Arriving in Atlanta to sweltering heat late last August, I headed for the Pos Hetero Summit, the gathering of straight HIVers held by www.heterochat.org and the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA). As assistant coordinator, I greeted friends from summits past and Atlanta locals who, attending for the first time, were amazed to find they are not alone. I myself had been sick with AIDS for five years and down to two T-cells before I was finally diagnosed -- after all, a straight white woman who had never shot up was not "supposed to" have HIV. I started attending summits because I craved knowledge about the virus but my local ASOs were focused more on the gay community. Now I bring back information -- and medical and political views -- to positive women in Los Angeles.
I hosted the workshop on disclosure as I had at the May summit in LA. The men I spoke with try hard to go out and date, but when the third or fourth night out comes around, most get scared and break it off. The stigma -- "if you have HIV, you must have been doing something wrong" -- is still strong in the straight world. In LA, one man was struggling to reach out to someone very important to him. By the Atlanta workshop, they were engaged -- the group had given him the strength to disclose.
Friday night we had a pool party. Even with Crix bellies and wasting, some of us are at ease in swimsuits. There were a lot of hot bodies, too. We go to summits to put a face -- or give a hug -- to people we e-mail and chat with all year. The Chicago summit in July will be our next step from virtual connectedness to flesh-and-blood community. Join us.