Why Sex is No Longer a Tee Shirt.

I’ve been HIV positive now for ten years. I became positive through unprotected, or “bareback” sex with someone, I’m not exactly sure who. At this point, it doesn’t matter to me; I have accepted what is.

Glasses KEV

In this time, I’ve had plenty of sex. Some of it was good and memorable, some of it wasn’t. Some of it has been with condoms, some of it hasn’t. Since I’ve become undetectable and viral-suppressed, most of it hasn’t. Even so, I’ve made my sexual partners aware that I’m positive, shared with them what I’ve learned, (with statistics and backed-up medical research if they requested it) that it’s highly unlikely–less than 3% chance–that I could pass the virus. I’ve been impeccable, and to the best of my knowledge, have kept my virus well-hidden and asleep inside of me, and haven’t spread HIV.

I’m single again. I just turned 45 last week. I have gotten the question from friends, my sister, even from my dental hygienist this morning, “So, are you going to throw yourself back in the dating pool?” This question has made me defensive and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure exactly why…so I gave it some thought. Here’s my answer. I hope this answer will resonate not only with others who are living with HIV, like me, but also those who are single by choice, newly single, or perhaps on the fence about re-entering the dance of dating and sex.

It’s just not appealing to hop on a sex and dating app like Scruff, Growlr, Grindr, Adam4Adam, or Bear411 and find someone. As tempting as it is to look at all the hot guys, most are either partnered or geographically unavailable. I find I need more. After my relationship ended, I went down that familiar route, as I’d done in the past…only this time it felt different. I have less tolerance or patience for the utter bullshit of fast-food dating and order-in sex, and the subsequent ugly feeling of being weighed, measured, and found wanting because of my HIV status, or because of my age. I’ve become frustrated with myself more than with anyone else when I feel myself on the auction block, and realize I’m using an extremely inhuman, manufactured and artificial means to “find someone”. It may be for some of you, and I don’t judge that. I found it is not for me…it’s not how I want to meet someone. I’d rather sit at home and read.

At the end of the day, I’m seeking intimacy over sex. A connection that goes deeper than inserting body parts into other body parts, and playing at kissing and holding like I mean it, when in reality, I just don’t. I have grown tired of sex as a place-holder until something–or someone–right comes along. How will I know who is right? 

Sex is not casual for me anymore. I need more than a tee shirt and jeans. I need nakedness on the inside before I remove my outer clothing. For so, so many years, I have used sex as a drug, as a way to wield power, as a way to feel appreciated and loved, even if for a short time. I have been sucked by emotional vampires and bled by predators who use sex as a safari, bounding from one conquest to the next, tallying up their conquests like invisible heads mounted on the walls of their experiences. I know, because I was one of them. It’s time I stopped being a predator, a hunter and gatherer, and a consumer, and became a farmer and a scholar instead.

One recent evening, after I’d deleted all the apps, all the distractions and temptations and had nowhere to turn outwardly, I decided to sit with my horniness. I didn’t go to internet porn, I didn’t “sext a buddy” on my phone or on Facebook with enticing offers and photos of my junk. I sat with it. It was uncomfortable, but I breathed in and breathed out. The jumpiness and antsy feeling deepened and turned into longing…an emptiness. There is a hole that begs to be filled within, in a place just below my heart and above my solar-plexus…a small place that has its own rhythm and secret shape. I tuned into it, and realized how I had misused this part for such a long time.

You’re free to disagree, but I am convinced that too much casual sex will erode you. Only you know what “too much” is; only you know your level of tolerance. But it’s important to know. Sex can be as addictive as heroin, with as difficult a detox period. It’s easier to get than heroin, too, and there are plenty out there who are all too happy to provide you a fix. I’ve learned this the hard way, and continued to do it long after it was “too much”. Someone once told me that when we have sex with each other, we take a piece of that person into us, and we leave a piece of ourselves behind. It’s invisible, it’s not like sperm or any other fluid. It’s a spiritual piece, a stain left over. Enough of these pieces get taken from you, and you begin to lose your ability to recognize real intimacy and love when it comes. Every sexual act becomes a transaction rather than a connection. I believe that.

When I sat with the feelings of longing and loneliness, I realized I’d been running from the person who needed intimacy the most–myself. I’d been fumbling in the dark all these years, expecting boyfriends, lovers and strangers to know how to love me…how to work the gears…how to solve the Rubik’s Cube that is my heart, because I’d never successfully solved the puzzle. I’d grown frustrated and distracted and given up. I wanted to be loved so badly, and in the worst way, and often that’s exactly the kind of love I got. I had been a consumer, and had allowed others to consume me. When I couldn’t find anyone to innately understand me, to be everything and everyone I wanted them to be, I said “fuck it, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” and became a hunter and a predator, too. It was much easier than being vulnerable and truly naked. It was simpler than doing the hard work of loving myself and messing that up, then trying again and again through diligent practice until the pieces began to line up into a recognizable pattern.

