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I Am Not Kieran, I Am Kieran: The Story Behind the Story of the Lead Character in Unsure/Positive

March 31, 2016

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For about three years, I've had the privilege of using my life experience as a narrative that can inform, educate and emotionally connect with young people. It's also helped me create the lead character in Unsure/Positive.

I've worked with two different programs here in the Boston area, telling youth the story of my life. It helps them get their heads around what it's like to live with HIV. And it helps me by demanding that I put my life in perspective.

Every time I tell that story, different details float to the foreground. Pieces of the narrative feel relevant one day and not so the next. So while I have the perspective granted by hindsight, I do not have the objectivity granted by being a robot. "And if I did, who wants to read about a stupid robot?" I ask the kids. (They eat that stuff up.)

Here goes:

I am the eldest of five children, with three of my four younger siblings being adopted, and black. We all grew up on the campus of a private school called Fessenden in West Newton, Mass.


As it turned out, my parents had planned on having a mixed-race family before I was born. By the time I was a teenager, I'd have friends over to my house or to a show (I was, naturally, very involved in the performing arts) who never connected my relationship to my siblings, because of our multiracial makeup.

I would explain it all, and their eyes would widen: "Ohhh! Wow! That's cool. So your family is like, a Coke commercial." It was a reductive statement, but I sort of enjoyed it. More importantly, I felt a sense of pride when I considered my family's uniqueness. It was something that shaped my understanding of the world through a progressive lens in many ways, and that seemed cool.

I was also the token gay person at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, a private day school in Cambridge, Mass. I wasn't the only gay person in the student body -- just the only out gay person. That was a mixed bag, but overall, I enjoyed an involved and exciting life for a high-schooler.

I graduated with the class of 2000, feeling like I could take on the world. So I moved to the Big Apple and worked at The Brooklyn Diner on W. 57th. I lived like no one was watching. I felt independent and empowered. I fooled around a lot, as most 18-19 year olds would if they lived alone in New York. But the fun couldn't last indefinitely -- and it didn't. I moved home to spend a couple of months with my family before leaving for college. I had been accepted to Bard College with a generous scholarship. Lucky, lucky kid!

Or was I?

August 2001: The bomb is dropped. My parents sat me down in the living room, my mother crying, my father stoic. They explained that they were not going to stay together, and they stressed that it had nothing to do with my siblings or me. My immediate response was that they were wrong; it had everything to do with my siblings. As a fully matured 19-year-old, I could handle it, but who could expect my 15-year-old sister, or her 11-year-old sister, or her 8-year-old twin brothers to handle something like this?

Their master plan, their perfectly conceived utopian family was going to crumble, and my mother sobbed even harder as she explained that she didn't see any other way; she simply had to move to Ireland to marry a Welshman named Harry.

I don't really remember what happened after that. I do remember being dropped off at Bard, knowing that my mother would be on a plane within weeks and that I wouldn't be seeing her again until … sometime.

Here, it's important at this point to take a break and remind teenagers of two things. Number one, my teenage brain was a developing brain. At age 19, it was still in the process of mapping those crucial connections in the frontal lobe: the ones that enable judgment, emotional responses, self-discipline and restraint.

It's not a great time to be emotionally traumatized, but that's exactly what I was. As far as I could discern, my mother had zero fucks to give, my father had some mystery number of fucks that he was holding tightly to his chest, and me?

Well, I sort of see-sawed between giving a fuck and not giving one.

As time went on, not giving a fuck kinda won out. I see this now as an amalgamation of the presidential election results, which had definitely thrown me months before I moved home, and then the divorce. The divorce took everything I thought I knew about who I was and flushed it down the toilet. Like so much … well, crap.

And then the towers fell. And it was surreal, but it seemed to fit in. I was officially numb to the world. My existential crisis was in full swing.

So during winter break of 2001, back home at Fessenden, I went on Manhunt looking to hook up. (For you younger readers, Manhunt is like Grindr or Scruff but older, and more direct.) I went online looking for a fuck because sex was fun. I wasn't really getting laid at school (not by that point, anyway) so I went looking for it. And I found it on Massachusetts Avenue on a not-too chilly December evening.

I remember approaching the door to the brownstone and thinking that this guy looked nothing like his profile. I was there because he had told me that there were other guys there, that he was organizing a sex party. So it didn't matter that he was a weird little troll. This was to be my first orgy; I was excited! But I played it cool, because I was fresh off having lived in New York City, where I slept with at least a handful of guys and had a great time. I wasn't really prepared when upon my arrival at this man's apartment he offered me a bong that wasn't a marijuana bong. It was a bong for crystal meth.

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Christian Kiley

Christian Kiley

Christian Daniel Kiley is a filmmaker, HIV awareness educator, husband, uncle, brother and reluctant millennial who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. At the time of his diagnosis, he refrained from disclosing his status to anyone -- friends, family, let alone the Internet. After five years of isolation, he decided to disclose to his family, friends and then the Internet. Since then, he has earned his MFA in Media Art from Emerson College in Boston, Mass. He is the creator of the Web series, Unsure/Positive, which released its first season via Vimeo on Demand in December 2015. An actor, writer, director, teacher and sci-fi nerd, he also speaks to Boston-area youth about HIV awareness with an emphasis on prevention and destigmatization. Although his dry wit is sometimes mistaken for indifference, his heart has taken up permanent residence on his sleeve. Your questions, opinions, letters and suggestions are welcome at unsurepositive@
. Follow Christian on Twitter, like his photos on Instagram and check him out on Facebook. Be sure to watch his Web series, Unsure/Positive and visit his series website,

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