Thomas Weise was living in Berlin when he received his HIV-positive diagnosis in October 1993. German by birth, he had served time in the German army, had been an assistant director and actor at Berlin's Hebbel Theater, and was currently attending the Free University of Berlin when diagnosed. However, with his HIV-positive status came major life changes. "Almost at once, I lost 90% of my friends," he says. "If one is HIV-positive in Germany, one is much more isolated than in the U.S.A. People, both gay and straight, are afraid and tend to reject anyone, friend or acquaintance, who happens to test positive." According to Thomas, there are fewer HIV-related services in Germany than there are in New York City. "In Germany, there is only one aids organization, with sister organizations in other cities. There are no fundraising and no volunteer programs in which the average person can participate. Germany offers no opportunities for HIV-positive individuals to share their lives with other Germans."
Prior to his diagnosis, Thomas had spent time in New York City, and had worked as an intern journalist with "The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour." After getting his test results he felt the need to start a new life, so as soon as he could he made a permanent move to New York City. "Germany totally concentrates on prevention of HIV infection, as opposed to the U.S.A.'s concentration on research. In Germany, aids is considered to be a death sentence. Here in the U.S.A., it isn't." Thomas wanted to be more active in dealing with his HIV status, and wanted to be able to live honestly as an HIV-positive gay man. "That would be impossible in Germany," he says. "One is not allowed to live in an open and free manner, and to criticize HIV policies. There, one is isolated."
After leaving Berlin, Thomas felt his life open up. "After moving to New York City, I became hyperactive. I wanted to do everything," he says. Since moving here he has become involved with a Buddhist group and attends their meetings regularly. He has also been instrumental in the organization of The Body Positive Tea Dance for HIV-positive people and their friends. He hosts the dance at Webster Hall in New York City on Sunday from 6 p.m. until midnight. He is also a social committee member of Body Positive NY, and has written articles for Body Positive magazine, POZ, and DAH aktwell (a German publication), and has been interviewed by German and Spanish cable television.
Most important to Thomas is his involvement with the children's care program, Northern Lights Alternative, which helps children who are infected with or affected by aids. "I love children more than anything, and as an HIV-positive gay man, I know I'll never have children of my own. I hope to work with two children through this program, to do what I can to help them and give them a positive direction in life." Thomas is also a volunteer for Life Beat (he organizes special events), and for Gay Men's Health Crisis (he provides Education Department support). He also attended the Eleventh International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver in 1996 as a delegate through a scholarship award.
"Gay life between here and Germany is so different. It's so free here, and one can change one's life so much easier," he says. "The lack of flexibility in German society makes it too hard to live there. I'm very optimistic and happy-natured, and here I can create a happy atmosphere for myself."
"Coming to New York City was a wonderful alternative to living with a family and trying to live in a society to which I couldn't relate. Now I have the chance to recreate my life in a city I love, and to have the freedom to live fully and completely. I would have lived in rejection in Germany, but here I can be open and natural." He feels that life in Germany could never offer him this freedom, but New York City has "embraced me as I am, and allows me to grow and create as a human being and as someone who is gay and HIV-positive."
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.