Dating and HIV

September 6, 2013

I know that every book is special to every author, but Hanging by the Moment hits really close to my heart in a lot of ways, probably the biggest of which is Daniel’s HIV. Writing about HIV, especially from the point of view of the other guy, the one falling in love with Daniel, was really hard. It made me question myself: would I date somebody who had HIV? I mean, HIV changes everything, right?

In a way, it does. Living a life with a compromised immune system means that Daniel has to take extra good care of himself. He has he exercise (not hard in his line of work) and eat right (a bit challenging for a man who only really knows how to use the microwave—seriously, if it weren’t for owing an electric tea kettle, Daniel might burn water). But the biggest challenge is when it comes to meeting someone, maybe starting to fall in love, and then having to find the words to say “I’m HIV positive.” I don’t think I can imagine too many tougher conversations to have because there is this huge stigma attached to HIV. And it’s funny, because when you talk to some people, they treat HIV like nothing (“Oh, you just have to take a pill, it’s no big deal.” Wrong. It is a HUGE deal. But it shouldn’t be a stigma.)

Hanging by the Moment is told entirely from Pasha’s point of view; I decided to write it that way because although it’s no secret to the reader that Daniel has HIV, I wanted you guys to discover it along with Pasha, to feel with him—to see through his eyes and heart and grapple with the reality of loving somebody who had HIV right along with him.

Right along with me, because before I could figure out whether or not Pasha could live his life with a man who had HIV, I had to figure out whether or not I could. My gut reaction was “yes, of course!”

I think.

Shit.

It’s pretty scary.

HIV is AIDS. I mean I know it’s not AIDS, it’s the disease that leads to AIDS, but isn’t that splitting hairs?

No, actually, it’s not. HIV becomes AIDS when a person’s CD4—that’s a kind of white blood cell—count drops below 200. Normal is 500-1000. Once it starts dropping lower than that, it’s hard to fight off infections. People with HIV can—and do—have perfectly normal CD4 counts and live perfectly healthy, happy lives.

Except for the part where they have to tell anyone they might become intimate with that they have HIV (in Michigan, it’s a felony not to disclose your HIV status. We’re not the only state with that law). Talk about making it harder to convince people to get tested, because remember that stigma? There are a lot of people walking around who honestly don’t understand how HIV is transmitted. They think they can get it from public restrooms, door knobs, stealing a bite of pizza or a sip of beer—they think all it takes is a hug or a kiss or handshake. You can’t—but just saying that doesn’t seem to be enough to stop the prejudice.

My heart absolutely broke over some of the things I read online, and as a result, I started volunteering with AIDS Partnership Michigan. There is no reason for HIV to continue to be a problem—it boggles my mind that anyone still gets it—but there is even less reason to stigmatize those who do.

And by the way, yes, after a lot of soul searching, I realize that if I were still single, I would date someone with HIV. I would marry them and spend the rest of my life with them if I loved them.

A reader on Goodreads asked me if Hanging by the Moment ends in an HEA—and the answer is yes. I appreciate bittersweet romances and Dreamspinner’s Bittersweet line, but I don’t see myself ever writing one. That said, Pasha and Daniel have a lot of bumps in the road to get though before they can get to their Happily Ever After.

Remember: Dreamspinner has issued a special coupon code: use it to get 25% off my books as well as Coming of Age books. To use the coupon code, just go shopping as usual and type pattskyn0906 into the promo/coupon code box at checkout. The code is good for 48 hours, starting Friday; remember, DSP operates on Eastern Standard time.

And everyone who comments on any post throughout the day will be entered to win my big Blog Tour prize: a signed copy of Hanging by the Moment and a bag o’ swag.

I’m not going to ask if you’d date someone who was living with HIV—I’m just going to ask you to think about it. Just think about what it means to have a disease that’s criminalized (what else do you call it when the state says you have to disclose your status? And yes, I think it’s the right thing to do, I just don’t think it should be a felony). What would it be like to meet a guy, a wonderful amazing, kind, sweet guy, and have him tell you he had HIV? How would you handle telling your family and friends—and how you handle it if they suggested dumping him for “someone healthy”?

