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This Positive Life: An Interview With Enrique Franco

November 11, 2009

This podcast is a part of the series This Positive Life. To subscribe to this series, click here.

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Table of Contents


Enrique Franco
Enrique Franco

About Enrique
Home: Tucson, Ariz.
Diagnosed: June 2007

The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy got Enrique Franco kicked out of the Army. It also, oddly, was the reason he found out he was HIV positive. As Franco explains in this moving interview, diagnosis turned his life upside down, but he's now standing tall. "This is my body, this is my life," he says. "I'm not going to stop living. I refuse to put my head down."


Finding Out

How did you find out that you were HIV positive?

It's an interesting story. I was about to get out of the United States Army on a chapter for homosexual conduct, which I self-admitted. I had to take a physical -- everyone has to take a physical when they leave the service. I asked for a blood check, just to make sure everything was straight.

It took about a month. Then they called me back to the hospital and said that my paperwork had to stop. I was very curious. I didn't ask why, but when the doctor sent me down, I kind of put two and two together and I let him do the rest of the talking. I pretty much figured out what he was going to tell me.

Do you have any hint how you got infected?

That one is another question for myself. I was pretty promiscuous when I was younger, but I always made sure that I used protection because I knew it was just going to be a one-time shot with some guy that I was with. But my last relationship was with another soldier and I fell in love really bad, and we stopped using protection.

To be honest, he was the only one that I never used protection with, but I don't think he gave it to me. Honestly, if he did, I wouldn't be as mad at him as I would if it were a stranger.

You haven't really spoken to this person about the issue?

No. We parted ways pretty difficultly and we haven't spoken since.

What happened when you first found out? What was your reaction?

Enrique beside his truck.
Enrique is a die-hard Yankees fan. Here he is in front of his truck.
When I first found out, I immediately asked myself, "What do I have to do to fight this thing?" I teared up, though I didn't cry at all; I haven't cried yet. I want to be able to cry over this thing, but I immediately responded like a soldier.

What I mean by this is that when we deploy, when we go out to some place, it's real difficult on my family. But I always told them, because I've been deployed three times. The first time, I said I'm not going to call, I'm not going to write, I'll appreciate the stuff that you guys give me, but I'm going to focus on my mission at hand. When I come back home, then I'll do all that stuff.

I treated it like that. I treated it like -- I have HIV, I have to fight this thing now. I came up with all these plans of what I had to do, actions I have to take. Then maybe when I'm in the hospital and I'm dying, maybe then I'll start crying and letting it all out, but honestly, I see it like I don't have time for that right now.


Telling Others

Did you tell anybody about it initially?

Initially, I told one of my closest friends. It was kind of by accident. He was one of my soldiers at the time. A week after I found out, he had to be put in the hospital for spinal meningitis. I was his squad leader and I had to go visit him to make sure he was OK.

"I was so paranoid when I first found out I had HIV. I was really, really paranoid about getting germs and I wanted everything clean, and I didn't want to eat out anymore using the forks and stuff. I went to go see him and I had the mask on and white surgical gloves on and everything."
I was so paranoid when I first found out I had HIV. I was really, really paranoid about getting germs and I wanted everything clean, and I didn't want to eat out anymore using the forks and stuff. I went to go see him and I had the mask on and white surgical gloves on and everything.

He asked me several questions. He said, "Why do you have all that stuff on?"

I said, "Well, I'm just trying to protect myself, bro." That's when I said, "I've got to tell you something. I'm HIV positive."

He gave me a look of concern, not like he was mad or anything; he just said, "OK," and that was it.

Have your feelings about having HIV changed over time?

It has, yes sir. Initially, I was paranoid. All of a sudden, I didn't want to hug people. I felt like I was an alien or whatever. I didn't want to get anybody sick or anything like that. By the same token, I demanded people hear me say, "Hey, I have HIV now!"

My mom, still gets on me; she says, "Your HIV does not make who you are as a person. It does not define you."

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Today, honestly, I can say that I treat HIV like it's a pebble in my shoe. I have it, and it's going to be there, and I can't take off the shoe and dump the pebble out. It's just going to be there. It bugs me sometimes, but I just have to learn to live with that.

How soon did you tell your family about the diagnosis? How long did it take you to talk to them?

That one was pretty difficult. I was stationed in the middle of Texas and on the way from Texas back to California is El Paso, and my baby brother lives in El Paso. I did not want to tell my family over the phone, but the first person I wanted to tell was my mother. It took about a month, because after that diagnosis, it took another month to fill out the paperwork. That month felt like forever for me, to keep the secret from my mom like this. It was very, very difficult. But I told myself, I'm not going to tell anybody over the phone because I'd be selfish if I did that. I had to see her in person.

