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This Positive Life: An Interview With Henry Ocampo

November 9, 2010

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How did the conversation change?

That it's not 100%. Safer sex is not 100%. That there is a degree of risk regardless. One of the things as educators, we're here to give you the tools and the skills to help you reduce that risk. And it's up to you to decide on your own what methods or to what extent you want to keep yourself safe. But our job is to just provide you with the skills and the tools to do that.

We always felt like it was our responsibility when someone in our community tested positive. Like we didn't do what we -- like we put it on ourselves, that responsibility, and we learned that we can't do that. As long as the person set, as long as our clients or the community set, when they get tested, it was their choice to engage in whatever activities they wanted to engage in, but they knew how to lower their risk. And if they had those skills, then we did our jobs.

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So you were still struggling with feeling guilty.

Of course.

Did you also disclose to anyone in your family?

It took me a while. They were actually the last ones to find out. I first disclosed to them about my sexuality when I was around 19, 20.

How did that go over?

It did not go well. My parents -- I'm Filipino, youngest out of four kids. My two brothers are engineers so I was supposed to be the doctor in the family. Never really happened. But they just had these high expectations growing up. When I disclosed to them about my sexual orientation, their concern wasn't about me or the family. It was really about what other people in the community and our friends and relatives were going to think about us. My mom doesn't really speak a lot of English. Her eyes just kind of bugged out and started yelling at me in Tagalog, in Filipino, basically saying, "What are other people going to think about our family because of this?" It was one of the first times I got really angry at my parents. That their concern was more about other people and the perceptions of us than about me, what I was going through and trying to find their acceptance. So when I became positive, in my head I was just kind of like, "Well, if they reacted this way with my sexual orientation, 'What are other people going to think?,' how are they going to react with HIV? It's going to be even worse." And it wasn't going to be about me anymore. It was going to be about how other people were going to think about the family and why I brought this into our family. Another thing was I didn't know -- I felt like I couldn't tell them yet. Also, because for myself I didn't feel hopeful because I already put this time limit on myself of 25. So if I didn't have any hope for myself, I couldn't give hope to my family as well. And I didn't know how to tell them about this, about me having HIV, without giving them something to hold onto, when I didn't feel that way either. So that's why it took me a while to tell them.

"I think it's more than just education. I think it's kind of learning to accept it, how to live with it. That it's not going to -- that's it's just a part of me, but it's not me entirely. That I still have a life. I still have goals. I still have dreams. That it's not going to take over my life."

You had to educate yourself more.

I had to educate myself, but also, I think it's more than just education. I think it's kind of learning to accept it, how to live with it. That it's not going to -- that's it's just a part of me, but it's not me entirely. That I still have a life. I still have goals. I still have dreams. That it's not going to take over my life.

Amazing. So at what point did you feel more hopeful?

When my 25th birthday came around. Like I said, I was really active in getting services for myself. Mental health, support groups, case management, all that stuff. So I was really well taken care of. One of the things that I had to learn was letting go of planning. I was one of those people who knew what I wanted to accomplish by 30, by 40. I wanted to retire by 50 years old. I mean I had my whole life planned. And how to let go of that and just kind of live on a day-to-day basis. For a while, I didn't plan past two weeks because I just didn't know. My friends also knew about it -- especially not after my 25th birthday. I had nothing planned. So what happened that was kind of amazing -- that was a turning point with that -- was that one thing I always wanted to do but was always too fearful to do was jump out of a plane, parachute out of a plane. So on my 25th birthday, all my friends knew about my situation, so we had a party just to celebrate.

The next day someone took me out to go parachuting. And it's one of those really scary moments, but also exciting. For me it was the day I didn't plan anything. So anything that happened, it was my extra day of living. So when we went on this plane, looking down on the earth, on the ground, looking at those little cars drive by, and just the open fields, and just feeling so alive because it was the day after of not planning anything. And just having that extra day. So even if the parachute didn't open or if there were some other complications, it was still that extra day that I had. And just feeling so alive jumping out the plane. That was my turning point, the way I looked at life.

What year were you diagnosed?

'95.

So this is right before --

Right before the medications, the HAART medications, yes.

So within those two years, you got on the meds.

Yes. I started in 1996 actually because my T-cell count was low to begin with and my viral load pretty much doubled and tripled within the first year. So once those medications were available, I immediately got on.

And they improved your numbers?

Yes, they did.

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