Gordon Fleming – I’d Like You to Know

“Ask people how they feel.”

One of my dear friends, who’s been gone forever, George Cheney . . . Our running joke was, anytime anyone would see you they’d say, “Oh, you look fabulous!” You could be dying, sunken cheeks, hooked up to 12 machines in the fucking hospital and people will come in and say, “Oh, you look fine!” That’s like, “No. No we don’t.” [Laughs.] I’ve told people, I’ve said, “Ask people how they feel. Most people [who are HIV positive] don’t look sick. Most people, if they’re taking the drugs, are dealing with the side effects from the drugs, and they usually don’t feel very good. Ask people actually how they’re feeling.”

As my relationships go: I’ve been involved with people who are both HIV positive and not. When I was first HIV positive, the first two relationships were with people who were negative. That created its own set of “issues.” There is a lot of assumptions that go both ways, that are back to the mind reading thing, where we fail at. [Laughs.] It goes both ways, as far as, I had never done safe sex before I was HIV positive, even after all the warnings and everything else. So, I had to learn condoms, lubricants, dealing with that, what a condom feels like when it breaks. Basically I was experimenting with myself for a year, playing around, and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t.

The first guy I was involved with [after I was HIV positive] was involved with the Spokane AIDS Network doing volunteer work. Initially I thought he was positive because he was volunteering at the Network. It wasn’t until afterwards I found out that he wasn’t. At that point, I had more issues about it than he did: sex in general, whether or not to use condoms . . . Most of it was with condoms. Not all of it, but, almost all. The second relationship was also [with someone who] was HIV negative. He explained it well to me, that with me he already knew that I was positive. For him, that was less risky than not knowing, either dating-wise or with somebody in a relationship. Which took me a while to wrap my head around, but I was like, “Okay. Well, that makes sense too.”

The last relationship I was in with [someone who] was HIV positive. We both knew that. We’d decided not to use condoms for sex between the two of us. We had both seen each other’s doctors and talked with them. Both of them knew what was going on. We were both on drug therapies, both in full suppression. Now we’re finding out that it isn’t possible to pass the virus at that point, but we didn’t know that then.

So, being with a partner who was positive was odd. Being with a partner who was negative was odd. They’re odd in different ways, but it still ends up being odd.

***

Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman, 16 March 2013.