When I was driving to El Paso to stop at my brother's house, I knew he was going to be mad at me after it all came out. But I knew if I would have told him, he would have told my mother on the phone before I got home, and my mom would have been very upset with me when I got there, so it was either my mom being mad at me or my little brother being mad at me for not telling him at all. So I didn't tell him, and I waited until I got to California to tell my mom.

Can you tell us a little bit about how that happened? It's a very powerful story. You spoke to your mother? How did she respond? How did you feel at that time?

It's interesting because my brother has trouble with the law sometimes and he was having trouble at that same time. When I went home, they were like, "OK, here comes Chico and he's a big sergeant. He's going to get on his brother's booty and get on him and everything."

They always thought of me as that strict military die-hard Republican type, loved the president and all that. When I went home, it was kind of hard. I don't like doing that with my mom especially. She's my confidant. But I had to tell her everything because she's my confidant. I knew she would understand, but I didn't know how she would react to it.

It wasn't as bad with the coming out with me being a homosexual. It was more so when I had to tell her I was HIV positive. She just had a single tear drop from her eye, and I didn't want to get mad at her, but I said, "Ma, don't worry about it. I know what I've got to do." She just had that one little tear, and she just shook her head, and that was it. I'm pretty sure that there were other things going on after I left the house, but they won't let me see it.

It was a difficult moment.

It was extremely difficult. I didn't want to disappoint her. Everything I'd accomplished -- I just didn't want to go home like a loser.

You have to understand: She's my mom; she will never see me like that. After everything was over and said and done, she still accepted me. My other family members -- they don't like it -- but they see her as an example, as the leader of the family because my dad's not around.

What about your brother? What did he say when you told him finally?

My mom didn't tell me. He shook it off like it was nothing. My mom told me later on -- like a month later -- that he was in his room crying for a couple of days, nonstop all-night crying, and that he was worrying about me. He is more machismo than I am. He won't ever show it.

I'm going to head over back to California for my birthday, and I'm just not even going to mention that. I don't want to deny it, but there's a time and place and I don't think it would be appropriate to mention that. I'll just live my life. I'd be more than happy to talk to him, but he's more machismo than I am, so ...

You've also told some friends, right?

Yes.

Have you gotten any bad responses from people when you told them?

I've only gotten one. It's kind of funny to me now, but I only got one bad response so far. It wasn't even from a friend, it was from a nurse when I was checking in over at the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs]. She asked me what I have and I said I'm HIV positive. Then she goes immediately after, "Are you homosexual?"

I started laughing openly, and she's like, "What's wrong with the question?" She couldn't even see for herself the way it came out. It was comical for me, because I can laugh at myself, but if I was there now, I would have been offended. But it was just comical to me.

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This podcast is a part of the series This Positive Life. To subscribe to this series, click here.



This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.
 
See Also
More Inspiring Stories of Gay Men With HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: david (portugal) Wed., Oct. 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm EDT
Great mind Enrico, i love your opinions and i agree with them.
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Comment by: Victor S. (Phoenix,az)) Thu., Apr. 25, 2013 at 11:22 pm EDT
Hoy yo no se que hacer pues ,siento me sali del camino y no se para donde voy,quiero conocer amigos que esten pasando por la misma situacion
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Joseph (Minneapolis, MN) Wed., Apr. 17, 2013 at 12:25 pm EDT
This is a great tool for newly diagnosed and for those who need to hear a story to share their story.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Drew (Maui, Hawaii) Sat., Oct. 20, 2012 at 4:18 am EDT
Inspiring!! Thank you, Enrique
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Comment by: Matthew B. (Jeff City, Missouri) Wed., Dec. 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm EST
Man, you are an inspiration to me, and so many others.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Rodney (Vacaville,ca) Mon., Sep. 26, 2011 at 3:23 am EDT
I lile your story mines kinda the same I was im the navy when I found out I was having sex with like five different guys at the same and dont know who gave it to me.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Alex (Kazakhstan) Sat., Jan. 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm EST
I am a Chinese gay man who just found out HIV positive.I felt better when I red your story.Thank you so much for sharing your story.I wish I could have a courage to tell my mother.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: luis c (gettysburg pa) Fri., Jan. 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm EST
Eres un heroe tu vales mucho me gustaria hablar contigo
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Comment by: luis c (gettysburg pa) Fri., Jan. 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm EST
Tu historia es de valientes y tu vales mucho dios te ama me gustaria conocerte o hablar contigo - aqui tienes un amigo
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Vince (Camden,NJ) Sat., Jan. 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm EST
Chico...I found your story interesting..I can relate..I would love to meet you in person...to share my story because mine is somewhat like yours.
Wish you could get back to me.
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Comment by: Mich (Chicago, Illinois) Tue., Dec. 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm EST
"I was responsible, but I was very, very promiscuous."

