November 21, 2011
For our World AIDS Day 2011 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the HIV community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- regular contributors and those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
I was completely oblivious to World AIDS Day until December of 2007. A very close friend Najarra and I were promoting our film, Tru Loved -- her publicist sent us to the Los Angeles World AIDS Day red carpet event. I remember crying that night: devastated by the personal stories that were shared, shocked at the statistics, but happy to hear of the incredible progress that has been made over the last couple of decades. As you know, there is still no cure ... with that said, there is MUCH more progress to be made. The statistics are still shocking and there are still thousands of people dying from HIV-related illnesses every year. I realize that there are many illnesses and viruses that are taking people's lives every day ... it's overwhelming, but this is one that I find people are afraid to talk about.
I know people think "It doesn't affect me." "I don't need to worry about it; I won't get it." "I'm not gay." I'm here to kill those thoughts. I'm here to bring another young face to this virus. I'm here to do what I can to get our world to zero.
Once upon a time, I was one of those people. I didn't even want to think about HIV/AIDS because then I would attract that into my life. I was in my own little bubble. Reality struck in July of 2009 during one of my regular check-ups. According to the global UNAIDS statistics in November 2010 (referring to the end of 2009), I was one of the estimated 33.3 million people living with HIV ... one of the estimated 2.6 million newly infected.
I was naive, careless and invincible. I allowed a relationship to majorly influence my morals ... my psyche. I know I have no one to blame but myself for this diagnosis ... but that's the hardest part to swallow. My world was a snow globe and some mischievous child just turned it upside down, shook it, and smashed it against the floor.
I shared my news with only a couple of close friends for the first few months. How was I supposed to tell my family? The same people that only four years prior warned me about the dangers of being gay and living in a big city. Though I know now it has nothing to do with either ... it's the choices YOU make ... the people YOU decide to trust and surround yourself with. Nonetheless, they are my family and deserved to know. What's the worst that could happen? I opted to travel 2,000 miles to tell them in person.
I had always been a pretty health-conscious individual, but this brought my consciousness to another level. Should I start medication right away or hold off until I need to take it? If you don't already know, there are many pros and cons regarding antiretrovirals. Three months later I had another round of tests done. My immune system was crashing and this stupid invisible bug was taking over. All right. I should start medication and tell my family face to face. Thirty days was given to my apartment, two weeks put in at my job. I packed up my vehicle and drove home. I wanted to start medication away from everyone I knew ... I had no idea how it would affect me mentally or physically.
When I got home, I saw my family needed me more than I could have imagined. My father, mother and sister all had life-changing events that month. I had to be the strong one; they couldn't handle that news right then. I held off, but there's always a breaking point with me. After getting into one of the biggest sibling fights my sister and I have been through -- ending in me being locked out of our house in a blizzard -- I ended up blurting out my status on Christmas Day 2009. There was a lot of crying, but I was shocked at how close it made everyone. Our family ties hadn't deteriorated -- they'd tightened.
It took me two-plus years, but I have finally built up the courage to be a voice with HIV. This virus is not my death sentence, so why not play the cards I have been dealt and wield an unfortunate situation into a helpful expression?
I assure you that you know or are related to someone that is infected with HIV. This epidemic may not be a part of your daily life as it is mine, but if we don't slow down the incline of infections and bring awareness to the virus ... eventually it will be. Worldwide, we all need to bring this illness to reality ... we need to pop our little bubbles ... we need to speak out and stand up. Get tested. Regularly. Tell your friends and family to get tested. Just talk about it. Stop ignoring this monster that's killing people on a daily basis. Together -- and only then -- we can get our world to zero.
Gratefully, I am not one of the estimated 30 million that have lost their lives to HIV.
Tye Olson is a 24-year-old actor and model originally from Minnesota. He has appeared in films such as Watercolors, opposite Karen Black and Greg Louganis; and the gay teen film Tru Loved. He has also appeared in music videos for Hellogoodbye, Fall Out Boy and Blue October; and in two episodes of the acclaimed Showtime series United States of Tara.