My name is Alfredo. I'm a 54-year-old HIV-positive Latino. I lived in Peru until 1972. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 25 years old. I have been living in Los Angeles since.
When I was in Peru at the age of five, more or less, I remember feeling different and that I had lost my sense of belonging in the world, like a yellow carnation may feel in a bouquet of red roses. I didn't know then what it was all about. Much later I found out it had to do with the disclosure of my homosexuality. I felt insecure and inadequate. I remember my first year in school with the Christian Brothers. I became friends with Luis and we used to play doctors and nurses, naked. I was attracted to Luis. I shared that experience with my Mother and she told me something like this, "Don't tell this to anyone and much less to your father." I learned then how to keep secrets. I kept secrets in my monologue with myself in my mind. I didn't like that feeling of not sharing feelings with others. Later in life secrets came to visit me and again I did not know how to deal with them. I was an adult with unresolved secrets of childhood.
At the age of seven or eight, I heard things like "Boy's don't cry, queers are perverts, be a macho man," etc. I call them today "filters" of my Hispanic culture and my Catholic upbringing. I started eating a lot to numb and hide my feelings.
In 1972 I had the opportunity to move to Los Angeles to study English as a second language and to work on my advanced college degree. I took the opportunity, thinking "If I do this geographic move, all my feelings and secrets will stay in Peru." I arrived in Los Angeles on February 20, 1972. I got very busy.
Shortly after my arrival to Los Angeles I married an American woman -- life became busier. Our first son was born in 1976 and our second a year later. They are the light of my life today. We bought a house, got good jobs, and life was fine. However, on the inside I was very sad, like a clown in a circus making the audience laugh but dying of loneliness.
I started going out at night looking for men. It didn't make any sense to me. Here I was with a beautiful wife, two handsome boys, a home, cars, and all that jazz, but empty inside. In 1983 I shared my gay nighttime excursions with my ex-wife. I was still married to her. She suggested for me to go to therapy at my HMO. I did. Early in 1986 she asked me to leave the family to find who I was. I didn't want to do that. I felt scared like a mouse in front of a hungry lion, very scared. To make a long story short, on my 39th birthday I left the house and my sons. Until today, I hear at night the cries of my children for the pain I was causing for that action.
So, in 1986 I entered the gay life in secret. No one knew about my sadness. I didn't ask for help nor did I share with others about it. My sexual activities were in parks and bathhouses mostly in the dark. I didn't know that gay men could make love in any other place. They were dangerous, exciting and painful experiences.
Shortly after, I started to lose weight, and I took the HIV test. On October 10, 1986 I was told (over the phone, that is the way doctors often shared the news in the mid-1980s) that I was HIV-positive and would have two to four years to live. My life ended right at that moment. I behaved very irresponsibly and I didn't care much for others or myself. I drank like a sailor and had many sexual partners. Around 1989 I fell in love with Joe, and after practicing safe sex for a while he introduced drugs into our lives. I started using drugs recreationally and later became addicted. It was very difficult to admit it, but finally in 1993, I did.
I found out that if I start sharing my secrets with others I would not be feeling what I was feeling inside. It was suggested that if I do that, drugs and alcohol will not be needed to numb pain. When I shared my secrets, I felt freedom. I started disclosing my gayness, my HIV status, my addiction to drugs and alcohol, and I found out a great tool in life: sharing my secrets with others was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I may not get to see the light at the end of the tunnel; however, the journey became less scary and more pleasant.
My ex-wife knew about my HIV infection in 1986. Not until ten years later did I share this with my sons. I was afraid to be rejected and abandoned by them. I was very wrong. They became a little sad and angry at first. "Dad, why didn't you trust us?' they said to me. At that moment I realized that the payoff of breaking my silence to my loved ones was the deeper relationship that I now have with my sons. We are more intimate now and our relationship has never been more enhanced since I disclosed my deep, dark secrets. The lesson that I learned is that disclosure with wisdom is a great gift because now I have a great group of supporters and friends who love me with all my spoken secrets and grant me the gift of being Alfredo. And, I do the same to them. Life has become a never-ending process of disclosure. It never ends; there is always one more to come out. But as long as I used wisdom to know the difference and a loving God on my side to tell me his plans for me, I will be in better hands. I feel blessed and I have not had bad feelings against my Mother, society, or Catholicism for my past filters. I have a new vision and it's called being honest to the best of my ability.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Breaking the Silence... (Rompiendo El Silencio).