We LGBT’s have a long, creative, and colorful history of finding each other, hooking up, and falling in love. Seemingly, from time immemorial, we have used our ‘gaydar’ to make this happen, even when we had to do it underground. Nowadays, with the push for Marriage Equality as our newest raison d’être, it’s not surprising that this promise of inclusion into the paradigm of life-long commitment would spur a surge in these types of bonds. Collectively, we have fought hard to get here, overcoming being classified as mentally ill to disenfranchisement from our own lack of visibility; individually, we’ve had to conquer our own internalized homophobia and actually open all the doors of all the closets to arrive at “I do!” As if all this were not enough, some of us have another hazard with which to contend.
What happens when the one you love, the one who turns you on, lifts you up emotionally, allows you to soar to new heights, and then provides the proverbial parachute for you when you fall, has a disease which may take that all away from both of you?
What does it take from both of you to not have that happen?
What kind of deftness of tactical maneuvering do you need to navigate ‘the mine field’ that is a Sero-Divergent relationship?
Coming to terms with my own sexual orientation in the early ’80 was bolstered, on the one hand, by the prevalence of other young gays at the art conservatory I was attending, but simultaneously fraught with peril from the persistently frightening reminder of AIDS. After testing positive in 1997, I sort of became a de facto HIV expert, working in various fields that addressed treatment adherence and the psychosocial issues of the homeless and addicted HIV population of New York City. I had experienced a number of short-lived relationships with HIV-negative guys that ended for various reasons, some unrelated to our different statuses but some explicitly because of his anxiety around transmission. This made the prospect of falling in love yet again only to be abandoned untenable and I effectively swam myself out of that dating pool while pursuing my Masters degree and unconsciously gained enough weight to effectively barricade myself in from the cruel, cruel world. Now, I am happy to report, I am well on my way to regaining that dancer weight I had in my 20’s (hey, why NOT me?) and I have renewed my interest in wading into the ‘Deep Eddy’ of dating here in good ole Austin.
So, when my good friend Jeff Lutes, LPC, who is the creator and organizer of the Contemporary Couples Conference, asked me if I wanted to facilitate a talk, I jumped at the chance to explore what it takes to maintain and sustain a healthy loving sero-divergent relationship. I knew that I would need a handsome partner to help me with this, someone who has his hand on the pulse of group discussion here in Austin, so I asked my friend and colleague Joe McAdams to assist.
The presentation that Joe and I are leading will cover the potential risks involved in sero-divergent relationships, from stigma to the preoccupations common among the positive and the negative partner; also how to manage these risks through communication about emotional health, sex talk, medical treatments, care-giving, family planning, future planning and disclosure issues. We will also highlight the strengths inherent in many gay relationships, like humor and honesty, found by relationship researcher John Gottman and others. It will sort of be a TED talk with a round table discussion afterwards. Our intent is to have participants explore the preconceptions they come in with and leave with a new or better understanding.
I am currently in the process of gathering anecdotal/qualitative data that speaks to the struggles and strengths inherent in these relationships by conducting interviews. If you are interested in talking with me, please, contact me here at the agency. All correspondences, of course, are anonymous and confidential; and check out the link to the conference, I think you’ll find it provocative and exciting!
Mark Flores, LMSW
Behavioral Health Medical Case Manager