It’s National Coming Out Day today and while I’ve been ‘out’ about my sexuality and gender identity for quite some time now, there’s something that I’ve still yet to reveal about myself. There’s a piece of me that I have struggled to find the courage to be open about, even with myself.
I am HIV positive.
It’s a hard thing to type, harder to say out loud. The reason that I’ve decided to write this is to, if anything, help myself come to terms with it. It isn’t a new thing, I’ve known for a little while now, but it’s not something I’m fully comfortable talking about yet. It’s only recently sunk in enough for me to have full conversations about it with the people that know. Unfortunately, it isn’t a topic I can avoid forever, and I’ve realized that if I ever want to be fully happy, I need to stop letting myself hide from this.
When I first was diagnosed, my initial reaction was that I did not want to continue living with the disease, that I’d rather kill myself than let it kill me. I felt dirty, ashamed of myself and disgusted by my body. I hated myself.
Somewhere between then and now, I realized that I want to live, with or without the disease. I’ve been on medication and I’ve gotten my numbers down in the undetectable range, which is as close to being cured as those in my predicament can hope to get currently. I’ve made strides in therapy to manage the emotional problems that coincide with the diagnosis, and it’s been a process, learning not to let it define my life.
Despite the work that I’ve been doing to keep myself both physically and mentally healthy, I still find myself with this need to be able to come clean about it publicly. It’s strange, because I know that there’s no real reason to tell anyone outside of the support system I’ve confided in, but I feel like ‘coming out’ will make it easier to handle the part I still have a hard time with – disclosure.
People living with HIV are legally obligated to tell their sexual partners about the disease, which isn’t at all a bad thing. In my case, I was never made aware that I was having sex with an HIV positive person, and if I had been more inclined to practice safe sex, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would love to know where I contracted it, it would’ve made coping a bit easier, having someone to point a finger at and blame. Or at least I like to think it would’ve been helpful. When I found out, I immediately made a point to let anyone know that could’ve been affected, it was the right thing to do. And safe sex made a whole lot more sense to me. Prior to finding out, I’d lived in the mindset that unwanted pregnancy was the worst case scenario in sex, and being a homosexual male negated that. Health classes don’t cover gay sex like they should. Regardless, it took me a long time to find the courage to disclose my status to possible sex partners. I would avoid actual sex, get away with what I knew wouldn’t transmit and then find an excuse to end it there. That happened until the guilt started eating at me. I’d been being as careful as possible, but I came to the realization that any risk of exposure was still a risk, no matter how small the percentage, and I couldn’t be the person that changed someone’s life in that way. Someone else had put me through the same thing, whether they were aware of their status or not, and I couldn’t do that to someone else. I withdrew myself from any chance of meeting someone that might lead to a sexual encounter. I tried dating without sex and made a point to build a relationship before revealing my secret, but I always found a way to ‘lose interest’ before it could get to that point.
The first time I openly told a potential partner about my status was on my last birthday. It was hard, I cried after I told him and cried more when he didn’t look past the disease and continue to want me anyways. And since then, I’ve done my best to avoid situations where I’d risk being rejected.
I still haven’t fully come to terms with it. But I need to. I need to get this obstacle out of my way so that I can move on with my life, be happy. And I know that I’ll never be able to be one hundred percent honest about this if I don’t take a first step, do something to force myself to open up about it to people that aren’t my best friends or close family. So, National Coming Out Day is the perfect time to do this. It’s a day that has been a way for people all over to finally come clean about the parts of themselves that they’ve been afraid to expose, a day to find acceptance and support.
I’d really like this to spark some conversations, with me or just in general, about the reality of HIV and living with it in a world that looks at it through the eyes of a stigma. I’d like to post this and maybe show someone else that’s suffering with the same self-loathing that I’ve suffered through that they don’t need to hate themselves, that this isn’t all that they are. Mostly, I’d like to stress the necessity of safe sex and keeping yourself healthy.
I’d like to thank the people in my life that have been in the know and have shown me support – they know who they are, but what they don’t know is that without them I never would have been able to find the strength to fight this.
If anyone has questions, or needs someone to talk to for any reason at all, please feel free to reach out to me.
Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone.