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You're not alone
May 12, 2006

Hi Dr Bob,

Your forum is so incredible. Thank you. So much. I've been positive for 4 years now (I'm 23), and have been reading it pretty regular for the last couple of years. I'm only writing in now because I had virtually the exact same experience with parents as Jake's experiencing right now. Hang in there Jake, whatever you do is going to be tough, but things will get better. They really will. Anyway, Dr Bob, I never told the rest of my family beyond my dad. I just think that you should know why people like me act the way we do (and, from reading Jake's post, he seems pretty much the same).

Thing is, I agree with everything you say in principle, but its easy to stick to principle when nothing's at stake. Reality however is just so different to how I wish it were. I just want to explain why, although I wish with all my heart that your ideas would have worked for me, I think it's just impossible, and from the sound of it, it's gonna be the same for Jake:

1) I grew up with my family. Yes, I know, obvious, but you see, this means it's impossible just to think of that as "toxic." They're what I was always taught was "right." Admittedly, my beliefs and lifestyle are, for whatever reasons, different, but if I didn't tolerate their beliefs, wouldn't that make me just as guilty? So, although I moved out shortly after the fight with my dad, I can't blame him. I still don't. He's my father, I can't switch that off. I was always taught to try to please him, and have always desperately wanted him to like me. I still do. Fighting with him is never going to achieve that. Maybe in time, he'll forgive me.

2) Is it ever right to cause anyone pain? No. Is it even worse to cause pain to those you love? Yes. What would've happen if I told the rest of my family? Simple: there'd have been anger, pain, sadness, fights, all the things my dad strives to avoid. Chaos. How could I in good conscience do that to the people I love? I couldn't. Things would never be the same for them or me. Even now, 4 years on, having done very little, whenever I see my dad (not very often), I see the pain I caused him, and feel the deepest shame. How could I do this to my mom, brothers and sister, who I love more than anything in the world? Also, even if they decided to support me, the outcome would be bad, in fact, possibly worse: that would mean my parents splitting. Not necessarily literally, but it would drive a wedge between them, and that can't be good either for them or my younger siblings, and would be entirely my fault.

3) It's not my job to change my dad. He gave me life, education, food, a home, clothes He's provided for his family and I believe he really does care for us. But how did I repay him? By being gay (tho I refuse to blame myself for that. OK, so I'm sorry I'm not the son he wanted, but that's something I couldn't have stopped). But getting myself infected? That was stupid, and then I gave him lies. Though I never actually lied, just hid the truth. This is why he reacted to my disease with anger and shame.

So you see, I love your philosophy, and your advice, and wish with all my heart that my dad was like you, but he isn't. So personally I didn't dare go charging in like Cheney on a quail hunt. If I'd tried to force my family to change for my own gain, or because of my own beliefs, then I'd be no better than, and in fact, eerily similar to, Dubya and Iraq, (yes I know, completely different scale etc, but as long as the principle's the same, then everything else is just haggling over the price). And that, as you can imagine, is not exactly the lead I want to follow. I dunno if Jake's got the same outlook as me, but it sure sounds like it. Jake, I'll be straight with you, it's a tough ride if you do what I did, but for me, and everyone else, I think it's better than the alternative.

Lastly, I have a great support network, and a wonderful boyfriend. Jake, make sure you develop one (support network, boyfriends are optional but fun!) go to your local ASO, get connected! For me, this means, much as it tears me up, I don't actually need my family to know, and I don't actually need my dad's approval. Sorry this is such a long post, but really, this isn't an easy issue, and there's no easy solution! Take care of yourself Dr Bob, you mean so much to people like me (and presumably Jake!)

Matt

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Matt,

Thanks for taking the time to write in and share your story. You are correct in that there are many "Jakes," and, in fact, many "Matts" out there. However, beyond that, I'm afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on everything else in your post. I'll make just a few points for you (and the other "Jakes" and "Matts") to ponder:

1. "Reality" is just that real! That means you are gay and HIV positive. Hiding that reality, especially from those you love and who love you, doesn't make it any less real.

2. Sexual orientation is not a "lifestyle," despite what you may have been taught. By asking (demanding) your family to accept (or at least acknowledge) your sexual orientation, you are not being intolerant of their sexual orientation. You didn't disown your parents when you realized they were straight, did you?

3. Wanting to please parents is normal. However, if doing so requires "forgiveness" for your innate sexual orientation, that's pure nonsense. Acceptance and forgiveness are two very different concepts. Forgiveness suggests you did something wrong. Being born gay is not wrong. Fighting with Dad may never change him or get him to like you; however, standing up for who you intrinsically are as a person is critically important for your self esteem.

4. Should you tell the rest of your family? Absolutely. The argument that it would upset Daddy's perfect and artificial world doesn't really make sense. Sure, there will be discomfort and sadness, but there may be other emotions as well, like love, compassion, support, etc. Probably the best way to look at this would be to consider a situation in which your brother or sister was HIV positive and he or she decided not to tell you, because he or she felt it might upset you (or Daddy's parallel universe). Meanwhile our limited time on this planet ticks by and you do nothing to help support your beloved brother or sister through very challenging and frightening times. Is that the kind of "reality" you want to perpetuate?

5. On those rare occasions when you see Daddy-Dearest, it is he who should "feel the deepest shame," not you!

6. I agree it is not your job to change your dad. Neither is it his job to cause you shame. You may not be the son he wanted. But don't forget he's not exactly the dad you would have picked out from the dad-catalogue either!

7. Stop feeling so guilty about becoming HIV positive! There are over 40,000,000 million of us in the same boat. You didn't contract the virus on purpose. It was a mistake.

8. If you "love my philosophy and my advice" and "agree with everything I say in principle," why are you so sure my "ideas won't work" for you? Despite your advice to Jake, I do not believe the path you have chosen to follow is better for you or anyone else than the alternative of being honest. Concealing "reality" from your mom and siblings is not loving them, nor is it protecting them. It's merely playing into your father's toxic pathology. By your own admission, you report "it's been a tough ride," and nothing much has changed for four years! You report you "don't actually need my family to know," but that fact also "tears me up." Why would you want this same scenario for Jake? Matt, I suggest you copy your post and my response and take it to one of the counselors at your local ASO. I'll bet they will agree with my position. I'm delighted you have found a way to cope with toxic Dad by developing a strong support network and finding a wonderful boyfriend. I hope Jake does the same. However, I also hope Jake takes a hard look at the "reality" of your life for the past four years and realizes that the alternative approach is really the way to go.

Matt, you're correct: "this is not an easy issue." However, I really don't think you're making it any easier on yourself (or ultimately anyone else) by playing into your father's intolerance.

Give it some thought, Matt.

I'm always here if you need me.

Dr. Bob


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