DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: don’t know how much you know about gay relationships, but I’m ready to give up and declare myself a “confirmed bachelor,” a quaint term that I might just reinvigorate.
I’m 43 and ethnically East Indian. Also I’m HIV positive and undetectable. That means I take regular meds that reduces the virus count in my system to a level where I cannot infect a sexual partner, especially if they are also on Prep, which is based on one of the three medications I take.
I realized I was attracted to men when I was 17. I came out to my friends first, then my family, slowly. It turned out better than I expected though not to the point where I would be bringing a long term partner home for Ramadan, for everyone’s sake. When I came out in the late ‘90’s I was the only Indian person in the youth group I joined, gay bars and clubs, or in the university LGBT clubs which I was a leader.
I was different (unique) but I assumed I would eventually find a partner and get a dog, house, and live happily ever after. Instead, I’m contemplating a life of being alone. I’m wondering if it’s still even possible to find a partner anymore, or if I even want one.
First, the race issue. Most people I deal in everyday life with are not inherently racist. There are lots of younger Indian gays in the gay village these days. It’s almost fashionable to have an “ethnic boyfriend.” Television and movies have normalized it, but not porn, which still fetishized it as a fringe “dominate the ethnic” fetish. I bring this up because of the dominance of porn and Grindr in the hookup world. I never experienced racism in normal life until I signed up for Grindr and received a torrent of “Not into Asians” or just no response at all when I initiate a conversation.
Wait, you say. Grindr is just for hooking up, if you want a real relationship try a dating site, clubs or other activities. Yes, but my HIV status scares off most “normal” guys on those sites. We might connect on geeky interests, even have sexual attraction, but my status almost always puts a wrench in things.
How did I become HIV positive, you might ask? Well, in my quest to find someone special I started exploring the fetish scene. For the most part, the leather and bondage scene is openminded, healthy, and supportive of any kink or fetish, regardless of race or body type, as long as you are down for it.
However, hand in hand with fetish scene, for me, came recreational drugs. The drugs sanded off the nervous edges, made me more open to trying new things with people I wouldn’t normally be into. But it quickly lead to a catch-22 where the only people I’d hook up with were into the “Party and play” scene, and it took drugs for me to find them hot. Even when we met, I could rarely get hard because a part of my brain was screaming “this is f--ked up and you are not enjoying this.”
So I would spend hours on Grindr looking for someone to hook up with, they would come over, we would spend time finding drugs to get high, get high, and then spend even more time looking for other guys who wanted drugs for a group where often nothing would happen because we were too distracted by the next hot by on Grindr. I wasted many weekends and even missed work on this pointless pursuit.
Then the pandemic helped, I no longer “parTy” nor play, but now I’m in this conundrum. I’m still not attractive to the “normal” relationship-worthy guys that I like, and I quickly shut down anyone who suggests the PnP scenario. It doesn’t leave me with much choice other than celibacy. What can I do to change this formula?
DEAR TOTAL CATCH-22: These are the sorts of questions that are the hardest to answer, TC22, because… well, if I’m being honest, the only real answer is “man, I’m sorry some folks suck.” But ultimately, that’s what’s happening here: some folks suck, and that can make like suck for others through no fault of their own.
You aren’t wrong, for example, about the background radiation of racial stereotyping that hits East and Southern Asian men and women and how white supremacy can inform people’s dating habits — including gay and bi men. Similarly, you’re not wrong about folks on Grindr who have things in their profile like “no fats, femmes or Asians”, or the way that people can still be ignorant about what it means to be HIV+ in the 21st century. All of that can f--k with your head, especially when your dating pool is already limited by virtue of being LGBTQ; it feels like a small pool has been made so much smaller that you could reasonably feel like you’re just s--t outta luck.
And, unfortunately, when the problem is “some people suck”, the only viable answer is “look for the ones who don’t suck”. Which, yes, is precisely the sort of insight that is why they pay me the tall Advice Column Dollar.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to be single forever. Yes, your circumstances make things more challenging… but there’s a world of difference between “challenging” and “impossible”. As I’m wont to say: nailing jello to a tree is impossible; everything else is merely difficult.
(Yes, I’ve seen the picture of the box of jello stuck to a tree; it was mildly amusing back in 2011…)
The key, in your case, TC22, is to look to minimize wasting your time and look to meet the people who are going to be the most receptive to you, instead of wasting time looking for love in several wrong places. As you said: Grindr, Scruff, DudesNude or the other apps that’ve become the digital equivalent of the hook-up bar may not be your best place to meet dudes looking for the husband, dog and white picket fence or charming duplex. While there are plenty of folks who find long-term, committed relationships on the apps — same as folks finding LTRs on Tinder or Feeld — it’s not necessarily the most efficient use of your time.
