Queeries: Talking STDs with a new partner, Children changing gender

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“Talking about HIV and other STDs with a new partner”
Q: I’ve gotten pretty confused about when to talk with new partners or boyfriends about STDs and HIV status. Some of my friends say that as long as you’re having safer sex, there’s no need to have “the talk.” Others say-vehemently, I might add-that I must have that conversation. What do you think? By the way I’m HIV-positive.

A: All of us who are sexually active need to be responsible for considering the risks of spreading STDs and for taking steps to protect our partners and ourselves. Whether positive or negative (or, unknowing), we owe it to everyone involved to talk about our sexual health before having sex. I’ve long said that if you’re intimate enough to have sex with someone, you’re intimate enough to talk about HIV status.

It’s usually easier to do this before you find yourself in the heat of the moment, where folks sometimes get carried away by the throes of passion and take risks they might not otherwise. “The talk” needn’t be involved or lengthy-although, admittedly, it can be hard to make this particular topic romantic. Be truthful and direct, saying, for instance: “I just want you to know that as far as I know; I’m [fill in the blank]. What about you?” Sometimes it’s easier if you volunteer your health status first, as a way to open the door. If humor comes to you naturally, by all means try that; but remember, you’re not giving a public health lecture.

Since you mentioned that you’re HIV-positive, let me give you some more advice to chew on. Even if you’ve hinted at your seropositive status, don’t assume your partner knows. The subtle signals of human interaction-especially sex-charged interaction-are easily misinterpreted. By the way, even if you discover that both of you are poz, you’ll still want to talk about other potential bugs on board (Hepatitis B/C, gonorrhea, etc.) to avoid any co-infections.

Similarly, it’s smart for HIV-negative people to tell their partners that information, too. This may well help a poz partner disclose his status or help both of you gauge where you’ll play on the safer-sex spectrum. Or, the HIV-positive fellow may decide to pass on having sex, having previously decided not to date or have sex with HIV-negative guys (and vice versa).

“When a daughter changes her gender, does she become a son?”

Q: A friend’s daughter now says she’s transgender and had surgery to remove her breasts last week. I guess I should have written my friend’s “son.” Anyway, “he” seems thrilled with his results, but he is still a girl where it counts, so it is very confusing.

A: With all the news about Chaz Bono being transgender, your question provides a timely reminder of how complex the topic of gender identity can be. As for your friend’s offspring, yes, he is indeed her son; no need for quotation marks around the word. One of the basic concepts of gender identity is that you are the gender you think and say you are. The external genitalia that make a doctor proclaim, “It’s a girl!” in the delivery room are not the sum total of that individual’s gender identity. Chaz summed it up perfectly by saying recently that gender identity is “between your ears, not between your legs.”

Someone who makes the decision to transition from one gender to another is choosing to live as the gender that feels right to that person. For some that may simply mean changing their name and the way they dress; for others, it means taking hormones that produce physical characteristics that feel right. Others have sex-reassignment surgery, and, as you note, there are “upper” and “lower” elements to that. Most transgender people go through years of therapy and counseling as they try to determine which options are best for them, and they may take different transitional steps as time goes by. But when it comes to figuring out what to call your friend’s son, the truth is that all this matters little. Wherever your friend’s son falls along the continuum of transition, since he now calls himself a) man, he is a man.

The important thing to remember is that individuals who are transitioning can experience tremendous pain and confusion. By some estimates, 20 to 30 percent of transgender people have attempted or committed suicide. The support of those who love them can mean the world to them; it can, in fact, literally be the difference between life and death.

“All about my new book”

Thanks to so many of you for sending in your “Queeries” over the past couple of years. Now you’ll find them, plus hundreds of other questions in my new book, Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners. The book, really a guide to your best LGBT life, covers it all – from coming out to making friends, dating and sex etiquette, long term relationships and same-sex ceremonies, not to mention, raising our kids, entertaining, dealing with homophobia, and much more. Please check it out.

*Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life and can be found online at www.gaymanners.com.

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