How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?
I took me five years before I mentioned it to anyone, and the first person I mentioned it to was my mom. My family has been supportive, my parents and brothers and sisters. They were the first people who were excited when I started doing this work, and they have followed me -- especially my dad, almost as closely with this as when I played football, and kept my articles and ... I've been very fortunate to have that support from my family.
With friends and, in particular, sexual relationships, it's been tough. I've always been a little shy and to myself, despite the fact that I played sports and everything. So finding out my status at that age, in college, already a little withdrawn -- it shut me down a lot. A lot of the normal social development that I would have had through my whole 20s never happened. So I find myself now where I still feel like a little 18-year-old kid, shy and reluctant to talk with people, uncomfortable with meeting new people -- and then to put the whole, you know, "Is this someone I disclose to, do I even want to bother?" thing on it! So over time I've gone through a lot of scenarios where it just scared the hell out of me, and sometimes I just feel safer not dealing with anyone.
I've been in situations where someone, to prove that they still accept you, want to have sex right away. Like "Let's have sex!" just to prove that they're OK with it. And no! That's not necessary -- just be you! I'm gonna be me, and just let things happen naturally.
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
Ideally, I want to be able to disclose, and to have the person on the other end accept me. But in reality -- and this might be my own rationalizing -- there's always something that we're not really comfortable about. It could be our eating habits or what our favorite TV show is or something that happened in our past that we feel less than comfortable revealing, so it's the same way on the surface. But I try ... It's interesting now that because of my job, in a lot of cases people already know I'm positive before I get there. It's completely different, though, when you meet somebody one-on-one and they have no idea who I am -- and it scares me to death. It just goes to a point of "Do I feel comfortable with this person?" And, of course, there's a certain level of comfort and timing that has to happen where you just say, "OK, now! This is it!"
What is the best response you have ever gotten from telling someone?
The best response is when it's not a big deal. I don't want to say, "I'm HIV positive", and then all of a sudden it's like, "Ohhhhh!" and all this caring -- I just want it to be that I'm still Larry. I know there are probably things that go on in the other person's mind, questions that arise, but it's best when they treat me just the same.
What is the worst response?
There was a time when there was someone I really liked, more or less from a distance. But people, when they find out -- and sometimes it's a passive disclosure, where we might get in a roundabout conversation or they might see an article about me -- I purposely just wait to see what their reaction is gonna be. And you have people who, literally, leave skid marks -- you never hear from them again. They don't want to have anything to do with you. And I don't care how confident I am with myself, I never get used to that.
How do you deal when that happens?
I would be lying if I said I'm not disappointed or my feelings not hurt at the very least, but you carry it and you move on and you wait for it to wear off. No matter how bad it feels, I know it will pass. I think that's one reason why I stay active and work and do so many things, because then things tend to rotate out of my head a lot faster.
Where do you go for support?
Well, I know what I tell other people to do: Go to anyone you feel comfortable being around and not have to talk with. Those are the best friends, people who are not always asking, "How do you feel? What's wrong?"
I have my family. I have people whom I drive crazy because I don't talk to them when they insist they are there. I have a bad habit of just staying to myself. I've grown up that way, and I keep telling myself that one day I'm not going to do this, but I always find myself just going back to myself. Sometimes I think that has alienated a lot of potential relationships -- I don't do it on purpose, but it's who I've become, and a lot of who I've become has been molded by the fact that when I found out I was positive, I was 18 and I wasn't developed.
Do you have a policy about if or when you tell a sex partner that you are positive?
Right now, I don't have to worry about it because I don't really have a whole lot of potential sex partners. Ideally, you want to have that discussion long before, you know, that particular time. At least that's my perspective. But disclosure is a personal decision that everyone makes -- there is no cookie-cutter method. I say just listen to your heart, because I think with every person and every situation it's different.
Do you feel that if you practice safe sex, it is necessary to tell a sex partner that you are positive?
As long as you're not putting anyone else at risk, you really can't be faulted for your timing. But I tell people, "If you're going to put someone else in a position like that, you better know how that person is gonna take it." Because if you have sex, whether it's protected or not, and then tell them later, "Oh yeah, by the way, I'm positive," well, that can be tricky also. You don't know how that person's going to take it, and you don't know what their level of knowledge is. I tell people, "Just think about if it was you. There is no right or wrong answer -- just think about it deeply before you put someone else in that situation."
Did you make any New Year's resolutions?
I think of them more as goals, and not have them necessarily start at the beginning of the year. If there's one thing, I want to be more effective in what I do -- never be afraid to learn more or to reach out ... just step out on that branch and experience a little more.
What's the biggest adventure you've ever had?
I think I'm living it now, actually. Getting involved with C2EA, first as a participant and then as an organizer, and not just doing the job or having the title of national field organizer, but being in the position to help individuals identify their own potential.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
If I were granted one wish, I want my Waiting to Exhale moment. I want my moment where I'm sitting somewhere -- I could be anywhere, but there's that split second in time where everything is just right. I am in the perfect place, exactly where I want to be, with exactly whom I want to be with, and everything is exactly the way it should be.
What books, movies, music or TV shows have had a big influence on you?
I watch a lot of movies -- I think that's part of my whole getting into theater, because I love stories -- especially stories driven by emotion or evolution, that have a growth in them. I get inspiration from a lot of movies like Love Jones where people are figuring themselves out with someone through their ups and downs.
I love reading about Arthur Ashe [the tennis player and AIDS activist who got HIV from a blood transfusion] and all the different aspects of his life, and the challenges that he had, and the way he overcame most of them.
I think if we're open-minded, we find inspiration in most things -- we don't have to look too hard, and I don't think we should be too selective.
Anything else you'd like The Body's readers to know about you?
I was talking with one of my coworkers back in Texas about what the one thing is that you want people to remember when you do interviews or presentations or whatever, the one thing you want them to come away with from what you've said. And she said, "Well, make sure you tell people that you're straight." Because people just automatically assume that because I'm positive and I work in the field, I'm probably gay. They don't do it in a negative way, but it's just assumed.
I want people to see me how they want to see me. If it means that I need to tell people that I'm heterosexual, I'm a black male who's never been incarcerated or a drug user, and I'm positive -- if that means something to someone, that's great. But I just think it's more important for people to know who they are, rather than who I am or who I am not. And I think that if we are much more open and comfortable with ourselves, then the communication we have with others is a lot easier to do.
Click here to e-mail Larry Bryant.