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The men who long to be HIV+
arlos nonchalantly asks whether his drink was made with whole or skim milk. He takes a moment to slurp on his grande Caffe Mocha in a crowded Starbucks, and then he gets back to explaining how much he wants HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. His eyes light up as he says that the actual moment of transmission, the instant he gets HIV, will be "the most erotic thing I can imagine." He seems like a typical thirty-two-year-old man, but, in fact, he has a secret life. Carlos is chasing the bug.
"I know what the risks are, and I know that putting myself in this situation is like putting a gun to my head," he says. Some of that mountain music that's so popular is playing, making the moment even more surreal as a Southern voice sings, "Keep on the sunny side of life" behind Carlos. "But I think it turns the other guy on to know that I'm negative and that they're bringing me into the brotherhood. That gets me off, too."
I met Carlos in New York's Greenwich Village, the neighborhood where he usually hangs out. He is tall, with a large build, and plenty of gay men find him attractive. His longish, curly-wavy hair is jet-black with golden highlights, and his face is soft and just a bit feminine. He has a very appealing smile and laugh, and he's a funny guy sometimes. The conversation veers from the banal -- his fascination with the reality show The Amazing Race -- to his desire for HIV. Carlos' tone never changes when switching from one topic to the other.
When asked whether he is prepared to live with HIV after that "erotic" moment, Carlos dismisses living with HIV as a minor annoyance. Like most bug chasers, he has the impression that the virus just isn't such a big deal anymore: "It's like living with diabetes. You take a few pills and get on with your life." Carlos spends the afternoon continually calling a man named Richard, someone he met on the Internet. They met on barebackcity.com about a year ago, while Carlos was still with his boyfriend. That boyfriend left because Carlos was having sex with other men and because he was interested in barebacking -- the practice of having sex without a condom. Carlos and Richard are arranging a "date" for later that day.
Barebacking was only the beginning.
A couple of years ago, I was cruising in an internet chat room when a young man summoned me into a private chat. We talked for a few minutes, exchanged physical statistics and photos, and even discussed the prospect of hooking up for a little play. He seemed pretty hot. Then he asked me a question I didn’t quite understand.
“You into conversion?”
This struck me as a little odd. Was this guy some member of a weird religious cult wanting to recruit me into his belief system? I didn’t understand, so I asked him, “Conversion to what?”
Came the answer: “Me to poz.”
I stared at my screen in disbelief. “You want me to give you HIV?”
“That’s insane,” I told him. “Why on earth would you—”
End of chat. He clicked off the window and disappeared back into the corner of cyberspace he’d sprung from when he realized that I wasn’t interested, and that worse yet, I was going to chastise him for his request.
I had just encountered my first “bug chaser.”