That’s what I learned about myself when I sat with my feelings. It’s evolved since. I know differently now than I did before. Call it age, call it an acceptance of my HIV status, or call it becoming more aware, if you will. I don’t plan to fuck anymore. I plan to make love and cultivate intimacy, and not just in the bedroom with another man. I’m going to begin at the source. I’m connecting more often with that soft and secret part of my body where my Self waits on a balcony like a true and patient lover for my visit. I’m going to ask him questions, feed him with kindness, woo him and seduce him with new things, remind him of old things we used to enjoy doing together, and take him on adventures. I’m going know every part of his beautiful and masculine body. I’m making a life-commitment to him before anyone else, and we will grow old and die together.

And when I meet the other soul on this journey through life whose path crosses mine, and when he chooses to walk with me, he will be a man who has done and continues to do the same difficult work.

 

 

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A Rhapsody In Blue.

Rhapsody_in_Blue_cover

“Okay, I’ve got one…Tyler? Tyler!” He was busy flirting with Bruce the Bartender. Bruce, it should be known, is female, gorgeous pixie cut, curvy blue eyes that compliment the curved, clover leaf intersections of her body, mapped by a topography of tattoos. It’s also important to know that Tyler’s straight, and I’m not.

Tyler finished laughing at some bon mot of Bruce’s and raised his eyebrows with”Yes?” He’d humored me like a patient parent all evening; he’d even given me five bucks and said, “Make a playlist.” I touched “Play Next” on the MP3 screen. He cocked his head over the talking others in Westerwood Tavern, and squinted his eyes as if that would make him hear better. I planted my butt on the stool next to him just as Simon LeBon started singing, “You saw me standing by the old corner of the main street.”

“Ah, yes. Save a Prayer. Nice one, buddy.” He looked at me, then beyond me, into some memory I’d just gotten in the way of him retrieving, and said, “Damn good tune. Love me some Duran Duran.”  I looked at Tyler, then beyond him, silently shouting the question “Why can’t you be gay?” and prompted myself back to the present.

I had it bad, when I chose to have it. Months of meditation taught me to accept what is, rather than attach to what I wish for, or what could be. It sucks sometimes, but it’s better than longing for an outcome that just ain’t ever gonna happen. It was easy to get lost there with Tyler. He had as much charisma as he had chest hair, and he didn’t seem to mind when I rubbed his shaved head like a Buddha statue, just for luck. His smile was a sturdy boat, and his laugh was a sea shanty…and his eyes were blue and warm like the Caribbean. Tyler liked everyone, including me, but Tyler loved the ladies.

“What was the first CD you bought?” He asked me.

“CD-not-album, or 45?” I asked.

“Yep. CD.”

“Gordon Lightfoot’s Greatest Hits.”

“Fuck yeah, man! Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald! Put it on. Add it to the playlist.” I was obedient. Hell, I’d pretty much do anything Tyler asked me to do…he had that Tom Sawyer way about him. That way of making you feel like everything is radically okay, smiling as the ship goes down.

We sang along as best we could, Tyler, my friend Julie, occasionally Bruce, and me. No one knew all the lyrics, and it didn’t matter because it was perfect at the time. I added some more songs to the playlist–“Heart and Soul” by T’Pau, “No One Is To Blame” by Howard Jones, and “Raspberry Beret” by Prince, to bring the mood up a bit for balance.

Eventually, Tyler joined me outside for a smoke. “When did you become interested in music?” He asked.

“From an early age,” I replied. “There were three generations of music lovers in my family. My father was twenty-one years older than my mom, and my sister is ten years older than me. Dad liked Big Band, singers like Ella, Nina Simone, and his favorite was Sarah Vaughan. I knew who Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were before I was in second grade. I learned about Bluegrass and Gospel from my mom, and I remember listening to Rumors by Fleetwood Mac while driving around with my sister, Kim,when I was just a little boy. Of course, I discovered Duran Duran and Depeche Mode all by myself,” I laughed.

“Of course you did! Didn’t need any help there, did you?” Tyler laughed back. We both took a drag, and I continued.

“I have this one memory of my father and music. I was, oh I don’t know, maybe eight. I was listening to something at the time on the stereo in our living room from my stack of 45s, doesn’t matter what…but I remember my dad stopping me, cigarette hanging on his lip, and saying,”Son, come here, I want you to listen to something.” I’m sure at the time I did it to be one part obedient and two parts glad Dad was giving me attention. He crushed out his cigarette, went to the record cabinet and knelt before it, like it was an altar, as I stood a few feet away, watching him thumb through his stock of albums. “There it is,” he said. He pulled out an album, pristine and shiny, and held it before me. “You need to hear this, son.”

“He held the left side of the album cover, gently slid the record from the paper sleeve, put his middle finger on the little hole in the center, and balanced it like a newborn baby against his shirt. He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket with a magician’s flourish, gently wiped the perfect, glossy black surface and held it up to me so I could see my reflection in it and waited until I nodded, “yes.”

