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Reader's Forum

December 2000

"My Story Could Be Yours"

You're at a gathering and a friend tells a gay joke with an AIDS punch line. Or at your parents' home for the holidays and relatives argue that any homosexual or drug user who gets AIDS deserves it. Or maybe friends are not understanding about HIV/AIDS and push you away. What if a school teacher is HIV positive? Are we going to try to dismiss them from our schools? In the course of such day-to-day social interactions, you may meet people who are paranoid, misinformed, ignorant, or just plain scared about HIV/AIDS.

As a person with HIV, I hear about such people all the time. There are things all of us can do to help clean up the misconceptions and to be able to respond sensitively to insensitive remarks. The best way to approach these naive and misinformed people is to encourage them to educate themselves. Resist the urge to set them straight in front of others. Often it is best to take them aside and have a one on one chat about certain concerns you may have, like when someone tells a tasteless joke or makes an anti-gay joke or comment. By clearing up the facts during the conversation, you just may ease their fears. You may respond: HIV/AIDS is still an unsolved mystery in many ways, but a lot of concepts about the disease are known.

What I have learned and experienced in my own personal battle has been a devastating situation for myself and my family. I have been diagnosed positive since 1991. When I was first diagnosed with HIV, I was devastated. I wanted to die. I was sure no one would want me because I have been infected. Then everything changed in late 1991 when I met that special person who changed my life forever.

Till this day that person is negative and healthy, but to this person it did not matter what I had, it was unimportant. Eight and a half years later, I am the proud father of three sons and one daughter. The moral of my story is that not everyone is uncaring, naive, or misinformed about HIV/AIDS, which results in different responses from different people.

Some people believe that HIV/AIDS is the plague that will infect everyone in years to come. Fact of the matter is that one needs to be informed not to catch HIV/AIDS. There are all sorts of ways to get infected with the virus. Body fluid to body fluid contact due to unprotected sex and sharing needles are the most common examples of ways for possible risk of infection. On the other side of the coin, there are many myths such as sharing cups, spoons, shaking hands, hot tubs or pools, and even handling money. Today none of these myths are proven risk factors and I do not think they ever will be. If anyone you know is equally fatalistic or has any irrational fear of being infected, do not be afraid to bring up the topic of prevention and protection. Just tell them the facts, as you know them. Do this without being preachy or accusatory and offer to get them pamphlets or any other additional information about HIV/AIDS that they may read in their spare time.

Some people have misguided ideas about what to do with the growing number of people with HIV/AIDS. So refute their suggestions only after knowing their fears. For instance, suggest that the school your children attends be open for children with HIV. People with the virus who are still able to work could teach these children. The best way to help is to inform others about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is to stay informed yourself. Whenever you come across good explanatory articles about HIV/AIDS, save them and never feel afraid to address this situation. There should never be any shame or being embarrassed. Feeling ashamed or embarrassed can mean not taking proper precautions and can and will give an individual a life sentence of pain!

I'd like to make a special and sensitive dedication to my Mother and family for all their understanding and support, also for being strong for me when I was weak -- Thank You! To that special someone, you know who you are -- Thanks for your strength and love! To my beautiful children who have made my life a brighter one -- Ralph Anthony, Christian Joseph, Manuel James, and Elena Marie -- Daddy loves you all very much!!!

Ralph Cortez
Bronx, NY

"I was Arrested, but Actually I was Rescued"

On 4-29-93 I was diagnosed HIV positive. My first reaction was that I was sentenced to death. I had absolutely no knowledge of the HIV/AIDS disease. I didn't even know the difference between the two. I clearly remember the emptiness I felt and I immediately started asking, "God, why me??"

I went on a serious mission constantly abusing myself through drugs; this went on for 2 years. I was arrested, but actually I was rescued. This was the most unusual arrest I had ever had. That was the year I came to accept my disease; prior to that I was in denial. Through a conversation with one of my buddies that was infected, I not only accepted it but I openly shared my condition with anyone who would listen. I clearly remember a big burden being lifted off of me. Today I am drug-free through the grace of God. I'm not on any medication and my CD4 counts are exceptionally high. I contribute my good health to my spirituality and my positive attitude on life. I also laugh a lot. I truly believe that education about HIV/AIDS disease and true acceptance is the key to successfully living and handling this disease a day at a time.

Pamela Neely
Hempstead, NY

P.S. It is said that if you don't start standing for something you'll continue to fall for anything.

Back to the December 2000 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
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