Words by Jay Hawkridge | @jayhawkridge

I’ve slept with one person in the last year.

Being diagnosed with HIV in late 2019 has played a large role in this, naturally. I’ve found that my entire identity has been altered, and my priorities changed. Throw in a global pandemic for good measure and the result is my reality; caught between two viruses, stuck in a web of jacking off to instagram influencers, and just wanting to kiss someone new.

It’s not as if I’m particularly experienced, either; the instance in which I caught HIV was the first one-night stand of my twenties. Encouraged by friends to ‘loosen up’, the scars from putting my trust in a stranger, only to have them purposely hide the fact that having unprotected sex with them would put me at incredible risk of catching the virus, doesn’t really inspire confidence going forward. Sure, I started the new year with someone I’d met that night on their knees in front of me, but I’m craving excitement, not black-out drunk sloppiness.

The roots of my intimacy struggles, I fear, have only grown further. And I’m afraid. I’m afraid that, when it becomes possible, I haven’t equipped myself with the right tools to navigate casual-dating, and if I felt behind pre-pandemic, there’s almost no chance of me catching up now. Hearing stories through the grapevine and seeing loose acquaintances continue to hook up for the last year has just dimmed my shine further. If everyone has simply kept adding to their roster while I’ve withered in my bedroom, either on the phone to my therapist in my bedroom, or cooking meals for one in the kitchen... do I even qualify to play?

It’s not that I lack the sources to roll the dice, of course. Since becoming public with my status last June I’ve found that my confidence is my strongest, and by default most attractive trait. Going viral on Tik Tok a handful of times has fed a steady trickle of dm’s into my requests and, to brutally honest, the attention of a handful of men that I’d quite frankly be honoured to go to bed with. What stands in the way is part geography, and part-fear, a cocktail of complications that leave me feeling rock-solid frustrated.

I know that I put this weight of expectation on myself; the romantic in me is far more picky than I ought to be. For instance, I have an unwritten rule (unless I’ve tweeted about it) that if I receive a message that’s simply ‘hey’ or the equivalent, I won’t return the favour.

I’m a driven, and ambitious man, now so more than ever. I don’t have time to devote to all my friends, let alone someone who’s A-game to catch my attention consists of three letters. I’ve potentially missed out on some great communication, and it’s hard to justify sometimes. I fool myself into thinking that what I’m actually doing is locking myself away in the cage; that instead of the knight guarding my heart, I’m actually the villain of my story.

Trust is something I lack. In the last eighteen months I’ve watched helplessly as my entire reality burned before me; no matter how I grasped at the pages, they all became ash. I’ve lost friends upon diagnosis, due to stigma. I wake up every day to barrages of internet hate from anonymous accounts, and some of the information is so personal that it’s all too easy to believe that there are spies inside the wall, and there are some people in my circle that are living double lives. For what gain, I have not figured out yet, but the result is none-the-less the same; me, retreating into my shell, closing the drawbridge and preparing for a cold future.

Which is just another barrier to casual sex. If it’s proven at every step that I can’t trust anyone I look in the eye on a day-to-day basis, how can I put my faith in a newcomer? Especially when, in essence, that’s exactly what led to the person I am today? Late at night I listen to Oh Wonder’s debut album, or flip between Red or Reputation and long for someone to swoop in and save me from all the madness.

To see through the smoke and mirrors, the ballsy internet persona I have to wear like armour to null the sting of my existence, sweep me into his arms and just run, together. To understand that all of the attention doesn’t faze me, nor will I ever stray, because I’ve grown up on classic rom-coms and 90s R&B, and I’ve longed for a love that will stand up for me my entire life. At every crossroad, a lover has only ever been disappointing, and I wait to be proved wrong, perhaps out of spite at this point.

If you catch me on Grindr, or Tinder, in the future, then good news; I’ve managed to somewhat overcome the man I am today and hey, hopefully I’m enjoying myself. Even if I’m just testing the waters, I feel so coiled and ready for a man I know, if I want to, I can be. I guess that’s just it. I have to clamber over the visualised-self I have in my head right now, or maybe just shut him in a box for a while, store him away until somebody comes along that’s worth his time.

Fine, I guess I could get into casual sex, if I have to.