1992 was supposed to be a great year for me. I had just graduated from college with my nursing degree. I was ready to take on the world. I had chosen to focus on critical care nursing and found a job at my local hospital in the Intensive Care unit. I was pumped and excited for all the days and events and challenges that would lie ahead. September 9, 1992, changed all that for me. On a routine day, in a routine evening shift, we had an emergency admission. I under my preceptor's care was responsible for getting my patient admitted into the ICU and stabilized. I followed all standard universal precautions; I wore my gloves, I took my time and as I inserted the catheter into my patient's vein to start his intravenous line, I removed the needle. At that second the patient moved his arm and the needle jabbed my left palm leaving a half moon style jagged tear in my palm. It had sliced through my gloves.
As editor of a respected online magazine for people living with HIV, I made a choice, rightly or wrongly (probably the latter), so that in our magazine's first year or two we didn't cover barebacking. We thought it was too inflammatory a subject, thought it might encourage people to do it, thought that people would think we were irresponsible.
That changed in a big way when we featured Josh Landale, Josh Kruger, Michael Bouldin, Jake Sobo, Mark S. King and a handful of others for whom barebacking is either part of their lives or they have come to terms with it.
You're afraid to leave and afraid to stay. You're afraid of other people's reactions if they find out. Your gay friends will look at you differently and assume that you're a walkover or weak with possible masochistic traits and unable to stand on your own two feet. They'll snort and claim they would never allow themselves to be in that position. Your family and the world at large will jump to conclusions. You can hear them saying it; they'd really never expected anything else from a same-sex relationship; they knew nothing good would come of it.
I have five tattoos. My first one, an Aries symbol in rainbow, I bought myself as a high school graduation present. It was to remind myself that I should remain true to myself and never apologize for the way I was born (both as a gay man and a stubborn Aries). My second is an homage to my favorite author Flannery O'Connor. My third is an homage to my favorite film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. My fourth is a poem by E.E. Cummings, and my fifth is a quote from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.
During my new video blog episode, below, someone asks me incredulously if I would actually march down the street telling people I was HIV positive.
Well, actually, I would. And have. Many Gay Pride parades ago, in 1994, I marched while wearing a t-shirt that said "NO ONE KNOWS I'M HIV POSITIVE." This was prior to the advent of protease inhibitors, when many were still dying. The shirt felt like an enormous "screw you" to the virus, to the body count, and to anyone who had a problem with my status.
Every month or so, a group of people in my area host "poz socials," a house party for people living with HIV. I found myself at one recently, because I thought it was important to make an appearance since becoming a literary superstar.
On May 23, a settlement was reached in San Diego Superior Court in the lawsuit brought against Anthem Blue Cross when Anthem instituted mandatory mail order on HIV specialty drugs.
Research activists and investigators from around the world met in Atlanta on March 2, before the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), to review the current status of HIV cure research and the role of the community in accelerating and facilitating progress in this important field.
Today is two years since I was diagnosed with HIV. If you would've told me two years ago that I would be, at this very moment of my life, healthier than I'd ever been, probably more emotionally healthy than I've even been, I probably would've laughed in your face and called you a liar!
You must know this, because it matters. Because it has already changed your life, no matter who you are, and you may not even realize it. Because as we search for a new national voice for people living with HIV (since the ugly demise of The National Association of People with AIDS), and as LGBT community leaders pledge to re-commit themselves to HIV issues, the voice of people with HIV matters more than ever.
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