Prepping for Marriage
When Thomas Davis and Jace Dawson fell in love and learned how to tune out the world to find their truth along the way.
It was love at first sight for Thomas Davis and Jace Dawson. As partners, advocates, and speakers, they have held each other through incredible milestones and will affirm their love in front of friends and family later this year when they tie the knot. Now, they’re choosing to share their story to combat HIV stigma and to inspire other couples to share their own stories.
Like thousands of couples around the world (17,000 in Canada alone, according to Liviana Calzavara, leading expert in HIV and professor at the University of Toronto), Davis and Dawson are in a serodiscordant relationship, whereby one person is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative.
Disclosing your status to someone you love is a constant struggle if you’re living with HIV, mainly due to the stigma around it. Thankfully, HIV education has enriched many conversations in the gay community to a point where love sometimes conquers ignorance.
Like many others, when Davis, who is poz, nonchalantly disclosed his status to Dawson on their first date, it proved to be a tiny trial.
“It was a shock at first — and it should not have been, because I considered myself well-educated,” says Dawson, who is HIV-negative and on PrEP today.
At a later date, Dawson brought it up again. “We had that conversation,” he says. “As uncomfortable as it was, you know, we worked through it.” Dawson admits having lived in New York City previously and knowing others who are living with HIV, which helped him articulate his feelings better.
For Davis, who was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2013, speaking his truth has always been a priority and he’s never faulted. As a choreographer and HIV activist, he’s spoken to audiences in the U.S. and abroad, empowering young people in the fight against HIV.
“I didn't really have an issue disclosing to anybody,” Davis says of his prior dating life. “I didn't really care if somebody wanted to be with me or not… if you're going to have an issue with me that's a little ridiculous, [because] you wouldn't have an issue with somebody that had cancer, or diabetes, or was blind. If you are going to have an issue, then you're not the one for me.”
Davis adds, “There were times that I would fear for my safety. If I was with somebody and I told them, I wasn't [sure] what their reaction would be — positive or negative — and it could possibly turn violent. Luckily none of that ever happened for me.”
It was a long conversation for he and Dawson though.
“That was a hard conversation that we had to have together,” Dawson recalls. “A lot of prayer, a lot of just truth with each other first. And, in order to do that we had to really tune the world out, and turn on Tom and Jace.”
The decision for Dawson to be on PrEP happened before the relationship became intimate — and after speaking to a doctor.
Today, the men worry that there aren’t enough examples of serodiscordant relationships in the public eye. Part of the reason, Davis thinks, is because young people aren’t being educated enough about PrEP (for those who are HIV-negative) or the importance of treatment as prevention, where those with HIV can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in their blood and thus would be unable to transmit HIV to anyone else.
“There's a lot of conflict in the prevention field,” Davis says, later calling out for health professionals and advocates to step up their responsibilities. “If you look at organizations like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation — which should be a leader when it comes to something that is this effective in preventing HIV — it took them how many years to finally stop saying that [PrEP] was a party drug and to stop saying this is going to lead to a super strain? When you put rhetoric like that out into the community, it does damage for a few years before people will start to come out of it and have different nuances of conversation.”
Dawson adds that for many people, it’s fear that prevents them from speaking about PrEP and undetectability. The more we talk about it, the more fear and perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) we have to face, especially among long-term survivors.
“They went through a large epidemic in the ‘80s into the ‘90s, and they finally got… control over the situation. So, they don't want an uprising of something else that they can't handle. ‘They’ being our heterosexual counterparts. They don't realize they're just as affected as we are. [HIV is] not linked to one group of persons, or one dynamic. In order to save one community, you're saving us all.”
At the end of the day, it’s their love that holds them together — not their statuses. “Love is for everybody,” Dawson says. “It is possible no matter what, and we're leading in that way by affirming our love, by affirming our marriage in the middle of the year, and about how we’re not allowing all the road blocks and the hurdles to stop us, or prevent us from doing that.”