Let me begin with a disclaimer that while my sensational title may seem to attempt to speak for all gay men, this polemic is my opinion alone- though I do think that more than a few gay men out there will find some of themselves in my words. Still, I do not at all presume omniscience of anyone else’s thoughts: this article is the culmination of my experiences and the shared experiences of some of my closest friends.

About a month ago, I developed a really bad knee infection that later was diagnosed as being the result of sliding and tearing up my legs on a heinous turf field during soccer. When it happened, I started to swell up something fierce and get physically ill; as a result of these amalgamated symptoms my mind went straight to one thought and one thought alone: I have HIV. Now, before I lose most readers to eye rolling thoughts at Homorazzi’s more “liberal lover” getting his just desserts, I feel the need to universalize myself to most of you by admitting that while I’ve had my share of sexual encounters over the past few months, I’ve been the top and I’ve always, always used a condom. Still, the second I felt sick and started to get a seemingly unwarranted swelling in my knee, I became obsessed with the notion that I had contracted HIV.

Call it histrionics, call it a lack of education, or hell, call it being realistic, personally I’d call this a pretty typical reaction for a 21st century, sexually active gay male. I go from testing to testing, constantly worrying that some accident occurred and that my negative status will have finally been compromised and my worst fear come to light… And, I personally know of no way to abate this tiring, seemingly eternal obsession.

It absolutely must be said this point that by no means is being or becoming HIV positive the “worst” thing that can happen to a person. Today, it is a constantly researched illness that is nowhere near the “death sentence” it once was decades ago. Still, by and large not a single person would wish it for themselves or for another and gay men in particular- be it through conditioning by others, the media or simply history- have a predisposition to constantly worry about its transmition. Of course, throughout the world- in Africa predominantly- there is the constant threat of exposure to all ages and sexual preferences and genders, but in what are often titled “1st world countries”, I believe the fear of contraction is most often seen in their gay, male population and it is to those men that this article refers to.

Returning to my recent curious knee infection, I was immediately nervous and afraid to tell even my closest gay friends I was in any pain. Attending a house party that weekend, I attempted to tough it out until the pain became so unbearable I had to explain my behaviour and why I was heading home so early. But, why was I so scared of telling my friends I had an infected knee…? A month later, and with scrutinizing lenses, I can finally admit it’s because I didn’t want to hear or even feel that my friends were thinking I had something as serious and as systemic as HIV. It was clearly a deep thought in my mind when symptoms of fatigue and tenderness began, so I assumed it would be theirs as well and not only would it have terrified me to hear my- what I hoped were- outlandish theory of HIV reaffirmed by a close friend but it would have shamed me to think that they felt my sexual practices were risky enough to warrant such a possible explanation. Again, placing no judgment on those who practice “unsafe” sex or who through whatever means have contracted HIV, I only mean to argue that because I am such a staunch observer of safe encounters that it ought not be a reasonable conclusion that I have become positive. And yet, even in my own mind, it was.

For nearly two weeks after my initial infection, I constantly woke in the morning to check my bed for sweat-soaked sheets; my temperature for spiking highs; and, my body for sudden rashes. It got to the point that I kept my room uncomfortably cold to ensure no false positives in my at-home “symptomology testing”: I was obsessed. Having learned my lesson not to Google image and Wikipedia a disease at the slightest inkling I might have it (try sleeping after you look up pictures of oral gonorrhea), I chose instead to get tested and wait the two weeks to confirm my immune status as exactly how I had “left” it 4 months earlier. During those two weeks, out of nervousness and anxiety, I spent the time asking a few of my closest friends about their experience with the periods between HIV testing and found a striking similarity: the second they became unduly sick, their minds inevitably and uncontrollably went right to HIV. I have a friend that had forgone all forms of sex since his last negative testing and he still panicked when he got a cold in mid-summer: he worried the last testing had “missed” something! Further, because HIV has such an array of symptoms and possible resultant secondary illnesses, everything from a cough to a headache to a pain in a toe was painted bright red with worry in my gay friends’ minds as HIV constantly loomed as a possibility.

I would argue I have remarkably well-read and well-informed friends who have above average knowledge concerning HIV and still, we are no less immune to this knee-jerk reaction to ailment than any other gay man. We know just how statistically “difficult” it is for the most part to catch HIV, and we know the typical severeness of the body’s actual reaction once it has contracted it, and yet no amount of intellectualizing and debating the worry with each other or in our own heads can fully qualm this instant fear. Honestly, even once the two weeks of waiting to hear my results is up and everything is fine, I immediately begin a countdown in my head until the next 3 or 4 months are up and I have to go through this all over again. I can never escape the worry that something will rip, or I will slip or hell my theoretical new boyfriend will cheat and not tell me, so my brain gives up trying to be reasonable and starts the worry all over again. A friend of mine took the picture below while on a recent business trip… tell me it isn’t just me being crazy arguing and believing that we gay men have a tendency to think: “HIV” more than any other group.

I called this article a polemic for a reason however. Not just a way to spout my issues and run, I’d really appreciate the feedback of any and all readers on this topic. Call me an idiot or maybe someone just like yourself, I want to know if this is a concern my friends and I share exclusively or if you hear any truth to my words. Post below or rate above, I’d love to hear back from you all.