By: Ebony Payne-English
We were laying in bed one unicorn of a Monday morning. Both of us had the day off. He rolled over, looked at me and smiled. “So, are we at the point in our relationship where we can fart in front of each other?” He asked me. Two different dynamics of relationship reality had just reared their head into my sex life. The first one being the fact that he thought he’d hidden something from me that I’d known about for months. I silently endured his failed attempts at stealth flatulence not because I hadn’t smelt it, but because it’s really not that big of a deal. The second was the act of asking permission to expose himself further to me.
There are certain boundaries that separate the couples from the friends with benefits. If a person in a mutually understood and accepted friend/benefit situation wishes to progress into couples’ activities, they will test the strength of the boundary before deciding whether it’s permissive to go deeper into emotional content with their lover. The issue I have is that by the time my partner is questioning if we’re fond enough of each other to witness bodily functions, I’ve already exposed one of the most private parts of myself.
As a 30+ single black woman living with HIV, dating gets to be a bit complex. Although I use protection, it has been my choice to tell potential sexual partners of my diagnosis up front. It started as a defense mechanism. I didn’t feel ready to date again and loved ones began pressuring me to get back out there. Any guy that made it to the phone call stage made me uncomfortable.
That means something he did or said impressed me so much that I actually gave him my number. I NEVER give out my number. Nevertheless, one Friday night I found myself criss-cross apple sauced in the middle of my bed chatting it up with a well-read Sagittarius who kept making me smile. He asked me, “are you in for the night? I’d like to see you.” My response was, “I’m HIV positive.” The intent was to hurry up and push him away so that I could finish painting my toenails, watch a movie and go to sleep.
I was in a relationship at the time that I was diagnosed. He was extremely supportive. I panicked. I was hysterical and concerned that I may have given it to him. He was calm, thoughtful and patient for his test results to come back. He tested negative and that didn’t stop him from continuing our relationship, being intimate with me or discussing a family. What I didn’t know was deep inside; he was feeling just as panicked and freaked out as I was. My boyfriend had been trying to do what he felt a good man should do. Stand by me.
I believe it was better for him to be true to himself. That meant at the end of the day, he wasn’t able to stay. As a result, I adapted to the opinion that I’d rather potential partners walk away from me after hello than after I love you. So I got it over with. But the Sagittarius was not up for my pushiness. “Ok,” he said, “so does that come with a curfew or would you like to join me for drinks tonight?”
It wasn’t until I dealt with a very ignorant and extremely misinformed dodged bullet of a lover that I grew to experience my candidness less as a defense mechanism and more as an unapologetic vulnerability. The duality is seemingly oxymoronic I admit. “Damn shawty, how many niggas was you f*ckin’?!” He asked me. It tagged me right in the chest. Hard.
The kind of comment that under any other circumstances would be answered with a “f*ck you” as I go on about my business now brought me to sniffles. By the time he got to “will I get it if you give me head?” I was so defensive and unraveled that I ended the conversation. I had an opportunity to educate him. To exercise the same patience that my boyfriend had shown me once upon a time. I wasn’t ready to be that big of a person yet.
Embarrassment is probably the most provocative emotion for me. I have A LOT of pride. I was afraid to be fragile in front of men when it came to my illness. Part of the baggage I carried into the exchange with my misinformed suitor involved the fact that his assumptions and judgments were validation of the way I feared partners, friends and family would respond upon being informed of my status.
The thought of it used to keep me up at night. It gave me panic attacks. It almost turned me into a coward. His reaction rejoined me to a painful moment in time. I resented him for the flashback but it taught me how to be honest without being callous. I’m growing comfortable with allowing my sensitivities to show in front of men I’m interested in. That took a lot of maturation. Ironically, it was the ignorant dodged bullet of a lover that prompted me to reconcile with my humanity. I’m not made of stone and that’s OK.
In all honesty, everyone has not been as supportive as my ex or as unbothered as the Sag. Yes, there have been and will be jerks. There has been and will be judgment. There have been and will be rumors but my love life did not die with my diagnosis. Neither did I. My life is here for me to create as I see fit. One major part of that is being accepting and loving of myself in spite of my illness. Through my love and acceptance of myself, I have manifested an unimaginable amount of love and acceptance from others. Love is about intent. Love is about exchange. Love is about freedom. And more and more for me every day, love is about courage.