Dating apps aren't exactly known for sensitive interactions between people, but for gay men living with HIV, there is an extra barrier: disclosing to potential partners their HIV status.
So a group of HIV-positive guys read out – and responded to – real messages sent on Grindr to HIV-positive men. You can watch the video in full here:
The film, created by HIV charity GMFA, begins with one of the more common questions posed on gay dating apps: Are you clean? "I wash," replied Thomas, 43. "I shampoo, I condition, I exfoliate, I moisturise – I'm pretty clean," added Rhualdhri, 26, before a wealth of mostly nasty messages are read out.
"We wanted honest, instant reactions to the kind of stigma – and sometimes abuse – HIV-positive men can face on the gay dating scene," said GMFA, that is using the video with the hashtag #StopHIVStigma as part of a World Aids Day campaign. "Their responses were funny, direct, and showed how HIV stigma can make them feel and how it should be dealt with."
"You're a walking disease mate," read one message. "I mince more than walk," Ruardhri replied.
"Sluts like you deserve it," was another message they read out. "100% in agreement, babe," joked Sean (below), 34, while Sadiq said, "No. People that hurt other people deserve stuff."
The unkind messages kept coming. "Nah! I don't want HIV from your blood." To which one guy replied that unless he was a vampire this was unlikely.
When Tom, 29 (below), read out, "You deserve to have it. Teaches you to stop being a slut," he replies, sadly, "One thing I am not is a slut."
"I wouldn't want anything to do with an ugly pile of HIV like you," read another message. "That's just a hurtful comment and that makes you look ugly," said Thomas, 43.
At the end, they describe what it's like to see these messages. "For guys who've just been diagnosed who can't speak to their friends or family... if that's the response you're being met with it's potentially really damaging," said Greg, 35.
Greg said, "Dating an HIV-positive, undetectable guy is the best way to make sure you stay negative." A recent major study revealed that when someone is HIV-positive and on medication so the levels of virus in their blood are suppressed to "undetectable" levels, they are effectively uninfectious. The researchers followed 1,110 couples, both gay and straight – all of whom had unprotected sex – and in over 44,000 sexual acts, not a single HIV-negative partner became infected.
BuzzFeed News spoke to two of the participants to find out why they appeared in the film.
"The subject of what people say to HIV-positive guys on apps has come up a lot among my friends, but I don't think people have taken it as seriously as they should," Rualdhri told BuzzFeed News. "The things people say are ridiculous so the video brings some depth to what is quite a serious subject."
He also revealed what reactions he has received on dating apps, "You get asked, 'Are you clean?' quite a lot, which really pisses me off. It doesn't make any sense and it's degrading. Yet it's become accepted on apps that that's the way we should talk to each other."
Rualdhri continued: "I'd be more than happy to sit down with someone and explain the ins and outs of having HIV, but when they're that blunt it makes me just think it's a waste of time."
As a result of such negativity, Rualdhri no longer uses dating apps. "It got to the point where I would only talk to other positive guys because I knew that whole conversation wouldn't happen. Since coming off Grindr I've regained self-worth and realised that those apps are not good for your mental health."
But as well as encouraging people to educate themselves about HIV, Rualdhri also blamed the lack of education about the virus in schools. "I didn't even learn about gay sex at school," he said. "I think I heard about HIV once in biology. There needs to be more information given to young people, so they're better educated to deal with the situations they find themselves in."
Last year, Sadiq revealed his HIV status on his Facebook page, for World Aids Day (1 December). Taking part in the video, he said, was about "taking control back over my own diagnosis. It was a second coming out and so the video marks that and what's happened since then." He has experienced a "really mixed" response from men on dating apps, when he discloses his HIV status.
"There's always some kind of reaction," he said. "But the main one I've seen is people blocking you, which makes you mad because you want to find them and educate them."
Patrick Strudwick is a LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Strudwick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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