By Leslie Robinson
When I gave up sleeping with men, I thought I’d also given up the need to worry about contracting HIV.
I now have a story to tell about lesbians and HIV in the modern age. This story has drama, comedy, and way too much mystery.
It’s a lesbian tale, so it begins with a woman. Grace lives far from me, in the middle of the country. She’s a cool patch of blue in a fiery red state. We got to know each other through e-mails and phone calls. Soon we reached that point in a budding relationship where you confess “it,” that secret of yours that you’re certain will make her abandon you like the Titanic.
She told me through tears that she’s been HIV-positive since the ’80s. Like me, Grace had come out late, and a former boyfriend of hers, long dead, had been bisexual. Her health was good, considering, but she didn’t want to take the chance of infecting me, so she couldn’t allow us to go forward.
She meant it. This was no sympathy ploy. But after thinking it over, I called her the next day and told her something that I meant: we encounter only so many potential matches in a life, and this relationship was worth pursuing.
I was so earnest I suspect that conversation counts as both drama and comedy.
Anyway, before long she booked a flight out here to the coast, and I booked an appointment at Planned Parenthood.
I’d read in the gay press that woman-to-woman transmission of HIV is rare. I wanted to learn how to keep it that way. Was there anything besides dental dams and rubber gloves I should know about?
After I posed my questions to the straight nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood, she admitted being embarrassed. Not because we were talking about sex between women, but because she had nothing to tell me! She knew no more than I did. And she won’t until society decides lesbian health is at least as worthy of study as the physiology of aphids.
So I tried to be responsible, but discovered the medical establishment can’t say the same. Sex between women when one of them is HIV positive is clouded in mystery. If the American Medical Association can’t or won’t solve this mystery, we’ll have to put Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple on the case.
I can report what gay men already know, that when you’re in the throes of passion, you’re none too inclined to hit the pause button so you can apply some latex. I can also report that keeping a dental dam in place can be a, um, slippery business. Altogether, between the dams and the gloves, I did feel like I was having a threesome with Grace and a box of Saran Wrap.
I presume I would’ve adjusted to that in time, as well as become more creative, because being with her meant being with HIV. But Grace and I ultimately decided we made better friends than lovers.
Since we’d been as careful as we knew how to be, and since transmission between women is a feat, I wasn’t too scared I’d picked up the virus. Add in also the fact that I like having blood drawn as much as I like changing a tire with my teeth, and it’s no surprise that I put off getting tested.
Recently I did the deed. In an ironic final twist, the clinic messed up and I had to do a second blood test, which the phlebotomist won’t soon forget.
I was negative. I called Grace. This Thanksgiving we both had something to be thankful for.