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Personal Perspective

Catholic, Gay, and Living With HIV

Winter 2009/2010

From the time I was a young boy, religion was a very important part of my life. I remember my father's look if I was acting up during Mass, and I knew that I should be quiet and listen to what the priest had to say. My father died when I was nine, but I had absolutely no doubt that he had gone to heaven and took comfort in the fact that I would see him again.

Around this same time, I began to have feelings for other boys. Although my mother never talked about homosexuality, I remember hearing derogatory things about gay people and I did not want to be one. I hid these feelings for a couple of years, and then in seventh grade I was reacquainted with my best friend from years earlier. Our friendship grew and we began an intimate relationship.

I recall hearing our parish priest preach that he could understand aid for homeless people, but aid for people with AIDS was taking things too far. He was basically saying that they were getting what they deserved and no one should try to help them.
During these years, I felt extremely conflicted. I was an altar boy and was very close to our parish priest. I recall hearing him preach that he could understand aid for starving people or for homeless people, but aid for people with AIDS was taking things too far. He was basically saying that people who were dying from AIDS were getting what they deserved and no one should try to help them. I also remember a family friend -- a doctor -- saying that AIDS was God's way of getting rid of homosexuals.

When I was 19, I remember making a conscious decision that I would never tell anyone about my feelings. My friend went off to college and never mentioned our relationship again. I began to drink and drug to bury my feelings and prayed that God would make me straight. I gained a lot of weight and struggled for many years with a food addiction. At age 25 I decided that I needed to get sober and had several meetings with a priest, who I tried to talk to about my feelings toward men. I had heard in Alcoholics Anonymous that I needed to be honest about who I was. He told me that it was wrong and that I needed to pray to God for help. This kept me in the closet for another six months, until my older brother came out to me. I also came out to him, but I believed that being gay was wrong, and that I had to leave my church and my friends behind. (Several years later, I saw that same priest coming out of the "dunes," an area in Provincetown where men go to have sex. I resented him for a while, until I realized that he was as much a victim as I was.)


For years, I had sex with men but could never stay in a committed relationship because I did not believe I was worthy of being loved. I had anonymous sex just to feel good, but I was so ashamed of my behavior I compartmentalized my life. In my mid-30s, I got involved in the equal marriage rights issue and built strong relationships with several politicians -- I like to believe that I had some influence over several votes. I remember standing in the Massachusetts State House in 2004 with thousands of equal marriage advocates, singing songs, standing side by side with Senators who were putting their careers on the line to fight for my civil rights. At the same time, I remember thinking, "If they really knew what I have done, they would not be on my side."

Guilt and shame were eating me up inside. Shortly after that, after many years of sobriety, I picked up crystal meth for the first time and became addicted right away. Not only did it give me energy and a false sense of self confidence, but I also lost weight and was the thinnest I had ever been. Over the next couple of years, my life got progressively worse. I contracted HIV, withdrew from friends and family, and left a great job. I was physically and spiritually bankrupt and suicidal. Memories of my priest talking about people with AIDS haunted me. I had a lot of shame about my HIV and I started to believe what I had heard as a child. Using meth made these feelings go away and seemed to be the only way to make my life tolerable. My health deteriorated from my drug use, but I felt it was from my HIV and accepted this as my fate. Being at the lowest point in my life and not sure what to do, I asked my family for help and this is where my life took a dramatic turn.

I checked into an addiction treatment facility, where I heard someone explain the difference between religion and spirituality. He said that religion is for people who do not want to go to hell and spirituality is for people who have already been there. Since that time, I have been through several treatment programs and several relapses. I have learned a lot about recovery, spirituality, and loving myself for who I am.

Today, I have been clean and sober for over 18 months. I attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings almost every day. I work regularly with my sponsor and I take my HIV medications regularly and consistently. I believe in a loving, nonjudgmental God who takes care of me each and every day. I no longer pray for material things, but rather ask God to give me guidance so that I may find my purpose in life. I used to go to the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston, because they were gay-friendly. But a nun there christened the baby of a lesbian couple and the cardinal cracked down on them, so I stopped going. I don't belong to any church or religion today.

Finally, I no longer feel guilt or shame for anything that I have done in the past. The Ninth Step Promise in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others." I do believe that just as "coming out of the closet" was easier for my generation than the previous generation, it will be still easier for the next. If my story helps someone else, then today is a good day.

More From This Resource Center

Undetectable Viral Load and HIV Prevention: What Do Gay and Bi Men Need to Know?

