Dear HIV-Negative Gay Men,

I have been HIV positive for a while now. I was first diagnosed well over a decade ago; long enough ago, in fact, I’ve kind of lost track.

As soon as I was diagnosed, I started anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and within a few months became undetectable. For those of you who don’t know, that means no copies of the virus can be detected in my blood by current testing methods. It also means that I can’t transmit HIV to you. Yes, you read that right: As long as I am undetectable, I pose no threat of HIV infection to you.

And believe me when I say that the last thing I would want to do is to pass the virus onto anyone else.

For more than a decade, I’ve endured having to come out as positive every time I meet someone new that interests me. Trust me: You guys didn’t always take the news so well.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked on dating apps if I was “clean,” and how many times I had to explain that although I am positive, I’m not “dirty.” Nor can I recall how many times you responded to my honesty by insulting or immediately blocking me.

Many of you have told me, “Sorry, we can’t have sex” because you “only have sex with negative guys.” I assure you there is absolutely no way you can know this for certain. I doubt all of your partners knew their status. And just to drive home my point, I became positive while in what I thought was a monogamous relationship with an HIV-negative guy.

When I first tell people I’m HIV positive, they almost always ask how I got it. Whether you realize it or not, that question is just a slyly veiled way of asking whether I “deserved” it. Now that I’ve already told you, you probably think my situation is tragic and unfair and that of course I didn’t deserve it.

Was he a total turd for cheating on me? Sure, and I was hurt and angry about that. But I made the decision to have unprotected sex with him way before PrEP was a thing. I knew the risks and I made that choice anyway. I own that.

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Did I “deserve” it? No. But neither did he. Neither does anyone else. Not if they slept with one guy or 1,000 guys. It’s the shaming and blaming that keeps HIV stigmatized and prevents people from getting tested regularly.

So as poorly as you may have reacted when I told you I was positive and undetectable, I’d like to think it didn’t come from a place of cruelty as much as ignorance and fear.

If you are negative and want to stay negative—and I truly want you to—then please educate yourself. Be comfortable with the choices you make. Wear a condom every time, or if that’s not feasible, get on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis.) Just please don’t tell me your plan is to only have sex with “negative guys,” because that’s a really, really dumb plan.

For all the anxiety some of you still seem to have about HIV, I can’t figure out why you’re not taking PrEP. According to data released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control, less than 8% of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. who could benefit from being on PrEP were on treatment in 2016. When taken daily, PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection by more than 90%.

I understand that it’s your body and there are many reasons people feel uncomfortable taking “unnecessary” medication. But if you have access to PrEP and have concerns about contracting HIV, I implore you to give it some more thought.

By taking my meds every day and staying healthy, I’m doing my part to keep you negative. So do yours.

Lastly, for those of you who may also become positive at some point down the road, I promise it isn’t the end of the world. There are people out there just like me who have been living successful, productive, happy lives with HIV—not to mention the allies, friends, and caretakers we have leaned on along the way—and we have your back. Seek us out. You are not alone.

All the best,

Bryan

Bryan van Gorder usually writes about the places he’s been or the famous people forced to talk to him.

@bvangorder