Now that doesn’t mean that dating apps are completely off the table for you, I’m a big believer that dating apps should be a supplement to how you meet folks, not the only way you do so. While Grindr may not be the place for what you’re looking for, Hinge and OKCupid both have large LGBTQ user bases that are more likely to be looking for the same things you are. However, as I said: this should be a supplement, not the replacement for meeting folks in person.
What I think is going to work best for you is what I’ve told plenty of other folks who struggle with dating apps: meet people through your hobbies and passions. Now, in your case, there’s a slight difference in where you should look to meet folks. The queer communities in towns and cities around the country often host activity groups and get-togethers specifically for other LGBTQ folks, so people can find and connect with others like them. So in many major metropolitan areas, you’ll find organizations specifically for gay, bi/pan and lesbian people to hang out, network and, yes, date. So if you look around, you’re likely to find gay skiing groups or gay amateur sports leagues, book clubs, cooking groups, MeetUps… events and gatherings specifically for bringing LGBTQ people together. That’s where you want to go to meet people — not just for dating, but friends, activity partners and so on.
The benefit that these events have over apps like Grindr is that, unlike a swipe-based app that encourages split-second “yes/no” decisions, you’re meeting people in person and building a connection over time. Part of why this works in your favor is because on dating apps, it’s very easy to get tunnel vision. Whether you’re gay, pan/bi or straight, cis; nonbinary, or trans; BIPOC, white, Indigenous, East or South Asian, dating apps make it all too easy to get so granular and specific in what you’re looking for, you miss out on a lot of other potential partners. There’re fewer opportunities for serendipity on a dating app; being able to specify as many traits means that there are fewer happy accidents and moments of chance. Whereas if you meet people in person, you may meet folks who don’t match what you’re looking for on paper but who are awesome and you’re into ’em anyway.
And just as importantly, you may meet folks who may not normally be into someone like you — someone who may be below-average height, for example — but your charm, personality, humor and other sterling qualities win them over. This is why playing the long game of getting to know people and building connections and relationships with them works to your advantage. Over time, uniqueness and individuality wins. So taking an approach of “meet lots of people, make friends, see what happens” is a good way for you to increase your potential dating pool.
And going to events specifically for LGBTQ people has one additional benefit: folks who are going to events specifically for queer folks are more likely to be aware of issues that disproportionally affect other queer people. Such as, say, being HIV+. As you said, TC22: you may be seropositive, but advances in medicine in general and HIV treatment in particular means that being HIV+ in 2021 isn’t the same as it was in the 80s or 90s. Because you’re on antiviral medication and your viral load is undetectable, there is virtually no chance of your passing the virus on to an HIV negative partner. If you combine this with your partners being on PREP and using condoms, then the odds of a negative partner catching the virus from you is almost nil.
For those of us who grew up in the early days of the AIDS crisis, this is mindblowing compared to where things were before. There’s been a lot of outreach to the LGBTQ community to help spread this information, especially considering how disproportionately HIV affects men who sleep with men. Folks who are active within the community are, thus, more likely to be aware of PrEP and suppressive medication and, as a result, are less likely to have the same knee-jerk reaction to finding out that you’re positive.
However, there’s still a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there, and it’s not unreasonable that some folks would regard being HIV+ as a deal-breaker. But here’s the thing: when it comes to socially divisive issues — such as sexuality, kink or serostatus — we often tend to react less to the person and more to the image that’s in our heads. One of the most effective ways of breaking down stereotypes about others is actually meeting people and getting to know them as people instead of as lables or images in our heads. So while there may be folks who have an initial “eeeeeenh” reaction to your being HIV+, being up front and unashamed of having HIV, being able and willing to explain what being on PrEP does and what an undetectable viral load means can make a difference in how folks see you. Your being able to explain your situation, combined with meeting someone who’s looking for the same committed, long-term relationship you are, could be the precise thing that pushes someone off the fence and gives them permission to do what they actually want: date you and see where things go.
Now, as I’ve told other guys in your situation: you’re still going to deal with assholes and folks who can’t or won’t update their mental ideas about what it means to have HIV. However, this is, in its own perverse way, a super power; all that’s happening is that folks who are demonstrably wrong for you are sorting themselves out of your dating pool. Your having HIV is just one aspect of the sum totality of who you are. How they respond to that information, on the other hand, tells you everything you need to know about them.
I’m not gonna lie, TC22: you’ve got some serious challenges ahead of you, challenges that other folks simply aren’t going to have to face. But as I’ve said before: nobody said that this was going to be easy. They said that it would be worth it.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com