I was having a little pity-party for myself last week. "I'm nearly 50, I've got a gut, I have HIV, no-one looks at me and thinks I'm hot or handsome anymore" that sort of thing. And let's face it, it's not that unusual. Hotness and desirability don't last forever.
But we homos try to make it do that. The birth of gym-culture is at least partially related to the massive growth of baby-boomer city-living homos in the 70s and beyond. All those young gay men, all working out to look hot and stay attractive so they could get each other in the sack. Such effort! When the body will give up anyhow, or so the lazy ones like me thought.
I've joined a gym at least three times in the last decade, but I never get beyond a few months. To be frank, going to the gym bores me, even if I like looking at the results.
Yes, it's superficial to put so much emphasis on how we look, I know. But all human societies and cultures have valued beauty and attractiveness. Why would gay men be any different?
It is good for the ego to be desired, to feel desirable, to feel hot, sexy and attractive. It's a good feeling when another man shows interest in you that way. And I can remember when men did, when they'd tell me I was hot, I was desirable, and I turned them on. I liked that feeling. And there I was sitting in my office, thinking "Well, that's gone, that part of my life anyhow. But I'll manage."
Then my phone beeped. It was a fuck-buddy I hadn't seen for a while, asking me what I was doing that evening. He's ten years younger than me, he's definitely handsome, great body and basically we didn't take our hands off each other from when he walked in till when he left about 5 hours later. He finds me sexy and desirable. We curled up and talked and touched each other between sessions, it was sweet, warm and intimate. And hot. And my HIV doesn't worry him in the least. As he was pulling his socks on, about to leave, he asked "So, how's your health? You're looking great! I don't understand all the medical stuff but are your blood counts ok?" He is always totally relaxed around the whole thing, which matters.
Because for me, and for a lot of guys I know with HIV, simply having the virus in one's blood is enough to put up walls about how we see ourselves and how we act sexually. And this can lead to us actually setting the scene so we don't hear or notice the men who do find us attractive. We don't believe that we can still be seen that way, or we ignore it or dismiss it when men do tell us.
Why? In part it's because of the way HIV brings sex and death together. We all know, on a logical level, that condoms stop you getting infected, that safe sex can be great sex, and that HIV doesn't equal death in the way it did 20 years ago, but I think a lot of that stigma is still there. In fact I know it is. And often the biggest barriers are the ones we put in place around ourselves. A diagnosis often shakes the sexual confidence of even the most beautiful and gym-buffed men, for a while at least. And trust me, there are some very sexy men out there with HIV, but often after diagnosis it takes us a long time to reclaim that side of ourselves.
I was talking about this the other day with a very handsome young guy I know who is poz, and he said how it is hard to make the first move. It is for me too, but it didn't use to be. I put it down to the virus, the whole "I've got this potentialy lethal virus in my blood so you probably wouldn't want to get to know me and sleep with me anyway, so why bother asking?" attitude that is so hard to shake. And as my visitor the other night reminded me, really not that accurate.
A lot of poz guys I know say they always feel more comfortable fucking with other poz guys if possible. The fear of unwittingly infecting someone is strong for most of us. But here in NZ the population of gay men with HIV is very small, so it's often not an option.
So it was good for me to be reminded that in fact I don't know who finds me attractive or who doesn't. It was good to be reminded that there are gay men out there who are able to have great sex with HIV+ guys like me and not freak out over it, but enjoy it. And it was good to be shown once again, that just when I think I know something , the world can surprise me.