My relationships with my family and friends have greatly improved since I was diagnosed.
There is a greater level of honesty and openness. When I was forced to have a dialogue about my HIV status, everything else became, like, nothing. Sexuality, whatever, you know. I have really seen that I do have people in my life who love me unconditionally, and I think that has been the thing that has kept me alive.
When did you disclose to them that you are positive?
I told my mom and six friends right away -- in high school, there were six of us, three guys and three girls who hung together like glue. I told my mom first, and then invited all of them over and passed around the letter I got from Lifesource [saying I was HIV positive]. But the thing was, I was like, "I'm giving you this information about me, but I don't want to talk about it and I don't want it to be brought up again." I didn't talk about it again for years.
How did they respond to you?
My mom really took it hard, really hard. I never felt anything negative, just a lot of concern, and I felt that in some way she felt she was responsible somehow. My friends were all very supportive -- and very scared. One said, "You know, I really thought we would grow old together. I can't believe this is happening to you!" They were supportive, but very afraid, and rightfully so.
I didn't talk with my girlfriend at that time. What I did was just break it off with no excuse or reason. And just recently, she was able to get closure on that -- because we're still close. She has two children now; I see her all the time. Recently I was able to disclose to her and talk about why I had to break it off at the time.
How do you want people to treat you?
I think they treat me exactly the way I want to be treated: I don't want any special attention, but I do want support -- support going through this graduate program, working the hours that I work. I just need support, period, and I get that.
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
Lately, I don't have a choice. Usually when I meet people, they already know because I'm a pretty public figure and I talk about it wherever I am. But there are moments when it is an issue, when I don't want to talk about it and I don't want to disclose it. It's when I'm meeting someone new, especially if we are meeting to date. It's kind of like "OK, here we go ..." I usually start by asking them if they know their HIV status, and then we go from there.
Now, if someone tells me that they don't know their status, I'm very unlikely to be intimate with him, because in this day and age if you don't know your status, you're not the person for me: You're not cognizant of the fact that you are a man who has sex with men, and we're the highest-risk population, so if you don't understand that, then our worlds are not going to gel at all: You don't understand re-infection, resistant virus, any of that. So we will be friends, and I will educate you and help you get tested. But as far as intimacy, we're not even going there.
What is the best response you have ever gotten when telling someone?
There was a girl in a class at the Chicago Vocational Career Academy when I was doing a presentation, and she was just overjoyed at the fact that I had the courage to stand in front of this class and say that. And there was so much love and so much appreciation in her words, and she wished me so much strength and well-being that I was almost overtaken. I hardly ever break down in presentations, but I almost did because of her reaction.
What is the worst response?
The worst was from someone who said that I deserved what I got for engaging in intimate relations with other men. I was giving a presentation, so I couldn't give him the Keith Green that the 'hood might know. But there was this all-eyes-on-him kinda thing, and there were a couple of folks in that room who got him together for me. I didn't even have to do it.