By Eve Hedderwick Turner
Originally performed by Jessie Wyld
When I sat down to write this monologue, I realised that I was extremely uniformed about the way in which HIV is affecting contemporary society, both here in the UK and internationally. It felt like an issue that was reasonably distant from my life, my world. I discovered very quickly of course, that this was not true. This monologue looks through the lens of a young, straight woman in her mid-twenties who is HIV positive. She is a woman very much like myself, a woman who wants to date without fear of judgment or rejection. Her worries mirror those of many other people our age. This, for me, was vital. I wanted my character to be relatable. I wanted people to hear her voice and think ‘that could be my best friend’, ‘that could be me’.
(Sitting playing on iPhone)
Left or right? Left? Yeah left. Almost definitely a left. Oh no he's a right for sure. Left. Left. Left. Hmm lots of lefts today. Left. Left. Right.
Oh it's a match! Fantastic!
Sorry. Tinder has been consuming my life a bit recently. It can be a very anti-social habit - but it's so addictive. It markets itself totally like a game – which definitely works because when you get a match you really do feel like you've won in some way. Like you've completed a level and now you get to advance to the next stage. Level one is all about maximising the strength of your personal avatar - of your little online player. Trawling through all your photos online to find the set that will help you advance.
Photo of yourself looking lovely, but unaware of your loveliness: check, collect 2 points!
Photo of yourself with your friends, you're all having a good time and you've obviously just told a hilarious joke: check, collect 5 points!
Photo of yourself hanging in a cool location with a mysteriously good-looking male friend that could be an ex- lover: check, collect another 5 points! And so on!
Photos that will loose you points, by the way, are any that involve minimal clothing, unusual animals, or a group of people in onesies.
So that bit is fairly easy. I mean, I'm not a bad looking gal all in all, and I have copious numbers of friends and mysterious ex-lovers, so I completed the photo level with hardly any problems. Easy peasy. Things got a bit trickier when I came to the 'About me' section. That part of the game was not so simple. I stared at this box, and the blankness stared back at me, unremitting. What to put? I kept trying to come up with something witty. You know – clever, but slightly self-deprecating so I would come across as endearing. But only one thing kept flashing up in my brain. So instead I turned to the Internet for help – googled quotations by my favourite poets and philosophers – hoped they might be able to sum me up better than I could. But everything they said seemed posy and pretentious taken out of context.
I continued to stare at this blank box.
I was determined to complete this level, advance to the next stage of this weird dating game, but I felt panicked and queasy whenever I tried to think about it. In the end I bashed out a weak joke: 'I am a blank box'. Lame. I know. I consider myself to be a fairly witty person in most circumstances, but I was very nearly beaten and I couldn't say 'I am HIV Positive', could I? No one wants to see that on Tinder. I wonder who would swipe ‘right’ on me if I'd put that in the 'About me' box...yes, I am loveliness personified; yes, I have loads of friends who all find me hilarious; yes, that is a Jake Gyllenhaal look-a-like gazing adoringly at me; and yes, I do have a life-altering disease that carries with it massive stigma and huge negative prejudice. Don't think many matches would pop up with that in the 'About me'. Immediate 'Game over'.
So when am I meant to tell potential dates that I have HIV? When is the perfect time to whisper that sweet nothing into someone's ear? I have been Positive for 3 years now, and have not been on a single date for the last two. At first, I used to go out a lot. Didn't tell anyone. Just got incredibly pissed, flirted madly, then turned cold when they made a move.
Then for a while I turned nun-like. Told myself and everyone close to me, that I needed time alone, to learn about myself - my new self. I went travelling. I searched in the depths of myself and found peace sitting on a beach in Vietnam and all that jazz. It was important for me. But now I'm back and I want to meet someone. I know that I want to fall in love and be loved back. I want hand holding and back rubbing, and all that awful stuff that no one ever likes to admit wanting.
I tried using those HIV positive dating sites. At first, I was a little weirded out by the idea – thought they might be a breeding ground for internet creeps. Full of tourists wanting to buy tickets to a freak show that both scares and excites them. But when I actually had a browse, I realised that it wasn’t scary or weird. It was actually very familiar. Too familiar in fact. Everyone on that site was like me – looking for acceptance in spite of their condition. But I didn’t want to start dating through that lense. I knew I’d look in their eyes, and see my own tender fears reflected back – and whilst for some people this emotional mirror may be a comfort, I think it’d make it hard for me to breath freely.
And so I have turned to the glorious world of Tinder! Granted, so far it has been a mixture of awkward flirting and borderline sexting, but it is oddly empowering. And does make me feel like dating is within my grasp. There is this one guy who I'm particularly excited about - Matt - he is a DJ and has this incredible afro. Last night he sent me one of his podcasts, the music was great, and he had voice that sounded like sex, which is never a bad thing. I went to sleep thinking about him, and what it'd be like going on a date. But instead of it turning into a wonderful dream in which I go back to his, listen to music, drink great whiskey and have incredible sex, I spent a sleepless night imagining the moment I would have to tell him about me. About what I have. And I could see his face so clearly. How it would change ever so slightly - his smile would become set and his feet would start to shuffle involuntarily. He would tell me that it's fine, that I shouldn't be embarrassed but 2 minutes later he would receive a mysterious phone-call summoning him somewhere, anywhere, that isn't sitting across the table from me. And it is that – the image of his set smile that keeps me up that night. Because the idea of rejection terrifies me. Because I am trying hard for the disease to be something I have, and not who I am. And because I am desperate for it not to define me, but I know it will always play a part in my life and affect my relationships, and when I think about it I start to worry that maybe I am not ready to date.
But those are the dark moments. The late at night moments. The moments that I'm sure we all have when our demons creep up on us and temporarily immobilise us. And thankfully I know I am strong enough to deal with them most of the time. And I’m determined to keep playing the dating game. I will keep on playing until I know I can meet up with the velvet-voiced Matts of the world, and tell them who I am without flinching.
Then I will know I have won.