This is an oxymoron......how fitting for this young man to have stated it.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: David (Jacksonville, Florida) Wed., Mar. 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm EDT
Your comment is not needed here. This a place where people can gather and hopefully receive positive feedback about their personal situations. He meant that he was having sex with multiple men but he used condoms.


Comment by: Joslyn (FL) Wed., Dec. 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm EST
I'm doing a reseach paper on Hiv/Aids and some how found this page. What an interesting story. Your a survivor and I encourage you to keep on surviving and know that there are people in the world who admire your honesty. God bless you. live your life to the fullest. peace love and more love.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: botomguy (UAE) Sat., Aug. 7, 2010 at 7:01 am EDT
I thank you for the your very inspiring story. I just recently had a positive for ELISA and right now I am considering myself a confirmed HIV+. WIth yor story, I found a new hope that we can still live despite of this struggle. I will be going back to my country (Philippines) to be treated and start a new life there. I know something is waiting for me and perhaps God is telling me something too. Thank you for this website where I can share my thoughts especially to you guys. I feel like I belong.
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Comment by: JAMES L. (6737 HARRY DRIVE APT. 6 BATON ROUGE, LA. 70806) Wed., Jul. 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm EDT
MAN, I THANKS FOR BEING SO BRAVE AND HONEST, IN TELLING YOUR STORY, YOU ARE A BLESSING TO MANY PEOPLE, MAY THE GRACE OF GOD CONTINUE TO KEEP YOU AS YOU MOVE FORWARD IN THIS LIFE.
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Comment by: DownBro (Memphis, TN) Mon., Jan. 11, 2010 at 3:29 pm EST
I can truly relate to this story and I try and try to tell a friend of mine who is struggling with HIV that hey, man, snap out of it, live your life dude, its up to u! Since my diagnosis 2 years ago, i promise, it seems my life has more meaning now! Keep blazing paths man! My Motto: WHEN UR DIAGNOSED POSITIVE, HOW CAN YOU FIND ROOM TO BE NEGATIVE?!
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Comment by: Manual (Seattle) Mon., Jan. 4, 2010 at 6:44 pm EST
You're Da Man.
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Comment by: jose (calif) Mon., Nov. 30, 2009 at 7:18 pm EST
wow, enrique! You're my new hero. Living life without fear -- and in the hood! I wish I had your courage.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: juan camilo (colombia) Thu., Nov. 26, 2009 at 12:51 pm EST
me gustaria conocer alguien con quien compartir
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Sid (OKC,OK) Sat., Nov. 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm EST
I was in the Navy for 8 years..during my first enlistment I was "turned" in twice to the military police. First for sharing with another gay Navy "friend" that I too like him was gay. Too many in the command he was considered, "obviously gay" & also too young to handle the BS & the pressure and reported me. The 2nd time I was turned in to NIS (Naval Investigation Services) by another gay friend who had been locked up at the brig (he had been "busted" for having sex at the barracks) and forced to give names. He had been, after training been stationed to another base; we had lost contact. 10 months later, I was brought in to NIS, given intimately written details of the extent of our friendship, having "ratted" on many of us. The military "witch hunts," many of us gays experienced where brutally rampant. I played "the game" denied all written "confessions" This all happened in 1981. Amazingly enough, I re-enlisted in 1984. In March of 1985, I was told I was poz. This was when HIV was a death sentence. 24 years later I see not much has changed within the active duty military system.
By the way I was medically retired in, with full benefits after being told I would die in a year after becoming poz. Still POZ, still healthy...still loving life!
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Comment by: Ryan (Los Angeles) Thu., Nov. 19, 2009 at 11:34 pm EST
Thanks Chico for being such a trail blazer!,,i was diagnosed last year and also believe that the denial is how i got this and its the denial that makes this such an epidemic,,,hiv has ignited a passion in me to be true to myself and others,,and my strength continues to grow physically and mentally,,,Chico is right ,dont hang your head,,,KEEP MOVING FORWARD!,,
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Comment by: brad (San Leandro, CA) Tue., Nov. 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm EST
Enrique's courage of openess and honesty can only be a positive impact on others struggling with this issue. His positive can do attitude is a welcome message to us all, that we can live a wonderful productive life being HIV positive. IF only we could all be so brave. Thanks for your share Enrique!
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Comment by: Doug (Miami Beach, FL) Tue., Nov. 17, 2009 at 7:07 pm EST
Thanks for telling your story, Enrique. You sound like a great guy. Your mom's advice--tha your HIV does not define you as a person--was the best advice, and it seems you've taken that to heart.
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