*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed to remove any identifying information.*
When I came out of the closet, I stepped around slowly as not to expose my sexual identity to certain people, mainly my family. It only took about four months before my parents found out by the slip of a tongue of a friend, and they gave me a 30-day eviction notice. So, in 2004 at 18, I moved out of my parents’ house, and one might say I exploded into the sex scene. I had multiple sex partners; most were one or two time partners. I used a condom anytime there was intercourse… for the first two years. After that, I started experimenting with unprotected sex every now and then. By this time, I believe I was addicted to sex. I was searching online almost nightly for my next adventure. There were even times that, when I was not successful, I would go to the adult bookstore and pick someone up. I always got tested every six months, like clockwork.
During the first year on my own, I dated someone from Positive Directions, a local nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization. They provide testing, education, benefit assistance, fundraising, etc. At times, we would talk about what he did, the people he would see, and the stories he would hear. At one point he told me the way they disclosed results: If a test ever came back positive, a second staff member was asked to come in for assistance with counseling.
One encounter in 2006 would change my life forever.
I, like many people in my field of social work, like to help people. The one thing I was always told I would not be able to do because I was gay was give blood. I started giving blood in high school, literally in the gym. I had read the Red Cross questionnaire multiple times and knew they were against gay (men who have sex with men) intercourse. So, I did what every gay man did who donated blood– I lied. In May 2006, I donated blood. I was notified a week later by the American Red Cross that there was an abnormality in my sample that was indicating the possibility of HIV. I dropped my phone and fell to my knees and bawled for the next 20 minutes. Something inside me said, “You can do this!” I picked myself up, drove straight to the local clinic and got tested.
It was the longest 20 minutes of my life. When the doctor opened the door and I saw her and a second person come in, I knew the results. (Granted this is not how every clinic reveals results.) The one thing I will never forget as I was about to walk out of that office is the doctor saying, “You have a choice, you can be mad at yourself or mad at the world, but I don’t see that in you. Sorry for the pun, but you can make this positive.”
After reading a small piece of my HIV story, one may say, “Should have seen it coming,” or “Should have been more careful.” To that, I can only agree with one of those two statements. People say hindsight is 20/20. They are right. I should have been more careful and used protection every time. To the other, no, I should not have “seen it coming.” There are people out there right now doing the exact same thing I was and they will continue doing it. They will never contract HIV. There are also people that will have unprotected sex one time and contract HIV. There are people out there that will also contract HIV without having sex. HIV does not discriminate. It will attack the young, old, and anyone in between– straight, gay, bisexual, white, black, brown, yellow– to put it in the most basic terms, HUMAN. HIV attacks the human.
I met my husband after I was diagnosed. Many people have a false presumption that when you are in a relationship with a positive person that the negative person will end up positive as well. That is a false presumption. It does not have to be the norm of a positive person’s relationship. My husband and I try to live as that “positive” example the clinic’s doctor reference that life-changing day: We have been together for 10 years as a positive-negative couple and are advocates of HIV prevention, education and being responsible.