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My sadness overwhelms me, from mere minutes after opening my eyes until I find some distraction that numbs the pain of staying alive and allays my nagging desire to be taken away from the world. This Friday, I blow out my 36th candle and yearn for countless wishes and dreams to come true. They say age is but a number, but it feels like the years submerged in disappointments, inundated with endless wellness checkups and doctors appointments, holding onto scraps, and attempting to survive, have broken my back and withered my will to live.
A year is not enough to heal, to recover. It isn’t the virus itself, which is tamed by drugs but never exiled, but the lingering impact of the freefall that followed my discovery of it. A full year was not enough to get to know my infiltrated body or “coexist” with its new colonizers. A year was barely enough to accept and embrace the powerlessness and gonorrhea that are attuned to the treatment.
Like a pirate or a Trojan horse, HIV is an eternal, insufferable guest that brings with it even more unbearable guests. Perhaps the symptoms related to the virus’ violation and the treatment are the gentler ones: fatigue, warts, and other symptoms that resurface every now and again. But the roughest thing about it is that veiled yet prominent feeling of being broken but needing to remain hyper-aware.
I sit on the toilet, staring at the rolls that are heaped atop my stomach and concealing whatever remaining crumb of satisfaction or fascination I once had with my body. On one hand, a friend living with HIV tells me, in response to my constant whining, that the antiretrovirals given for AIDS are what’s fueling my gluttony. On the other, my doctor, proud of my weight gain, tells me that my open appetite is a good sign.
In front of these bulging rolls, my hand squeezes my smartphone. I surf the corners of “the Yellow Planet,” also known as Grindr, or as I like to call it, the land of headless bodies. To those who are not familiar with Grindr, you are missing out. It is the most popular online dating app among gay men, and also seems like the primary source of sex for gay people in Tunisia, followed by trans people or “travestis.”
These bulging rolls are enough to ostracize me from the Yellow Planet and bar me from any source of lust, pleasure, or desire. If it isn’t my fat, warts, or rolls that are the source of my life barren of pleasure, then it’s my androgyny. And if it isn’t my androgyny, then it is the virus. Three layers of stigma take turns, working together, to bury my sex life after the virus hit the last nail in its coffin. My lustful life is frozen for another year, and today I am subjected to my exhaustion. This tripartite aggression and medical treatment tire me and stress my body, and I can’t imagine how any of this would make me want to live any longer.
On the 13th of November 2021, ten days after receiving the news of my acquiring of the virus, I wrote a public Facebook post recalling the impact of my tragedy:
It is surely mysterious how the mind deals with emergencies, beginnings, and surprises. As I walk home after discovering I’ve got the virus, my brain decides to lick my wound, in English nonetheless, saying, It’s okay. It’s just another layer of something. I reply: It’s not enough that I’m a catamite, androgynous, poor and rootless… The virus must be the rotten cherry on top.
I’m frequently asked why I chose to disclose how I acquired HIV, and whether I regretted it. My trans friend living with the virus scolded me, gentle and protective, saying “You’ve made a grave mistake! You’ve ordered yourself a life sentence. Who will look your way now?” As for my doctor, she tries to reassure me, “Don’t let a small virus bring you down.” She describes it as small, not realizing that the virus is a growing nimbus; expands, engulfing me, until we become one.
Grindr users put a familiar human face to a hidden virus. After I announced my coexistence with HIV, it became a topic that floods my Grindr inbox. Some empathize, some ask questions, and some are furious with my presence on the Yellow Planet: “How dare you be on here with HIV?,” or “You shouldn’t be here,” or “You’re a danger to others.”
They strip away my humanity until I become a walking infection among them.
The standards of the Yellow Planet are just as yellow as its people. Headless bodies are scattered before my eyes, creating an eerie, toxic atmosphere. Cut up parts, dismembered organs, boxed like canned food for sale on a virtual shelf. There, one’s entire existence does not amount to more than a click of a button.
But I haven’t given up on the search for a male who will invade my senses and rough me up again. On the screen, my thumb moves across pictures of bodies, names, labels that call to me: “sex fiend with a big dick,” “sex maniac,” “thick cock,” “hard dick,” “9-inch,” “manly,” “macho,” or “hardcore Top.” I pause at the macho gays, bargain with the wild ones, and wish myself a merry and lustful comeback.
I always go back to Grindr begrudgingly, though I deeply despise it, because there’s no chance for me to get laid without it. And, I can’t date without a veil – in this case the digital veil that covers my embarrassment, protects its users from my possible nudity, and opens the doors of sacrifice with strangers. Behind the stacks of miniature-like figures and described skills linger hidden fates and unknown dangers.
The day I contracted the virus was an ordinary, stressful day. It was a day that halted 20-years of a frail sex life that brimmed with fear. Since I became sexually active – from a young age until I stopped – every taste of pleasure was laced with dread and panic. I’ve done it behind closed doors, from the first thick shaft I’ve played with, pleasured, licked, and tasted. That’s where my tongue sought the pleasure of the fire from my lover’s eyes, where my ears eavesdropped on the world outside my door.
I became accustomed to sneaking moments and taking risks since I set foot on the land of forbidden sex. It’s a minefield. I remained trembling, battling in the turfs of pleasure for two decades.
Was the thrill of sodomy worth it?
Having sex was never my goal, but merely an obligatory pathway to snuggle and breath in the bodies of men. I sought warmth from machos who were tough with the rest of the world beyond the corners of my mattress.
In a world ruled by binaries, I persevered as a scarified androgynous person. I stormed the intimacy of machos with my ostracized body, and I fought to feel wanted. Perhaps the desire for men was not worth all of the trouble. But, here I am, still yearning for their admiration and hunger for me. This season, I still dream of some hunk entertaining my hole so I might sneak a moment of embrace or steal a whiff of his scent.
I stick the bidet in my tight hole and it quivers, weary and bashful after losing contact with any inhabitant for a year and some months. My lower portal was at its peak, swallowing the fiercest shafts like a blackhole; floods of their seed used to course through it.
I grieve these memories, then recall my adventures with pride and longing. I go back to purify my queer wormhole, in hopes of new inhabitants.
In hopes of welcoming back my seasons of glory once again.