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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

Mel Byrd

January 2006

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Disclosure, Relationships and Sex

How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?

It's the same as it has always been. I was never very close with my family. I don't have any friends -- that was a non-issue.

Have you been able to be open about your HIV status with the people closest to you?

I don't have anybody closest to me, so again, it's a non-issue. I'd like to think that if I did have somebody close enough to me, I would be willing, but if you don't have any friends, you're not close with your family, that narrows down my choices.

Is there someone that you would want to tell if you felt safe doing so?

Not at this point, no. The only people that I even continue to interact with are a couple of nieces and nephews and grandnieces and nephews. Some are in their mid-20s now, but they've got their own issues to deal with and there's nothing about my dropping that information into the equation that could be of any real benefit to them at this time, so I don't really care to. And the little ones, they're just happy to see you. That may change in due time, but right now there's just no profit in throwing it out there.

Do you feel that if you practice safe sex, it is necessary to tell a sex partner that you are positive?

At this stage, because I am much more interested in having a relationship with someone, I would tell them, because I would want them to know: "Here's what you're getting into, so if you want to have this relationship with me, this is part of the territory." I would never have told that to someone I was having anonymous sex with.

Where do you go for support?

I don't.

What about online?

Oh, online it's very anonymous. I think that was part of what motivated me to click that link on The Body's site and send that e-mail [asking people to share their story for this African-American resource center]. More and more recently, I've felt very much that I don't want to be anonymous anymore. But beyond that, I can be anybody I want to be online, and do so quite often.

Have you ever tried any online support groups for people living with HIV?

When I was first infected, I hung out in an HIV-positive chat room. I hung out there for a little while -- there were people who were there in support of positive people, some who were positive themselves, some who had full-blown AIDS -- and that helped me become more comfortable with the entire arena of things. But it was just not quite the social world I wanted to be in. They just seemed to rehash the same things over and over, and I was past that point, like with the anonymous sex thing. I want something else.

Have you faced rejection from potential sex partners?

No. I found out I was positive after I had stopped engaging in sexual practices of any kind.

Is your celibacy related to HIV?

No. I made a geographic move, and I wasn't familiar with the area, and I'd get lost just trying to get home from work on a lot of occasions. So I had bigger issues than trying to find sex for the evening -- I'm trying to just find my way home.

I didn't make a decision -- there was no high moral ground or a conscious decision to be celibate. It just became the way things happened. And four or five years into it, I find out I'm also HIV positive, so that just built up on what already preceded it. And here it is, 12 years later, and I've not been with anybody in all that time. Not that I don't think about it, because I do. It would be nice to have an intimate relationship with somebody, but I just haven't.

Resolutions, Adventures and Wishes

Did you make any New Year's resolutions?

I was never one to make New Year's resolutions.

What's the biggest adventure you've ever had?


The biggest adventure I've ever had continues, actually: The first time I became an uncle. Because I understood early on, despite the fact that I didn't tell anybody in my family that I'm gay, that being gay means the probability is high that I would not have children of my own. So when I became an uncle, I found very much that it was a role I enjoyed greatly. And now with the grandnieces and grandnephews, I get little ones all over again. So that's been the best thing to come into my life. Short of actual fatherhood myself, that's been the greatest thing. I love the role of being the favorite uncle.

If you were granted one wish, what would it be?

To not be positive.

What books, movies, music or TV shows have had a big influence on you?

I like a lot of science fiction, in books, television and movies. I was never a major fan of splatter or gore -- but the ones that leave us with a message of the possibility of hope, that we can make it forward through to something.

Anything else you'd like The Body's readers to know about you?

Well, the one thing I'd like to communicate is, I hope no one misinterprets my composure on this matter as ease. The whole thing takes a great toll on my character. I just wanted to throw that out there -- that being able to deal with it practically is not the same thing as it being easy.

I mean, speaking about it now is not so difficult for me. If you had asked me these questions, or anything like them, in my 20s, it would have been an entirely different story. But at this point, I'm comfortable enough with the nature of who and what I am that it's not an issue. But I just wanted to make sure that people do understand not to confuse my composure with ease.

I don't have a great relationship with my family, I don't have any friends, I don't have a partner. And in spite of the fact that a lot of that is a consequence of my own choices, those choices have come to me because I had felt that, "Well, this is how my family has said things must be," and whether I like it or not, that's the game plan -- and what I think, how I feel, may not have any real value to them. It's not like I wouldn't like to have a better relationship with my family. It's not like I wouldn't like to have friends. And I throw these numbers -- I haven't had sex for 12 years, I've been positive for almost eight years -- and it comes out, and I'm reasonably articulate. But again it shouldn't be confused with ease in that entire matter.

Thank you for talking about all this -- you're doing something tremendous right here, I think.

You're quite welcome. And again, one of the reasons is that when I read articles about HIV, and about how few black people step forward, it made me think about the young kids in my family and the possibility of how someone else in somebody else's family might feel. I never had such images or heard any such voices in my growing up. I don't feel much like an activist, but it would be nice to put something back.

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This article was provided by TheBody.

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