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Interview

Fatherhood First, Then Coming Out as Gay and HIV Positive

November 15, 2014

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Paul Constantino

Paul Constantino

For Paul Constantino, fatherhood came before coming out as gay and before his HIV diagnosis. Paul came out in the early '80s, when HIV did not yet have a name. He has since navigated coming out to his children as a gay man, and coming out to his children as HIV positive. He's even come out as gay to his 13-year-old granddaughter! To find out more about Paul's life, how he stays healthy and what advice he has for potential fathers, read his interview below.

This interview was conducted along with Brian Rosenberg, CEO of Gays With Kids, and Ferdinand van Gameren, executive editor of Gays With Kids. TheBody.com is proud to present this interview as part of a series of interviews with HIV-positive dads done in collaboration with Gays With Kids for World AIDS Day 2014.

Mathew Rodriguez: Paul, had you always wanted to be a father, growing up?

Paul Constantino: Yes, I did. I probably knew I was gay very young. But at the time it didn't seem to go together, to have a family and kids and be gay. And consciously or otherwise, I chose to get married, and meant it to be forever. But I had my two kids and after 12 years of marriage, I had to deal with my personal issues of realizing I was gay, and coming out.

Mathew Rodriguez: Can you expand on your thoughts at that time about being gay and what it meant for your hopes of becoming a parent? And then why you decided to come out?

Paul Constantino: Well, at the time, being a gay man and having kids did not go together. So I didn't think that was going to be possible at all. I guess that was part of why I got married and had my kids. But then I realized that I couldn't live my life completely the way I was.

I knew that it wouldn't have been fair to my wife at the time, or my children, or myself, to stay married. So I dealt with coming out. This was around 1980. What a time to come out as a gay man, dealing with the AIDS crisis almost immediately -- but being totally unaware, and a novice in many ways.

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Mathew Rodriguez: You were first married from when to when?

Paul Constantino: I was married from 1968 to 1982.

Mathew Rodriguez: How old were you in 1982 when you got divorced and came out?

Paul Constantino: I was 35, 36.

Brian Rosenberg: Paul, how old were your kids when you came out?

Paul Constantino: They were 12 and 13 when I finally came out to them.

Brian Rosenberg: And when did you discover you were HIV positive?

Paul Constantino: In 1989, 25 years ago. And my partner and I, we were together for 13 years. He died in '93 of AIDS complications. And in 1992, he was getting real sick, and I knew I would have to talk to my kids.

I had already talked to them about being gay. That was something I did with a lot of pride, and felt very good about. But talking with my kids about being HIV positive was probably the most difficult thing I've ever had to do.

Brian Rosenberg: Especially, I imagine, with a significant other who was very sick at the time.

Paul Constantino: Exactly.

Brian Rosenberg: When you had that conversation with them, was it around your HIV status? Or was it around your boyfriend's status at the time?

Paul Constantino: Both of us. Because both of us were tested. And we found out in 1989 that we were both positive at the same time. So it took a couple of years for us to learn to live with that. And then, in 1992, my partner was getting sick and I felt forced; I had to tell them what was going on.

Mathew Rodriguez: So, you were diagnosed in '89 and then you started to tell them at around '92, when your partner's health had started to fail?

Paul Constantino: Exactly.

Mathew Rodriguez: Do you still talk to your children about living with HIV, and what it means to live with it now?

Paul Constantino: Yes, of course. For the past 20 years, actually, I've been an AIDS awareness educator. I've been speaking publicly in public schools and colleges -- and to whatever audience will listen -- addressing HIV and AIDS and how to make healthy choices and decisions, and about coming out, and being gay.

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