“Hey mate, I’m HIV-positive,” opened a 30-something Queenslander in an email to Same Same a few weeks ago after reading our article on relationships between HIV-positive and -negative people.
“I want to write about my experience, anonymously if possible,” he suggested. “It’s been one fucker of a journey.”
I was diagnosed with HIV in December 2011. Enduring what I thought was a persistent flu, I had no idea what ‘seroconversion’ was.
A fortnight before my diagnosis, I started seeing a really lovely, handsome man who fostered the interest in me before mine in him grew. After a few dates, I was rather happy to have found the first decent bloke in years. Suspect over my sickness, he suggested I see a doctor, who informed me that my symptoms could be HIV. The following week was hellish, and I could not have gotten through it without the dedicated support from this guy, who figuratively – and literally – held my hand and kept me safe during the scariest time in my life.
The day after my diagnosis, he downgraded us to friends, and a few days into the new year, I was asked to leave him alone. I can’t blame him – HIV is scary for negative men, and I doubt I could have given someone the support he had given me were our situations reversed.
How I got HIV was a mystery for months. The experience itself was, let’s just say, unpleasant. I had blocked it from my mind. So I really had to think hard, based on average times between contraction and seroconversion, to recall the night I got drunk, found someone on Grindr – who looked nothing like his profile had portrayed – and hadn’t minded him not replacing the condom after our first round. It is my own fault; it takes two to tango. It’s no wonder I had wanted to forget and deny this slutty encounter.
The first few months after diagnosis were horrid. Paranoid at who would find out, cautious about whom to inform, the fear of imminent death mounted and left me incapable of performing outside of my work, which – thankfully – I continued unaffected. I was moody, rude to friends, impossible, but most in my circle understood. I disclosed to perhaps more people than I should have, yet of those I did, several disclosed back to me, and when combined with the few friends I already knew to be HIV, I now have a good circle of positive mates; I am not alone.
“It is dark because of prejudice.”
The good news is that this adjustment period does end. I very soon stopped dreaming about judgement from the devil, waking up in despair, and I have gone days at a time without thinking about my status. I don’t need to.
I have chosen to learn a lot about HIV. As it turns out, I was rather ignorant, and I still have a lot to learn. I know about T-cells and viral loads, and I have a heightened sense of other bodily concerns, such as cholesterol and blood pressure. Fitness wise, I am in the best shape of my life. I am not on medication; I do not need to be. My viral load – which was very high at diagnosis due to my seroconversion, which is when HIV really attacks the body and, afterwards, you are positive (think of your human self dying before you waken as a vampire!) – is now low, and my healthy blood has increased in volume and number. I don’t get sick, nor do I feel any different. Outwardly, if not inwardly, I have not changed, and this will be the same for many years. I could well be meds free for years. Roll on a cure!
The most profound change to life that comes with HIV goes hand-in-hand with the need for absolute discretion about disclosure: rejection. In short, I have experienced and passively witnessed harsher and more ignorant treatment from gay men towards HIV-positive men than I ever had anti-gay sentiment from heterosexuals.
I understand that, as gay men, we forever have the fear of bedding someone positive – case in point: lesbians and straight people have been fantastic – thus, we can react aggressively at times towards positive men. I cannot accept though that I would have been so blatantly nasty when negative. Furthermore, being on the receiving end, it is little wonder that HIV-positive gay men become reclusive, shunning friendships and relationships.