This is Tom Knight. He's a 28-year-old events manager and producer from London. He's been HIV positive since 2013.
Last week, while chatting to a man on Grindr, Knight told him he was HIV positive. The man replied that he "wasn't ready for that kind of complication in my life". Knight then posted his retort on Facebook.
His response, "Oh you still wear flared jeans... I'm not sure I'm ready for that kinda complication in my life," received hundreds of likes and a stream of positive comments.
The conversation on Grindr went downhill from there. Knight wrote: "He went on to say, 'Someone in your situation should be a bit more realistic,' to which I replied, 'Well the good news is my HIV can be treated. Your fashion sense however...'"
BuzzFeed News spoke to Knight about what dating is like when you're HIV positive and the type of comments you see about the virus.
What happened on Grindr that day?
Tom Knight: I'd been talking to this guy for a few days, and he first of all asked me, "Are you clean?" I hate that term, as if HIV means you're dirty. I just said, "I'm HIV positive." And he didn't reply. So I said, "If you've got a problem with that, fine, let's just not talk." And after not hearing from him for a couple of hours he said, "Oh, you've got HIV? I'm just not ready for that kind of complication in my life." Which was frustrating and which was why I responded in the way that I did.
What did he say in response [to the fashion comment]?
TK: "That's a bit immature." I said, "Me?!" He didn't reply again.
Tom Knight and singer Rebecca Ferguson.
When someone asks if you're "clean" are you not tempted to just ignore them?
TK: Yeah, half of me is, and the other half feels I should challenge them. I'm open about my HIV status, I'm quite a strong person, and I can deal with most crap people throw my way about it, so I'm trying to change attitudes a little bit. I like to see where such attitudes stem from, because some people make flippant comments and don't realise what they're saying. It can be complete ignorance; it doesn't always come from a malicious place.
People like him don't have any knowledge about HIV and don't know what "undetectable" means [an undetectable viral load occurs when medication suppresses the virus to such low levels it doesn't show up on lab tests], and don't realise that it means you can't pass the virus on.
How did you feel when that guy said he's "not ready for that complication"?
TK: It's a kick in the teeth. Every time it's a kick in the teeth. It's not easy telling people I'm positive. You worry about what they're thinking about you. I get some people who are simply extremely curious about it and will ask what it's like for me and how I'm doing. Sometimes I sense they're not interested in pursuing anything other than a conversation after that.
What's the worst comment you've had?
TK: It wasn't online. I was on the scene, and someone came up to me when I was talking to his friends in the smoking area, and he said to them, "Be careful what you're gonna catch off her," and then walked away.
What was that like for you?
TK: Soul-destroying. That just feeds the insecurity that comes with HIV. That [insecurity] is the biggest thing that changed when I became positive: the anxiety around not knowing who knows and what they think about it. It's a game-changer. It affects your self-esteem. My doctor wants me to try meditation to stay on the right [psychological] track, because it's so easy to drown yourself in the negativity that's around. I saw a story the other day from the Evening Standard and he [an HIV-positive man] was saying, "HIV isn't a problem, it's the attitudes around it."
How did you react when you were diagnosed?
TK: My immediate reaction was being numb. I boxed it in and didn't deal with it. I was surprised at how much I didn't know about HIV. It was a struggle because of that.
What education did you have about HIV at school?
TK: None. Literally none whatsoever.
How have you found dating generally since the diagnosis?
TK: I've found it more difficult but a lot of that comes from myself. It's not always other people. It's the worry of what other people will think. If I meet a guy and we get on I won't pursue it because sometimes I presume it's not going to go anywhere. I am learning to deal with my feelings around it and dating.
Have you had any relationships since becoming positive?
TK: No. Before diagnosis I had a three-year relationship and a couple of relationships of six months.
Have people said they were fine with you being positive and then it transpired that they weren't?
TK: Yeah. I started dating someone last summer, someone I'd known for about four years. He'd liked me all that time, and we started dating and he was always saying, "I'm here for you," but the moment it became a physical relationship? The next day I didn't hear from him again. It was upsetting because we connected on so many levels and we got on, we had a really good foundation in friendship, and it was so sad because I knew how much he liked me. It was so frustrating that he couldn't handle the physical side of it – the worry about the HIV stuff.
What other experiences have you had?
TK: Sometimes when people are HIV negative you can feel like they're holding back around kissing and things, and that's gutting. I've had other HIV-positive people tell me, "Oh, just date other positive people," and I can see their point but that's so sad for me because I don't just want to date other HIV-positive [people]. I can see the logic of it, because you don't have to explain everything all the time, but it's not the way forward, because we don't need to segregate ourselves.
Discrimination can cut both ways. I'm met HIV-positive people who say, "Why go for a negative person? You have to wear condoms, condoms are vile." The thing about having HIV – you stumble across a lot of stupidity.