Undetectable me

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07 Sep 2017

With an Aussie-led study reaffirming the effectiveness of treatment as prevention, HIV-positive guys share what it means to be undetectable.

Knowing that I can't pass HIV onto a sexual partner while I'm undetectable makes me feel much more confident about negotiating unprotected sex and not worrying so much about whether a partner is the same status as me. That HIV-positive people like me are no risk gives me hope that there will be less stigma between pos and neg gay men and within the community generally. — David

When I first heard about U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable), it really blew my mind. I've been fortunate to be on effective treatment since I was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2003, and I started testing undetectable shortly thereafter. The realisation that no one has been able to get the virus from me from a sex act is news that needs to be shouted from the rooftops! — Bruce

U=U to me is a real possibility to eradicate stigma and ultimately HIV/AIDS. Along with my work as an activist/advocate, staying undetectable is an integral part of my commitment to ending the epidemic — while considerably expanding my dating options! Knowing that we can't transmit the virus to a trusted partner (I'm single), allows us to enjoy our bodies responsibly and without fear. — Gabriel

When I won Mr Gay New Zealand as an openly HIV-positive advocate, I encountered all manner of pushback and stigma. What got me through it was the incontrovertible power of U=U, and the science behind an undetectable viral load and how that fits in the prevention landscape. Times have changed for the HIV response and now we have highly effective options. An undetectable viral load is an equaliser that helps us unpack the fear and outdated notions leftover from the early years of the pandemic. But to do that, people need to get informed and stop perpetuating ignorance and obstruction. — Charlie

The first time I read an article in a medical journal reporting that being undetectable meant that I could not transfer HIV to another person, I almost did not believe it. It wasn't until I heard my own doctor confirm this information that I began to trust it. We have to provide people with information that is current, tested and factual. Now, along with condoms, providing easy access to PrEP and U=U, we can better equip people to protect themselves from contracting HIV. This allows people to relax a little more around this subject. HIV should no longer be an obstacle to love and intimacy for people living with HIV. — Eric

I think what surprises people most when I talk to them about [HIV] now is that, being on the right medication, my chances of transmitting the virus are negligible. I wish this was reported a bit more, rather than stories like ‘HIV monster goes around and infects hundreds of people’, which breed fear and always turn out to be untrue anyway. There’s still so much to be done on the ignorance and stigma side. — Cristian

Once it seemed inconceivable that someone would choose to be open about their HIV status, but now more and more people are refusing to conceal it. Social media, in particular platforms like Twitter where people can maintain partial anonymity, seem to be filling with more openly HIV-positive commentators. Gradually, the avatars are shifting from the artfully concealed faces to full on ‘stare me in the eye and know me’ pictures. Increasingly, we are talking about embracing an identity where we are openly living, without shame, not just as people with HIV but, crucially, as people with an undetectable virus . — Matt

I am still adjusting to being HIV-positive, that I cannot lie about. After all, as a gay man, my brain had been trained from a young age to fear HIV. But now, as an HIV-positive person, I know that it’s us — the people who are diagnosed, and know they have the virus , but are on medication to suppress it — who are the people taking precautions to end HIV transmission. We don’t want to, and can’t, pass on HIV. Now I know I’m healthy and can’t pass on the virus , I’m enjoying every moment life brings. — Michael