Turns out, though, that this is a handy bit of flagging.
“Flagging” is any sort of non-verbal method for indicating preferences, status, or identity. It is best known in the gay community via a colored bandana stuck in the back pocket to indicate kink activities, but it goes way deeper. Hanging your keys from a belt loop indicates top or bottom. The type of flowers held in a bouquet indicates feeling and availability, as does the specific color of roses. The online bear community has a coded string of letters and numbers to indicate a large about of sexual and physical details. Even Queen Elizabeth “flags” with her purse, they say.
One newer revision of the classic hanky code includes a flag for being trans — not for what you are into, but what you are. This would be an identity flag, one used for disclosing information which might otherwise be difficult to verbally express — for various reasons, including personal security. (Thanks to Shilo for showing me this one.)
[+] and [=] are also identity flags. [+] is used to indicate HIV-positive status. This sometimes also shows up as [+u] for “poz undetectable”, meaning HIV+ and on meds with an “undetectable” viral load, which recent studies have shown to be heavily unlikely to be at risk of transmitting the virus.
[=] is used to indicate “on PrEP” (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), meaning someone who is HIV- and on a daily regimen of Truvada as protection against HIV infection. While intended especially to be used in conjunction with condoms, studies have shown PrEP alone to be highly effective in preventing seroconversion. (And thus combined with known [+u] partners, even more effective.)
As with any discussion of these subjects, a few things should be remembered:
- HIV meds and PrEP may massively reduce the risk of infection, but risk does still exist. (Condoms also massively reduce the risk but do not remove it completely — they break, etc.)
- “HIV-” and “undetectable” are only as good as the last test. Status can change between tests.
- Those terms are also only good if someone is honest. Just as there are poz guys who simply don’t know it or who will lie and say they are negative if it means you will have sex with them, there are unquestionably also guys who aren’t stable on their meds or are lying about being on them at all.
- [+u] and [=] reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and only HIV. Not HPV, HEP, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, etc. (However, people who are on the meds and getting tested regularly will tend to have infections discovered and treated sooner, which may reduce both spread and intensity.)
I have even recently seen [=] guys saying that they prefer to only play with poz guys. Not too many years ago, this would have indicated a “bug chaser”, but today, it is a new version of “serosorting” — reducing your risk by playing with the guys most likely to actually know their status and be in treatment. Quite the change on that front, eh?