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'A Positive Outlook' by Baryn Travis Jacobsen

The morning after St Paddy’s will always go one of two ways: either you’re trapped in bed with a hangover heavier than the collective amount of Guinness drunk the world over, or you’re one of the few who rise early to get to work on time for a change because the roads are clear (who doesn’t love post-celebration traffic?).

For the majority, the latter is more a nightmare suffered due to the copious amounts of artificially coloured beers and cocktails consumed throughout the previous day (or in 2019’s case, the entire weekend – can I get a long weekend AMEN?). And we all know that a hangover’s best friend Mr. Hornbag loves to come and tease us when we’re on a one-way train to the nearest barf receptacle. Your glands swell, your throat opens, heaven rains down and you’re suddenly 10kgs lighter and craving the intimacy you wanted to end your night with – instead, you woke up to find you’d shared your bed with every edible item you had available at 4am that morning. So, what does one do?

We’ve all been there, and thanks to apps like Grindr we don’t have to be as impatient anymore when it comes to finding a quick-fix to your worn-out favourite hand.

So, you’ve swiped through enough nearby profiles and sent as many taps to the #NoTapSquad as your satirical heart desired. Thinking with your little head, you got carried away and now you’re inundated with picture requests and unsolicited penises.

This was exactly where I found myself on Monday. However, I found myself pulled towards a guy who I’d been in conversation with all week. We had hoped to meet since he had arrived the week prior, but schedules clashed and it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen. Until it did.

His profile stated very clearly that he was HIV positive, so I was well aware of the situation I was putting myself into. While I do always try to practice safe sex, in the heat of the moment accidents can happen. And that isn’t to say that it should be regretted - think more along the lines of a happy accident.

The one thing that struck me about this encounter, however, was how taken aback I was not by his honesty, but instead by my own lack of education and understanding.

I understand the gist of HIV lingo. We all know what positive and negative mean. But that is generally about as far as most knowledge extends unless you have been personally affected or involved in the epidemic. I had not, but I am lucky enough to have friends who are more clued up. The problem I had was in my approach to the whole ordeal.

We clicked instantly when we eventually met. But I’m sure had he seen the panic in my face before the door opened things would have gone very differently.

I racked my brain for a sense of understanding of what I was about to do – and it just wasn’t going to happen. I frantically Googled what I thought to be my possible outcomes, and how things from there might unfold. But I then caught my reflection in the hotel elevator; reddened by my own embarrassment that anything I might say or do out of fear through lack of knowledge might ruin any chances of bedding my urges.

Not to say that I had hunted this specific man out because of his status, and believe me there are some crazy people who might, in fact he made the first move initially. It wasn’t until reading his bio that I found his status. And, to be honest, I do applaud the developers over at Grindr HQ for their implementation of such a feature.

Given the current social situation surrounding HIV and AIDS in Malta, I was frightened that asking any questions regarding aftercare of the hook-up might dampen his mood. Instead, my instincts kicked in as the door handle turned and I decided to remain in silence on the matter. Again, only for fear of making myself a fool. Why? Because I had no idea what I really needed to be asking.

I knew he was undetectable, but my brain still saw that as “positive”. I know from my own experience that undetectable generally means untransmittable. I must admit however, that a voice in my head had me question if he was sticking to his treatment regime to remain undetectable; there I was, silently doubting a person and his integrity.

While we were talking, he mentioned that he’d like to do more, something we both agreed on, but he went quiet after that so I didn’t press on so as not to make anything awkward. He didn’t mention his status himself at all, it was just on his bio and I didn’t want to overstep a mark with him by coming across as nosy.

It felt like a pink elephant was lying in the bed between us and we both failed to acknowledge it. I just wish we had a casual conversation about it, kissed, made love and said our goodbyes.

In all fairness, I know that I had been silly to remain silent with him since, regarding this all, but we’ll let that slide for the sake of the point of this piece: why did I need to ask anything at all?

I’m not going to shame any sector for not pushing enough education through the system. Instead, I will simply ask this:

Is it really that hard to take the wheel of our own health? Resources are stretched as it is, why leave it to the professionals to tell me what I should have done?

If I could tell the community (and on a larger scale: everyone) one thing, it would be this:

You are in control of every action you take, and in the case of not playing safe your actions can have consequences and repercussions for those who might come along soon after.

Everyone craves intimacy at some point, and when it comes knocking at times that you aren’t prepared for it, the only option thereafter is to grab the bull by its horns.

I hope you all enjoyed the weekend’s festivities, and I hope even more so that you all enjoyed them safely. As for me? I’m waiting for the earliest opportunity I can (damned mid-week public holidays) to contact the GU and seek advice. This time, not out of fear, but pride for how far we have come. There may still be a way to go, but baby steps got me this far in life and I’m happy to paddle along if it helps those around me feel more at ease. After all, everyone deserves to feel safe in their environment, whether at home or on holiday.

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