Love, Trust and the Importance of Empowering Self-Protection

Child's hands holding an HIV awareness ribbon, Cape Town, South Africa
Child's hands holding an HIV awareness ribbon, Cape Town, South Africa

It's not easy having the person you love do something that tells you they don't trust you anymore. Equally difficult is letting go of your denial of the problem, which in my case was that I was not trustworthy. This is where my history with PrEP begins.

We met in the spring of 2011, and it was love at first sight. I was in the darkest place in my life, and he was the brightest light I had ever seen. It only took a month to share "I love yous" and it was suddenly us against the world. I rode this wave of elation and for about six months. I had found a beautiful, intelligent, witty, and caring man who loved me for who I was. I never imagined that was possible. I grew up in a very conservative church made up of immigrants who came to the States to escape communism, and the only things I were taught about gay people were they were all:

1. homeless monsters who live under bridges
2. pedophiles and beastialists
3. going to die from AIDS and burn in hell. This is their fate.

Being ten years old and knowing that you are different, but being so terrified to be honest about it, crushes your soul. Spending over a decade struggling to maintain the giant wall built around your heart is a tough habit to give up. A part of me, deep down inside, still believed the things they said to me without knowing they were talking ABOUT me. This is why I never truly let the man I loved in. I couldn't believe that he really loved me. I held on to the pain of rejection and shame from my family and church, and it rotted inside of me.

My way of dealing with this depression was to self-medicate, the way many other addicts do. My drug of choice was the high I got from feeling desired sexually. I sought out sex from almost any man who would make me feel like I was worth anything, even if he threw me away after he finished. The feeling of being used for pleasure gave me a purpose when I could see no other. The worst part was that the love of my life had no idea this was all happening behind his back.

Six months into our relationship, the curtains fell and he was suddenly made aware of my dozens of instances of infidelity over the course of our short but passionate relationship. I thought the night I was outed and given no choice but to run away from home was the worst night of my life. I was so wrong. Watching his heart crumble into a million pieces in front of me is a nightmare which will remain seared into my memory until the day I die. I fully expected him to end his relationship with me, as every wise friend of his advised him to do. Looking back now, the fact that he didn't give up on me is the only reason why I am alive today. He pushed through his heartache and worked to get me the help I needed.

I started seeing a sex therapist a few weeks later, who urged me to go to 12-step groups. I denied the reality of my addiction and thought I could do it on my own. A few months later when I cheated on my boyfriend again, and once again did not disclose it to him, I was given the ultimatum of attending addiction meetings, or he would leave me. This began a period longer than a year of off-and-on attendance, and progress coupled with more instances of duplicity. I was getting nowhere in recovery because I never truly gave myself up to it. I was too proud and stubborn to admit that I needed help. After a few more revelations of dishonesty and sex outside of my relationship, the love of my life left me on the third anniversary of when we first met.

Almost more impossible to deal with than this was when he first mentioned PrEP to me a few months earlier. He said that he read about it online and was interested in starting. I berated him with questions, accusations and shame. I warned him of the "horrific" side effects of HIV medications. I pleaded with him not to take it. The truth that I was hiding inside was that I knew he was right in needing PrEP. He could not trust me to take care of his sexual health, and he finally had a way to take control of his own protection.

A few weeks after I moved out, he began begging me to ask my doctor about Truvada. He knew that I was now free to have as much sex as I wanted, free of the guilt of having an affair and hurting him any longer. Skeptically, I agreed to take it. In retrospect, he saved my life yet again. A friend of mine who worked in a local AIDS service organization told me that, knowing my sexual history in great detail, it was a statistical miracle that I did not become HIV-positive and infect my partner before starting PrEP.

Today, I am eternally grateful to the greatest love of my life thus far. He offered me compassion and acceptance when doing so caused him so much harm and disapproval from his friends. Because of him, I've evolved from being a PrEP-skeptic to an incredibly vocal advocate for this revolutionary drug. I now have the ability to take responsibility for my demons, which spares my sexual partners from the risk of lifelong HIV infection.

The moral of this story is that you should be like my ex-partner. He took charge for himself, and taught me to do the same. Realize that loving someone doesn't equal immunity to risk. Do not allow another person to hold your truth in their hands, even if he or she truly loves you. You never truly know they could be dealing with and hiding from you. Relying on someone else to protect you from HIV is naïve. Nobody will have your best interests at heart the way that you do. Having an added layer of HIV protection in your bloodstream does not make you an untrusting pessimist. Doing so means that you're responsible and empowered, and this is what prevention is really all about.