*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed to remove any identifying information.*
I had just turned 18. It was summertime and my dad was out of town. It was the perfect time for me to let out all my sexual frustrations that I had kept to myself for so long– It was a time of liberation, of freedom, of accepting myself as a gay young man. It was a beautiful summer simmering with the vigor of youth and recklessness, and that’s how I remember it. That’s how I’ve always remembered it.
It wasn’t much later– in early August, as the peak of summer had settled and back-to-school commercials were creeping their way onto the screen that I decided to get tested. Website after website of known symptoms and possible causes instilled fear and paranoia in me. I had to get tested; there was too much at risk. I thought to myself, “It’s not HIV, it could be cancer.” There were too many signs that it was not possible for me to live not knowing. “Seriously, I hope it’s just cancer….”
“I have HIV.”
I joined the men’s group. Of course I will be okay; I will make it through. I knew it since the beginning, but it’d take some work and effort to get there. I joined a support group to make me feel more at ease. …But it wasn’t until I visited the group that I truly felt diseased. Diseased. Virus. Toxic. Hazard. The face of the unknown had revealed itself for the first time, I thought, as I heard the stories coming from these men. Depression, stigma, pills, co-infections, pneumonia, T-cells, viral load. …What did all that mean anyway? It seemed to define every person in the room. It seemed like their entire disposition was based off of this disease and how it affected their daily lives.