Not easy questions, I know.

7 Responses to “Dating and HIV”

  1. Trix says:

    I’m so glad there’s an HEA–I was worried about that! I think people have a hard time figuring out how to discuss HIV and AIDS even now, because I think they somehow feel that destigmatizing the disease means that they’ll imply that people should be less careful. It’s crazy, I know. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

  2. Carolyn says:

    The last book I finished reading had a subplot of HIV and AIDS in the 80′s. It left me in such tears, not for the men in the book but for a wonderful man I knew when I was a kid. My mom had a very close friend who had an amazing brother. Because I was always with my mom, I spent so many wonderful times with him. When I read things where people say they will continue to have unprotected sex because it feels better and there’s pills you can take, I get so angry. I’m in agreement, you should have to disclose your status, but like every other law that seems common sense and right, I would hope people would be honorable and safe and do it anyway without a law. I know people who like to stick their heads in the sand about health issues, but some things you just can’t hide from. Thank you for what you’re doing with your volunteer work, and I’m so glad there are organizations like yours helping to support and educate. Too many wonderful people are gone and too many still live with the pain for us to act so dismissive.

  3. hbpattskyn says:

    It’s this weird vicious circle; stigmatizing it makes it harder to convince people to get tested, but you’re absolutely right, destigmatize it and people stopping thinking about the fact that it’s still a life-altering condition–one they want to avoid. There’s an amazing documentary on YouTube narrated by Stephan Fry about HIV; one of the things that astounds him is that there are more people now who have the disease than there were 20 years ago.

  4. hbpattskyn says:

    After I did the research for this book, I decided to donate a percentage of my royalties toward raising awareness–but donating money is relatively easy. Write a check and done. My time on the other hand…that’s valuable. After seeing some of the attitudes that are still prevalent, I needed to feel like I was actually doing something. It’s been such an awesome, rewarding experience. I’ve met some really amazing people and I feel grateful to be there.

  5. Trisha says:

    Honestly, I can’t say I wouldn’t date someone with HIV. If I fell in love with someone, I would hope we could date. I can see myself being cautious, but it’s not always the persons fault either. I hate the fact when people hear HIV they presume the person slept around a lot. But it’s not always like that, and I think that is something people need to learn. I agree that if you have HIV, you should tell your partner you have it. I would be more likely to leave the person because they had lied – and put me at risk – than because they had the disease. Honesty is the best policy in my book.

    Although, I can see why the families of the people dating someone who is HIV positive would be a bit wary and worried. It’s something that can be passed from person to person. But at the end of the day, if you’re an adult, it should be your choice.

  6. H.B. says:

    Just recently I read this article (see here –> http://rolandmartinreports.com/blog/2013/09/police-hiv-positive-man-may-have-exposed-300-partners/) about a man infecting about 300 people knowing he had HIV. I was absolutely horrified that someone would do such a thing knowing they were infected. I think I would like to know if someone I have a chance to become intimate with has HIV. It’s sad that it has to be that way but at least it keeps potential lovers safe. After all, there still isn’t a cure for HIV or AIDS.

    Personally if I was to fall in love with someone who was HIV positive I’ll like to think I wouldn’t be too bothered. All well educated people know how HIV and AIDs is transmitted and if two people love each other it should be easy enough to remember to take precaution when being intimate. Yes, there’s no fail safe way to be 100% safe but if both partners are careful there’s a good chance that they won’t be infected/reinfected. I know my family would probably have issues with it but they don’t run my life. The only person who has a say in how someone should run their life it the person living it.

  7. hbpattskyn says:

    H.B. — I’ve read and heard about stories like that too and I know it’s why we have the law we do in MI making it a felony not to disclose your status if you’re positive. It takes so much bitterness and hatred to be like that, this man has to be some kind of emotional black hole–which is no excuse! It’s just a shame when the laws meant to protect also hurt.

    And totally agreed, that the only person who really gets a say in a person’s life is that person him or herself :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

    ~Helen

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