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This Positive Life: Newly Living With HIV, Josh Robbins Is "Still Josh" -- and Still an Advocate

March 25, 2013

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Let's talk a little bit about dating and relationships. Has being positive affected your dating life or your sex life at all?

During the three weeks that I was waiting on my results, that constantly came over my mind. I was absolutely scared that I would never be loved again. I felt that maybe that the gays in my town would think that I was used goods. I had already come out of the closet about sexuality, and that had limited the people that would want to date me. And then now that I'm HIV positive I was like, wow, that even makes the pool even smaller. Because I thought that only someone that was HIV positive would even want to date someone, you know, like me. I was real nervous about that.

"Dating and relationships and that kind of stuff is overwhelming. I mean, when do you disclose to someone? Do you get them to really start liking you before you tell them? Or do you tell them from the very beginning, when they have absolutely zero invested?"

The other thing that was really hard is that during the middle of finding out, I had met someone that I hadn't been intimate with, but I'd seen him out several times, and was really kind of digging this guy. And the thought of having to tell him that I was positive: I just knew that he would run away. So I was kind of preparing myself for that.

I didn't actually call him and tell him that I was positive. We hadn't have sex or anything like that, and so I didn't have to tell him anything. But he is a friend of mine on a social media; and so when I released the blog on my Facebook, he saw it. And he actually called me and he said that he wanted to see me. And I said OK. We met, and he told me that it was OK.

I think the coolest thing that could ever happen for someone that is positive is if someone that is negative just wants to date them. I think that is the coolest thing, and one of the bravest things, in the middle of all this. With that said, of course dating and relationships and that kind of stuff is overwhelming. I mean, when do you disclose to someone? Do you get them to really start liking you before you tell them? Or do you tell them from the very beginning, when they have absolutely zero invested? I don't know. I think that's a question that keeps going.

Obviously, I've researched and looked online. There are tons of people that only want to hook up with someone that is DDF (or disease-and-drug-free); they would never want to date somebody that was positive. I've seen stuff online, blogs and forums where people are saying that positive people should only date positive people so it will quit happening. That was something that I was really concerned about. It was a decision that I had to make, because I didn't know how he would react, or anyone else would react. But I decided I was OK with being alone the rest of my life if I could talk, if I could tell my story, and if I could in some way decrease the stigma and then further the discussion of prevention. That was more important. And so I had to be OK with that. But it worked out really well for me. So I'm dating somebody that I've been dating for over a year now.

We've already established that on top of that, you also have a very close and supportive family. Did your relationships with them change at all after you disclosed to them?

The only thing that changed was that the first several weeks after I told them that I was positive, they wore me out with phone calls and text messages, asking how I was and how I was feeling, and that sort of thing. So it was appreciated, but I finally had to tell my family: "Listen, you don't always call me every day anyway. So you still be you, and I'm still me. We can talk; but you don't need to ask me every day how I'm feeling, and if things are OK. Because I'm fine." But besides that -- which is, obviously, appreciated -- my family really rose to the occasion and have been amazing supporters for me.

"I finally had to tell my family: 'Listen, you don't always call me every day anyway. So you still be you, and I'm still me. We can talk; but you don't need to ask me every day how I'm feeling, and if things are OK. Because I'm fine.' … My family really rose to the occasion and have been amazing supporters for me."

That's wonderful. Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in West Tennessee, in a small town called Jackson. It's between Memphis and Nashville. A lot of people know Jackson for one reason, really: My hometown has gotten hit by tornadoes a lot.

It's a very small conservative town. I never hooked up or anything in my hometown; that would have been way too weird and that sort of thing.

When did you tell your family that you were gay?

I moved to New York right after high school, to go to an acting school. That was the first time that I had voluntarily had sex with a guy -- a terrible experience, by the way -- then I moved back.

I kind of dated a couple people after I moved to Nashville for college. I first told my sister, when I was around 24, that I was gay. And she was fine with it. I hadn't told my mom and stepdad, or my stepmom or my dad, yet.

So I went home one Christmas the year after I told my sister. My mom, again, has MS. We were in the bathroom, and she was getting ready or something. She asked me, "Are you dating anyone? Because I never hear you talk about anyone." And I kind of smiled, and I said, "Yes."

And she said, "OK. Well, do you want to tell me about it?" I started telling her about it. But it was very generic; but still, to me, it was obvious that it was about a guy. So I thought I had come out to my mom.

So she would call me for the next six months, and we would talk about the person that I was dating. But I didn't realize: Because of her medicine she was on, she didn't remember that conversation, and she didn't realize that I'd come out to her. And so for six months, we had talked on the phone and she would ask about whoever I was dating. But it would always be, you know, "How is your friend So-and-So?" And so I just assumed she just wanted to call him friend, which was fine. But she really thought it was a friend.