“Dad placed the album on the stereo with both hands on either side, careful not to touch the vinyl. He turned the player on, set the speed for LP, and turned the volume up two clicks. It was like watching a Japanese tea ceremony; a ritual that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Dad didn’t have to tell me to sit on the sofa. I knew my part. He put the needle to the vinyl and sat back in his easy chair beneath the glow of the reading lamp. Seconds later, I heard the notes of “Rhapsody In Blue” for the first time. That famous wail from the clarinet. My father’s eyes, closed in fervent prayer, his hands placed on the arms of the chair in meditation. We took a sixteen minute trip together in the living room, courtesy of George Gershwin. That was my first introduction to the pure power of–the ritual of–music. I think it may have been my first meditation, too.  Afterward, my father turned to me and said three words. “That’s music, son.”

“Wow,” was all Tyler said. I could tell he was deep in thought. He was looking beyond me again. We went back inside, joining Julie and a few others in the present ritual of drinking craft beer, shooting the shit, and riding the conversation train to its various stops along the way.

Two beers later and it was time to go. I’d had enough booze and banter, said my goodbyes to Julie and Bruce, and figured I’d catch Tyler on my way out to the car. He was smoking and flirting with some redheaded regular on the patio. I waved, shook his hand, and said, “Okay, buddy! I’m out.”

Tyler pulled me in close for a hug–a big bear one. “You taking off?”

“Yeah, I need to go home and feed the cat,” I said. He broke the hug, but kept his big hands on my shoulders, looked me square in the eyes and said,”That story you told me about your dad, and Gershwin, and comparing him playing a record to a Japanese Tea Ceremony…”

“Yeah?”

“You’ve got to write that shit down. You’re a writer, man. A damn good story-teller. Someone’s going to hear that story about music and it’s going to touch them.”

“Aw, thanks, man,” I demurred. Tyler didn’t let me go.

“No. I’m serious. I’m drunk, but I’m serious. It’s a gift, buddy. Promise me you’ll write that story. It touched the hell out of me, and it’s going to touch someone else.”

I laughed. “Okay! I promise I will write that story.” He let me go, and I started walking to the car.

“Do it!” Tyler shouted. “And have a Merry Christmas, too!”

“You too, handsome!” I called over my shoulder.

I drove home, thinking I could write that story. That there was something to it…something about a ritual, a bonding between father and son, the power of music as universal language, the ritual of friendship and its cultivation, the acceptance of what is over what you wish could be.

Once home, distracted as I so often am by dinner, the cat, Netflix, my phone, Facebook, and other bullshit, I didn’t write. Days went by. I put up the tree, decorated the tree, took the tree down, wrote other shit, spent money on gifts, wished I had a river to skate away on through Christmas, and blogged a little.

I thought about Tyler twice. The first time was just before New Years Eve. We’d talked about early resolutions that evening at Westerwood, and Tyler vowed to get back to the gym. I’d offered to join him, early before work a couple of times a week. I’d vowed, silently, to spend more time with him, thinking that his friendship might just be even better than any prurient fantasies I could conjure…plus, seeing him shirtless in the locker room wouldn’t suck.

The second time I thought about Tyler was New Years Day. I sometimes follow Brucie’s posts on Westerwood Tavern’s Facebook page when she puts up information about events, and wanted to see some photos from their New Years Eve party. Halfway down, the post from December 28th showed his photo, taken on a boat, and read:

Westerwood Tavern will be holding a memorial celebration for our friend Tyler who died unexpectedly Dec. 20th. The event will begin at 6 pm and will be a potluck. Feel free to bring a dish to share, a memory to share, a playlist to crank in Tyler’s honor. We would like to celebrate the incredible man Tyler was – kind, generous, boisterous, thoughtful, and a genuinely great guy – in a manner he would approve.
We invite you to spend the evening with us laughing, crying, dancing, and celebrating a man who was beloved. RIP Tyler, you will be missed but not forgotten.

“Fuck,” I said out loud. In rapid succession, like a skipping record, I thought of every thought that had Tyler in it. Every missed moment, every moment I’d had with him in the short amount of moments I’d been granted. I beat myself up for thinking he was hot, for wishing him gay, for being so fucking shallow. I did all the things one does when grieving, only I did them in the space of an hour, including going out and buying a pack of cigarettes and drinking way too much coffee.

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And then, I tried ritual. I sat with Tyler, and my grief, on the couch and meditated, allowing thoughts and feelings to pass by like clouds, piercing the sadness, making space for what is, though it was not what I wanted…not at all.

In the ritual of silence, I remembered the promise I’d made.  I sat at the kitchen table, opened the laptop, produced a clean dish towel and shook it with a magician’s flourish. I wiped the screen until I could see my reflection in the blackness, hit the power button, and pulled up a blank, white screen with its patient, blinking cursor. But, before I started writing this story…the one you’ve just finished reading, I created a new playlist on Spotify. The first three songs were “Rhapsody in Blue”, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, and “Save a Prayer”.

“This one’s for you, Tyler. Namaste.”