Larry Bryant, Washington, D.C., diagnosed in 1986
It 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 So finding out my status at that age, in college, already a little withdrawn -- it shut me down a lot.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.
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. 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.
It's interesting now that, because of my job, in a lot of cases people already know I'm HIV positive before I get there. It's completely different, though, when I 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?" 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. 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. 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 are 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.
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