Toronto
3 min

What a tangled wig we wear

It was just four years ago I wrote one of the first stories in Xtra about the hot mess that is HIV and the law. The stakeholders I interviewed in 2005 predicted much of the insanity we now witness thanks to the draconian legal precedents that have declared HIV-positive people potential killers.

My story back in ’05 came with a sidebar tale of a pal of mine who narrowly avoided massive legal trouble — yet still endured enormous emotional and mental upheaval — when a trick, who didn’t like hearing “you and I are done,” decided to seek revenge. Playing our flawed system, he accused my friend of infecting him with HIV, even though he had already told others that someone else infected him. “Hell hath no fury like a faggot scorned,” I wrote.

Fast-forward to now and that story seems like mere froth atop the endless muck in which we’re mired.

Start with headlines in the mainstream: With increasing regularity they are heavy with the sordid details of HIV arrests. The ghastly, jaw-dropping online comments below such stories reveal a fearful, ignorant and mostly straight readership. These general-public pundits have too eagerly hopped aboard the HIV-criminalization bandwagon, spewing venom toward HIV-positive people in the tradition of the Salem witch-hunt.

I must also mention that I’m so not fond when into my inbox pops a police-issued composite sketch of an HIV-positive person accused of infecting others. This daytime email arrival is followed in the evening by a full report on television news, as though a hungry Hannibal Lecter is on the loose and we should all hide under our beds.

I hear the detractor in you thinking as you read this, “Someone who is HIV-positive, withholds their status and knowingly infects others does leave us as horrified as Clarice Starling.”

It’s not the clearly criminal nut jobs I worry about or side with. I worry about and side with the average, everyday HIV-positive person. I worry especially for HIV-positive gay guys; perhaps only a man who has sex with men will fully appreciate the complexities of gay sexuality. I worry too about the way this blanket handling of HIV affects us all.

One gay male, HIV-positive friend of mine is on the lookout for a pre-coital legal contract he can have his sex partners sign. With it he could prove in court that they knew about his HIV-positive status before they fucked. Talk about erectile dysfunction.

Do be sure to grab your copy of the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario’s (HALCO) pamphlet, HIV Disclosure Legal Guide for Gay Men in Ontario. Jesus Christ, it’s your guide to fucking without being tossed in prison and labelled a murderer and covers many more nightmare scenarios I don’t have room to get into here. Does such a publication exist for straight people? Oh no, wait, straights don’t get HIV.

Here, off the top of my head and in no particular order, are just some of the reasons I have had bareback sex in the two- plus decades I’ve been sexually active: I was in love, I was in lust, I was upset, I was joyous, I was so very tired of condoms, my then-monogamous boyfriend wanted to, I was lonely, I was drunk, I was high, I just fucking felt like it.

There’s nothing nicer when you’re angry, upset, shocked or scared than to cast blame on someone else. Why wouldn’t you just call the cops if that anger, upset, shock and fear comes from finding out that you are HIV-positive?

But not once in the ensuing aftermath of the raw sex I’ve had, never for a moment — not while I hauled my ass to my doctor for blood tests, not while I waited for results, not while I got the results — did it ever dawn on me to find some permission within myself to justify blaming another person for the choices I made. In fact, I’ve never even blamed myself, what with being human and sexual and all.

Apparently I’m thinking outside the triangle on this one. I’ll work on wrapping my head around the notion that because a piece of legal paper says it’s okay to blame someone else for HIV infection it’s okay.

Meanwhile I still wrestle with what I’ve only begun to sketch here, the nightmare truisms we now face on this legal path, as sexual people, as queer people, as HIV/AIDS activists. And I wonder — feel free to join me — if all of this would just disappear if the law was that everyone is responsible for their own sexual health.