A positive response: attitudes toward HIV in Nashville

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by Terry Lee Derrick
Staff writer

So how is the Nashville gay community responding to HIV on a personal level? It ranges from those who are informed and aware of safer sex and that serodiscordant couples—or couples in which one is positive and the other negative—are entirely possible to those who are completely un- or ill-informed and reactionary in spite of the easy access and prevalence of information.

The most unfortunate casualty of the latter is more infection. There are literally thousands of positive men in the middle Tennessee area, and there are those of us who behave as if this isn’t true. Probably one of the most common ways HIV is spread is by denial. This denial can be seen in both those who don’t get tested because they feel certain that they cannot possibly have it, and in those who have unprotected sex because they blindly believe their partner’s, one-night stand’s, and Internet hookups’ inevitable claims of being HIV-. Even if someone is positive, when condoms are properly used there is virtually no risk of infection; so relying on what someone says is not an issue.

One of the reasons people are reluctant to disclose (and mind you, I offer this not as an excuse for it, but as a reason behind it) is the all too realistic fear of being treated like a pariah and not as someone who could be a lover or partner. Also, there are a surprising number of cases of transmission between partners who are already in a relationship. Once again, this is due to not getting tested and living in denial that HIV is prevalent in our community.

I know there are hundreds of men on Gay.com everyday in Nashville but how many have read the extremely informative area regarding HIV that’s available on the site? All anybody has to do is click on HIV and every question he could imagine, and many he could not, is answered right there in a simple Q&A format based on the latest information and studies.

Not only do those of us who remain in the virtual dark about the facts need to get up to speed and stop acting as if “acting as if” will make HIV not so, but we also have to realize that the thousands of positive men—if one of which we are not, but for the grace of God—are us, all the same. Through the eyes of enlightenment we can see them as potential friends, lovers and partners, and not as some “other” whom we regard with fear and react toward with prejudice. If we act as a real community, if we get and stay informed, and if we become empathetic and open minded, then the fear of disclosure and the denial that are so prevalent could be transformed into an open society where HIV can be stopped and love and intimacy can flourish.