It's been 10 years since you were diagnosed.
Yes, going on 11. About 10 years, yes, you're right.
What's changed since then? How long did it take for you to process the diagnosis?
When I was first diagnosed it really took me a long time to process it. I think that if it weren't for my family being so supportive, if it weren't for my mom and my family not shutting me out and not pointing a finger about how I caught it from being gay, things like that, I'm not sure what I would have done. This process wasn't as hard as what I've seen other people go through. I really had to come to grips with my sexuality and a lot of things that I never wanted to come to grips with. I did it one at a time rather than all at one time and falling down crashing. I did it step by step, one by one. The other side of that was that it really empowered me to be more honest with myself and honest with other people, and be happy about who I am and what I do.
How have your relationships with your family and friends changed since you were diagnosed? You've talked a little bit about your family being really supportive, how has that been?
My family has been awesome. I cannot complain about them at all. Nothing really changed. I was outspoken anyway. I never bit my tongue. I speak my mind. As I got older, I learned how to do it in perspective, though. [Laughs.]
But as far as my friends -- most of my friends I've had for twenty-some-odd years. There may have been a few that I was afraid to tell, or I was afraid when they found out because I did the poster or I was on TV. For me, it was a way to find out who was and who wasn't my friend -- whether they were there for me. Some I never heard from. Some people don't answer my phone calls. Some don't even acknowledge me. It's fine. The majority of my friends are friends I've had for 20 years. I'm cool. When I go away to a conference or on vacation they call me, "When are you coming back? I miss you. We need you here." That makes me feel good.
I try to take the negative and turn it into a positive. I don't dwell on the negative stuff. It's easy to dwell on the negative stuff, but I like to work with the positive stuff.
How do you decide whether or not to disclose your HIV status to someone?
It's a tricky thing. When it comes to me professionally disclosing, I don't have any problem with that at all. When it comes to being intimate with someone and intimate issues, that tends to be a little sticky. Sometimes there are people that you meet that you may have feelings for or emotions. They may not be positive, but they're not asking the right questions, so I like to be honest with myself. I like to let people know what they're getting into. I've seen HIV-positive people while I was doing outreach blatantly be with somebody and having unprotected sex with them. That really bothers me, and I don't want to fall into that category. I know it's easy to do when you're still in denial. I'm far beyond that. I believe in telling the truth. Honesty means a lot to me. Even if I may lose somebody I may want to have feelings for, if they can't deal with my status maybe it wasn't worth it at all. They couldn't deal with HIV and that shows me something about them. I would say, "Their loss and my gain."
How did you disclose to your partner who moved to Texas?
Well, I've known him for a long time, back and forth, back and forth. Matter of fact, he had heard from somebody and he called me and asked me. I said this is what is going on. He said, "I still I care about you and love you, and I'm here to support you."
I asked him, "Have you been tested?"
He said, "I haven't been tested."
That's his bridge to cross, but I always encourage him to make sure that he knows what's going on, and to get tested.
So he knew before you got together, and it wasn't a problem for him?
No, it wasn't a problem. It wasn't a problem.
That's great. What would you say is the best and worst responses you've ever got from telling someone?
The worst response was that somebody just dropped the phone and picked it up and hung up on me. [Laughs.] Or I'm talking to someone, and all of sudden they say, "Oh!" and they start backing up and backing up and then they say, "Oh, I'll be right back." And then they are gone. When they came back they had washed their hands. I just started laughing. I was like, "You can't catch it from shaking hands. You can't catch it from being in my presence."
They were like, "Oh, no, no, no!" and I could see them turning red. I was like, "Wow!"
The best response was from my mother. She said, "No matter what you'll always be my son and I'll love you." Her being a nurse, she said, "I kind of figured that was what it was. I prayed that that wasn't what it was, but no matter what I'll always love you, no matter what."
Now you're pretty much single, how has your dating life been? How has your dating life changed been since you were positive?
My dating life is like this: [I had a] partner I was with for a while, and now he's in Texas. Since he left, I've pretty much been too occupied to date. I don't really have time for anything else. I do meet people, run into people. I tend to try not to get into too deep a relationship with anybody. I keep myself busy. Right now I'm at the point where I'm kind of like in limbo. I don't want to rekindle something, and get all deep and hot and heavy and all that right now, so I keep myself busy and stuck in my work.
Why is that?
Well, it's easier for me. I know what I have. I don't know what I'm getting into. The partner I had, we're still friends. It's like he's in Texas doing what he has to do and I'm here doing what I have to do, but we still see each other all the time, so it's not like we're completely broken up, but he's doing his thing and I'm doing mine. When it comes to other people, I'm not trying to look for other people, I'm trying to focus on me and my health and my community.
What advice would you give to someone who has just found out that they're positive?
My advice to someone who just found out that they're positive would be to tell them, don't feel like it's your fault -- that you made a mistake, and it's your fault and that life is over.
Life is not over. Seek support wherever you can get it, from somebody you can trust or confide in. Even if you don't have [social] support, there's other professional support you can get, either through case management or through your doctor.
If you believe in anything, try to draw from whatever you believe in. Try to use that as your strength. Take your time. Don't rush. It doesn't happen overnight. It's a process, but there's light at the end of the tunnel.
How has all this translated into your work? What exactly do you do for work?
Well, presently, I'm a contractor as a gay-men-of-color street outreach worker. I've been doing that for about four years, going on five. Then I'm affiliated with the Ryan White Title IV program called CYFAN [Children, Youth & Family AIDS Network], which is affiliated with the Connecticut Primary Care Associates. I'm a consumer consultant for them, and a CAB leader, Community Advisory Board leader. Through that I'm affiliated with AIDS Alliance Washington, D.C. as a TOT teacher, Trainer of Trainers. It is a national recognition to be a trainer of other consumers, of people with HIV and AIDS, and basically I tell my story and talk to other consumers about how to get involved in the planning bodies in my city, in my state and in my country.
Excellent. What do you do on a daily basis?
Three nights out the week I'm a street outreach worker. I go out and talk to gay men of color and people of color about HIV and AIDS. I talk to them about getting tested; if they want to get tested, I talk to them about HIV and AIDS. I answer some of the questions they want answered, give them condoms, give them support if they may [have already] been tested and try to direct them to places where they can get support as far as housing, drug rehab, case management, things like that.
I'm also part of the community planning group, the Connecticut HIV Planning Group, the CPG, which is the planning group that does prevention for the state of Connecticut as far as HIV and AIDS. Then I'm part of the Ryan White Title I Planning Council, which is the council that helps plan the funding for Ryan White Title I funding for services, case management, emergency assistance and things like that. I'm pretty much well-rounded about prevention and care.
What would you say is the greatest adventure you've ever had?
NAPWA has a Stay Alive conference every year for people who are HIV positive. I think it was back in 1993. I got a scholarship, so I went. They had the conference in Denver, Colorado. I was so empowered. I met all these people who were positive, and they were doing all these positive things. Wow! They were doing all these amazing things. It kind of opened my eyes that life is not over. There are so many things that you could be doing and get involved. After that conference, I kind of got a new attitude about the HIV community as far as things I could do in my own state. That was the best adventure I had. [Laughs.] Especially going to Colorado. That was really nice.
If you were granted one wish what would it be?
It would be a cure for HIV and AIDS, and it would be free.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I would just like to share that life is short. Life is what it is. Don't let negative things in life bring you down. Think positive. There's always tomorrow. There's light at the end of the tunnel!
That's great. Thank you so much.
Click here to e-mail Brian Datcher.