Do HIV-Negative Gay Men Need Condoms if They're on PrEP? Here's What I Tell My Patients

This article was provided by ACRIA and GMHC. It is a part of the publication Achieve. Visit ACRIA's website and GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
Read More Articles in the Winter 2009/2010 Issue of Achieve
More Personal Stories of Gay Men With HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Merci Joseph. (Washington, DC) Fri., Jul. 16, 2010 at 10:54 am UTC
Dear Joseph,
I have never written on these places, but first time for everything.

You disclosing so much in this article hit home, I felt emotionally naked just reading it. However, thanks for doing this, it forced some shadowed emotions to re-surface.
The great thing about this comment-space is its annonymity....My childhood was bitter sweet. sweet:Lots of maturnal unconditional love n great k-12; Bitter: sexual&verbal abuse from others - details unfortunately common.

Similar to you, I grew up catholic, @school:bombared with anti-homo n AIDS messages, so much that I carried the fear of sex for 12 years after age of 15...playing out by abstinence. American Military father, Mexican imigrant mom...ugh-talk about removing some layers of backage, lol. S.Freud is salivating!

I moved to a big city@29 n fell in love and zeroconverted@32. part of life - life uncertain..yes, life good and bad...yes, got it.

Still now, guilt haunts me; loving myself is a struggle everyday, beating myself up is the broken mental default programming. I am changing and building more energy/strength to tackle this daunting but necessary task. In trying to build a support system...I have to Poz socials, difficult. I have been to Poz-nights, odd, just feel like an odd ball. I am a good man and I have faith it will all work out.

As far a faith, believer in "other world" yes, other levels of existence and consciosness, yes. Church..for me-no thanks. Prayer-yes, meditation-yes, peace-yes, laughter-yes.

Thanks/Merci Joseph, I hope that you reach your goals and find contentment.

Enlightened Emotions.
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Comment by: adel (malaysia) Tue., May. 11, 2010 at 5:22 am UTC
your story helps everyone....
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Comment by: Bob Hargreaves (Jefferson, Maine) Mon., May. 3, 2010 at 10:11 pm UTC
God loves you and me and all of us, and comes to tell us of this love in whatever way will get our attention and meet us where we are. It's too bad the church you belonged to didn't communicate the depth of God's love to you, as happens all too often. I am not a Roman Catholic for many reasons, but I have seen my own church fail to show the depth of God's love, also, too many times. Often those of us who call ourselves Christians are pretty poor ambassadors for the Lord. I'm glad the 12 steps have done their work well for you and brought God's love and acceptance into your life. They have done that for me, too, in a far deeper way than I had ever experienced before.
You are one of God's kids, chosen and beloved, and I believe your life is somehow to be a witness to someone else who needs to hear that message. God bless you, my brother. Thank you for sharing your story with the rest of us.
It's true that, when we find the solution, our own experience can benefit others. Today I am able to share my story with others at our local regional jail and at our state prison, and there I make wonderful friends. I spent 31 years in full time parish ministry and had a lot of good experiences during that time. But none of it really compares with the joy of seeing a brother come alive with new hope in the process of working the steps. I'm certainly no Mother Teresa. But she found Jesus in the poorest of the poor and served him there. I find Jesus in my incarcerated brothers, and sharing my life with them is what gives that life meaning today. And you and I can keep passing on the blessing. Thanks be to God!
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Comment by: jacob (providence, ri) Mon., May. 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm UTC
really good article. im glad you were able to break out of your addiction and are able to love yourself. we all have our demons, i really hope mine go away.
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Comment by: MyHIVsymbiant (Pittsburgh, PA) Mon., May. 3, 2010 at 7:16 pm UTC
I found this to be uplifting, though I am not Catholic I can see where you are coming from. A lot of my Catholic friends seem to have difficulties with being gay and their religion. If the Bible says that God hates me for being gay, I am not going to stop loving him or believing that Jesus was sent here as a lamb to die for our sins. All fall short of the glory of God, even Priest's and Pastor's. I like to think of my HIV as a symbiant lifeform, it may sound mad, but I get a good laugh out myself thinking that. Some of my friends say oh my I can't believe you say things like that! Am I supposed to sit around depressing about "IT"? NO! Laughter is good medecine, it uplifts the spirit. When I found out I had "IT" I did not give up my job, even when I found out I was considered to have AIDS I still got up and went to work and continued on with life as normal. Just remember a lot is Mind over Matter, I spend quiet time meditating on it and do my best to focus little symbiant to the back of my mind. It's worked so far, no one needs to do drugs to live life, life isn't that bad... rise above what people say!
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Comment by: Closeted Gay (Minneapolis) Mon., May. 3, 2010 at 6:39 pm UTC
Dear Joseph,

Thank you for your inspirational, heart felt message and sharing your experience. As a closeted gay person of color, and an immigrant,i have a double obstacle to overcome. Reading your experience gives me a glipse of hope that has indeed made my day! Thank you!

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