknown status rather than knowingly dating people living with HIV, even if the virus is undetectable and their status is essentially untransmittable. Being HIV-positive should not be a barrier to love, sex or dating. We all deserve to love and be loved.
As your favourite aunt, I urge HIV-positive readers to accept their HIV status. You can find healing. Loving yourself means understanding what love means, being open to love and putting yourself first.
Being HIV-positive for 19 years, and in my opinion, managing to age beautifully and graciously with HIV, I have come to accept that being over 40, HIV-positive AND dating can be an extreme sport. Right up there with speed boats and bungee-jumping.
With love from Your Coolest Aunt