Personal Perspective: A Story of Magnetic Love
Of course, disclosing to your partner isn't the end of the issue. I've told everyone in my life, but telling people in Tom's world has been in a different time frame. We told his sisters and brother and slowly word got out, but no one treated me any differently. We told his sons a few weeks before our wedding and found out that his ex-wife had already told them without mentioning it to us! So they just said, "Yeah, we've known for a while." I was even more impressed that they knew and never mentioned it nor treated me any differently. After we were married, I was interviewed by a local news station and Tom called his buddies so they wouldn't learn about it on the news. They have all been extremely supportive.
Until I met Tom, my life literally revolved around HIV. I was the Executive Director of a not-for-profit that worked with women living with HIV. I never really had a break from HIV. Tom is a sports enthusiast, and he helped me rekindle my love of sports. I'm now a high school volleyball official and a track and field official. We travel all over, officiating disabled sporting events -- in fact, Tom first told me he loved me on the Great Wall of China, when we were there for the 2008 Paralympics.
I have been extremely blessed. Before I met Tom I appeared in a local video and said that I would never give up on eventually finding my Scarecrow, since "The Wizard of Oz" is my all-time favorite movie. Tom is my scarecrow! My favorite Broadway show is "Wicked" -- in that show, Elphaba feels no one could love her because she's different. Finding someone who is able to look at life differently, look at me fully, and love me completely is the greatest blessing I could ask for.
I had never dated anyone with HIV before, and I found out about Shannon before we started dating. We had exchanged emails after I found out about a fundraising event her agency was having. Shannon told me in her first email that she started the agency and did so because of her own status. She experienced first-hand the lack of services for women with HIV in Colorado and did something about it.
I hadn't thought about getting involved with anyone, but then I saw her at the fundraiser. As the night went on, the more time I spent with her the more I was drawn to her. We had a lot of common interests, especially sports. We're both highly active in the areas of social change. She has a fantastic sense of humor, dignity, and pride -- and she's beautiful. So when I put all of that together I knew the HIV was not a deal breaker -- it was something we would discuss. I would learn to handle it and deal with it in a responsible and respectful manner. I lost my brother to AIDS in 1996, and that's allowed me to be empathetic and open to people living with HIV.
The first time we had sex, I was nervous and excited like anyone is. We knew what precautions to take and were prepared because we had had the conversation beforehand. I trusted her knowledge and expertise and that she would not put me in a situation that was unreasonably harmful or unsafe. Over time, it continues to get better.
The first time we had unprotected sex was right after the Swiss study came out, which found no infections in "magnetic" couples in which the partner with HIV had an undetectable viral load. We talked about the study and what that meant for our relationship. Shannon's adherence to her medications and appointments, leading her to having an undetectable viral load, led to us having unprotected sex for the first time. I have never felt fearful of becoming HIV positive.
I'm mindful of Shannon's health and ensure that she stays as healthy as she can. She knows her body and her health, and I have to be active in helping her maintain it. Our lives can be very stressful, and making sure that she has downtime is crucial to not only her physical health but her mental health as well.
The only time Shannon's medications affect our relationship is when she has difficulty getting them filled or forgets to bring them along. I specifically remember a trip a few years ago to Vancouver when she forgot her medication and we had to drive across the border to Washington to get her prescriptions filled. Now I make sure that her medications are on our packing checklist!
Shannon recently was in the hospital, and her door was marked to let the staff know that she had HIV and to take precautions when in the room. That made me angry, knowing how far we have come but being shown in an instant how far we still have to go. I am glad how far society has come in being informed about HIV, but it's frustrating to see pockets of misinformed people -- especially in the medical field.
Over the years I have been telling friends and family. Shannon had always told me that it was up to me when to tell my two sons. She came to me a few weeks before our wedding and asked that we tell the boys -- everyone in her world knew and she wanted the boys to know. But we haven't told many of my casual friends or acquaintances. It isn't a priority for us. We're not hiding it. Who knows? They may already know -- it just doesn't affect those relationships.
Our only bad reaction came when my ex-wife did an internet search on Shannon and found out about her status. She told my sons before Shannon and I had a chance to. I am so proud that my sons didn't freak out or react badly in any way. But everyone who is active in the community or has HIV associated with their name probably knows that if someone searches for them on the internet they can find out your status.
I've have learned that love takes different forms. It can be shown in different ways and experienced in different ways. The power and the will to overcome problems must be shared -- it's not an individual endeavor. I've learned that falling in love with someone's soul and inner spirit is a much deeper experience than I could have ever imagined. Finally, I'm proud that Shannon works with people living with HIV and allows them to see that there is life after diagnosis. She continues to amaze me with what she knows and how she's able to teach others about HIV. She has truly taken lemons and made lemonade.
This article was provided by ACRIA and GMHC. It is a part of the publication Achieve. Visit ACRIA's website and GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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