Language Matters – Clean & DDF

Use Your Words – We Are Not Unclean or Dirty

I need to take a moment to stand on a soapbox, having spent a few days reacquainting myself with several of the various gay dating sites and apps out there, to say loudly and clearly to my fellow gay men, as someone who has lived with an HIV diagnosis for nearly 22 years, that it is NOT OKAY to go on referring to positive people as being “dirty” or “diseased” by proudly proclaiming yourselves the opposite. Saying you are “Clean / DDF” in your dating profiles is just shallow, condescending doublespeak for saying that you have (so far) been fortunate enough to have avoided infection. Whether you intend it to be hurtful or not, think about how it would feel if you tested positive and were automatically ostracized by your own community and made to feel inferior, dirty, and unworthy of love or affection because of it.

Try to imagine the horror of finding out at 19 years of age that you would, for the rest of your life, carry with you a diagnosis that requires you to disclose your status to every person you ever think about dating, despite the awful stigma that such a label carries or the constant rejection you will have to face time and time again forever and ever and ever. How would you feel ten or twenty years later, if you were so lucky, to find that the already youth- and body-centric pool of eligible gay and bisexual partners out there uniformly wrote you off as unworthy of their time and attention, and, adding insult to injury, made every effort to distance themselves from the likes of you by ubiquitously proclaiming themselves pristine and untainted on every website and dating profile on the web? How much self-esteem do you think you could hold onto under those conditions for any length of time?

1 out of every 5 gay men in the United States is living with HIV right now.

Now, add to that inner narrative we’ve got going here the added humiliation of being an overweight man in a gay society that chiefly dismisses anyone with a waistline larger than 34 inches. Imagine going to a website that is supposed to be a welcoming sanctuary that is accepting of everyone’s differences – offering you the hope of finding people who are actually attracted to you despite your status or size – only to find that even here you’ll be made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. That’s exactly what happens when you use terms like “clean” and “DDF” to describe yourselves on sites like BiggerCity.com and on applications like Scruff and Growlr. Those sites were born out of a need to provide access to those of us who didn’t fit the smooth, hairless, lean muscled perfection of the guys on apps like Grindr and all the other websites that host page after page of twink/jock porn-ready people. You shouldn’t go there and ruin the already tenuous atmosphere of acceptance and camaraderie by drawing lines in the sand to distinguish yourselves as superior specimens of unsullied faultlessness, fresher and cleaner by far than the unsavory element you so strongly hope to avoid.

The latest statistics reported by AIDS Project Los Angeles and UCLA show that 1 out of every 5 gay men in the United States is living with HIV right now. 1 in 5! That means that potentially every fifth person who reads your profiles on these dating apps and websites is being hurt by your words and is accumulating even more self-loathing and shame to carry with them when they log off and ultimately give up. If that means nothing to you, then you are not as “clean” as you’d have us all believe. Practice some basic humility, guys. Put yourselves in others’ positions once in a while. Take a time out from your busy weekend and maybe seek some education on what living with HIV really means in this day and age as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago. Volunteer at one of your local HIV Resource Centers and spend time around people who carry the burden of the stigma that your words reinforce. You’ll thank yourself for it later when you understand how your words can hurt more than your actions sometimes.
Empathy is sexy; ignorance is not. Perhaps instead of declaring yourself free of our abhorrent disease by typing “Clean/DDF” into every app you sign onto, you might answer questions about your health with a simple “HIV negative and tested regularly”. See how that description doesn’t imply that you are better or worse than anyone else, yet still manages to get the message across that you don’t, in fact, have HIV? Yes. Something like that would do nicely, my friends. Give it a try.
For more information on combating HIV Stigma, check out these sites.

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