I found out that I was positive because I got really, really sick. I had every symptom in the book which is a good thing and a bad thing. All the way from night sweats, to the chills, to feeling like I had the flu. And even the mouth ulcers, they were all a part of it.
I called up a clinic on a Friday and I wasn’t able to see them until the following Tuesday. That was the longest weekend in my life. Once I found out I was positive, I felt like I had the weight of the world on me – particularly being in Nashville, because literally the day that I received my diagnosis there were posters all over the bathrooms throughout the city that were geared toward HIV negative men for a vaccine study, and I was one of the poster boys at that time for the study.
So here I was, disappointed in the fact that I was now positive. Then a lot of other emotions came. I was tired, I physically didn’t feel well, I wondered what other people would think. I was scared, and I felt completely alone. I was 29 years old and not one person had ever told me in my life that they were living with HIV.
Because I didn’t know anyone that was living with the virus, I wanted to provide a resource and a place for my journey to be documented so that I could tell that story in a way that was honest and transparent, which is how [imstilljosh] came to be. My advocacy is about reaching people in the moment of diagnosis who are struggling and making decisions on what to do next. Having that kind of resource can be a life saver for people as there’s data out there showing that newly diagnosed men with HIV are five times more likely to commit suicide within that first year of diagnosis. And so, the message that I have always tried to continually share and recognize is just staying alive and positive, because having HIV doesn’t make you alone or unlovable. You have to take care of yourself and keep fighting.
I’ve been living with HIV for six years now, and unfortunately, some things haven’t changed since my initial diagnosis. There’s still stigma, and there’s still fearmongering going on all the time.
But some things have changed since 2012. For instance, PrEP came out just after I was diagnosed and is now very well-known, and its availability has helped educate some of the community and has lowered fears and anxiety for people that are negative to be able to date or have sex with somebody that has tested positive for HIV. Then undetectable equals un-transmittable, that movement came out in 2016 and has made a big difference. U=U means there is literally “zero risk” at all with somebody with an undetectable viral load, and that has really helped shape people’s perception and fear or anxiety of somebody living with HIV in context of dating them or having sex with them.
Another major thing that has changed is that I am no longer in a relationship. I was lucky enough right after the time of my diagnosis to find someone who was educated about it and wasn’t scared of me —someone who became my partner, best friend, and support system during the start of my journey living well with HIV. I got pretty lucky. He’s a great guy and I wished we would have worked out, but we didn’t. I still care for him a lot. It’s always difficult to let a relationship go. I made it through that tough part. But, now I am once again in uncharted territory…dating while living with an HIV diagnosis.
This has lined up with an exciting opportunity to be a part of DatingPositives, a new dating platform specifically meant for people living with incurable STIs. Part of my work with DatingPositives is contributing stories for their online magazine, WAXoh, specifically a video series called Life with Josh, which chronicles my experiences in the dating world.
While [imstilljosh] is very much focused on HIV-related news and advocacy, DatingPositives is giving me an opportunity to give a glimpse into my life in a way that I’ve never done before. I’m giving a more personal, intimate view into what I’m thinking, what I’m experiencing and what my life is.
By providing a more unfiltered view into who I am and what I’m about, I’m hoping other people can watch the series and see themselves and their experiences in a different way. I want to encourage people to continue to live their lives no matter what situation or what circumstance is put in front of them. Like, getting stood up on the first date. Spoiler alert, that happens to me on episode two! I honestly never thought it would, but I know other people appreciate seeing that they’re not the only one this kind of thing happens to. I’m excited to get into different topics down the line: sex on the first (or second, or third) date, how to have conversations on exclusivity, decoding text messages, etc. These are all things anyone dating has to go through, but on my journey, HIV is another factor.
People have been asking me what I’m looking for. Truth is, I’m looking for somebody who is unpredictably simple. I’m looking for somebody who believes as much as me that integrity matters. And I’m looking for somebody who isn’t perfect. I’m looking for somebody that can laugh as much as they can do anything else in life. I think too many times in relationships we start with a list of all these requirements. And that’s not what I’m looking for.
People have also been asking me, why DatingPositives? Some people think that a dating site catering to positive people creates further stigma, but I disagree in this case. First of all, you don’t need an STI to join DatingPositives, as long as your vibes are positive. But more importantly, for those of us living with an STI, it can be so incredible to know that people on the site will understand where you’re coming from, and what you’ve gone through.
Because some people still believe that if they ignore, or block, or really act like we don’t exist in the world that they can’t contract HIV. People have blocked me on other dating apps or dating websites because I have HIV, when the reality is that people like me – who know their status, who are medicated and undetectable – are the people they should least fear. It’s the people who say they’re negative, but they’re only assumed negative or maybe they’ve just never been tested, who pose the most risk.
This is all part of the journey for me. I’m excited for what the future holds, and excited to share my stories via DatingPositives. Whether you want to just become friends, or you want to hook up, or you want to go on a date, or you’re looking for that right match for you for life, the choice is there. And this is an amazing choice.
Josh Robbins is an award winning sexual health advocate, author of the site imstilljosh.com and paid spokesperson for DatingPositives.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category.