There was a day that I realized absolutely that it wasn't clear to her that I was gay. And so I had to come out to my mom a second time, which is funny.

How I came out to my dad is, I had called my stepmom. I told her. And I told her to tell Dad. An hour later he called me and asked me if I needed to tell him anything. And I said, "Nope. You probably know everything."

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He said, in his Southern way -- he's a fisherman; he's a tire salesman -- the nicest thing that he could say was: "You could kill someone and I'd still welcome you into my house." Which makes other people laugh; but that's totally my dad's character. So I knew it would be OK.

But since that time my sister has come to visit; I've taken her out to the gay bars and she obviously has met who I was dating and that sort of thing. My dad and my stepmom: I convinced him to let me take them to a drag show, and to the gay bar. And they know who I'm dating, and who I've dated. My mom is the same way. It's awesome, because it's completely open.

The one thing that's cool now is that my mom sent me a text the other day saying Obama is backing gay marriage. And I was, like, "Yeah. That's really cool."

And she said, "Yeah."

And so I sent her a text message -- something like, "So, are you ready to walk your son down the aisle one day?"

And she replied back: "Absolutely." Which was just a cool text to see from my family. But, yeah. I'm completely out of the closet about my sexuality and, I guess, my status.

When did you know you were gay, yourself? And was that difficult?

It's always a funny question to think through. I remember when I was a kid, and I don't know the age -- 5 seems to be the right one to say -- but I remember playing with the neighbors, the little boy next door; I remember kissing him. And that obviously is not what other kids do.

But also, we lived in a small town. I had girlfriends, and I really liked them. But it wasn't ever where I wanted to go home and sleep with them, or anything. You know, we were just friends, I guess.

What I explained earlier about when I was younger and was molested: That was when I was older. I was, like, 10, or 11, or 12, or something like that. It was a family member. But as far as knowing I was attracted to guys, it was early on. I remember kissing that boy.

Do you want to talk about the molestation at all?

I'm really OK with it now. It was a situation where it was a family member and I was told that this is what guys do, you know, when they're older. And so when I say molested, there wasn't ever anything violent or anything like that. But I absolutely was taken advantage of as a young person. And that should not ever happen by an adult, obviously.

But in the same instance, although I've kind of blocked those circumstances a little bit, the fact was, moving forward, that I don't think that that had any influence on me being attracted to guys.

Do you know what happened to that family member?

No. I told my family and my sister, and then there was a kind of division that happened in the family because of that. Years after -- I think I was 18 when I finally told them what had happened -- there was a lot of anger. I talked everybody down. I said, "I'm really the only one that has the right to be mad, and I'm not mad. I'm fine. And that's that."

The thing is -- I don't want to give too much information -- that some families have uncles that aren't legal yet. So they may be 10 years older, or something. But it wasn't like a fully grown adult.

There was nothing else that needed to happen. I'm completely fine with it. I've forgiven him. I mean, I'm not going to go to dinner with him, probably. I don't go to extended family reunions, anyway.

Let's talk about health care and treatment. What has your health been like since your diagnosis?

January was a total wash for me. I was completely sick, and not feeling great. I finally saw a doctor on Valentine's Day. The reason why my viral load was so high at the beginning, readers may or may not know, is because I found out so soon. It's been remarkable -- and those are the words that physicians have used -- being able to really track my process and my progress, particularly because of the vaccine study. They've had my blood work and have been viewing everything when I was negative, through seroconversion, all the way through now being four or five months into being infected.

It's been interesting. I've had; every two weeks or so, I've had CD4 counts and viral loads, which is way more information that I would ever suggest anyone ever have. But that's just the way that it's worked out between doctor visits or vaccine visits. My viral load came down, and it's come down even more.

I have made the decision right now, in consultation with my HIV specialist, to not begin medication, as my viral load (at last test) was 1,102 and my CD4 count is 730, with great percentages.

It's important to understand that although I am not on medication, that I consider myself in therapy and in treatment. This discussion of being "on" therapy and "on" treatment leaves out a very attentive, concerned and responsible group of individuals -- like myself -- that, at the given moment, are not taking HIV meds.

Deciding which medication, if any, that I will choose at the exact moment that I feel is best for me, personally, is just that: a personal medication decision I will make based on my body and health, consultation with my doctor, and the current information and research that appears to apply to me. I'm not a one-type-fits-everyone kinda guy. But just because I'm not on medication, doesn't mean I am not taking this as seriously as others.

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