Testing HIV Positive in the Aftermath of Sexual Assault
January 3, 2011
And so what was the recovery for you like?
It's basic. You just change people, places and things. You just have to put something else in your life besides the alcohol and the drugs.
Which you did.
Let's go back to talk about your family. You said your family was really supportive of you, especially with you being gay. When did you come out to your family?
I was probably about 14, 15. To my mom, of course.
What did your mom say?
She wasn't too happy about it, but we dealt with and she accepted it. It wasn't a choice. It's something -- that's who I am. Can't help it, nor do I want to help it. I'm happy with who I am.
When did your father and your siblings come around?
I think my sister always knew. She's younger than I am. We played Barbies together. She may have had some inkling. [Laughs.] "My brother likes Barbie." But as for my dad, he was actually more supportive in the beginning, and still is, than my mother was. He's gone to gay bars with me, to drag shows. He's a truck driver, so he's like a manly man.
Wow. So you disclosed to your family initially. How long did it take you to disclose to other people?
Immediately. When I went to the doctors and they told me, I was probably in the room for two hours, talking to the doctor afterward because she had never told anybody that before. She cried. I cried. She's still my -- she's a nurse practitioner, or physician's assistant. So I still see her to this day.
Cool. She was kind of emotionally affected by your --
Yeah. I've known her anywhere from five to six years before that even.
So when you got clean -- I'm going to go back to that -- were you still living at home with your parents?
My grandfather. It was after my grandmother passed away.
So what were the other things that were going on in your life at that time? Were you going to support groups just for living with HIV? Were you accessing services in your area?
When I was in Gateway Rehab, I had to either work or volunteer, so I chose to volunteer. That's when I became involved with the Beaver County AIDS Service Organization. I volunteered there. I was on the board of directors as the consumer -- I forget what it's called -- whatever the "consumer" is on the board, that's what I was. Then I ended up being the program coordinator and then ended up being the director.
Had you done HIV work before your diagnosis?
Did you know anyone who was HIV positive?
No. No, that's not true. My best friend's friend died in the '80s. That's why I always used protection, because she beat it into my head, "Use a condom. Use a condom. Use a condom." Because she knew I was gay.
How has it been dating?
I'm in a relationship now with somebody. We've been together for eight years. He's negative. We just have to practice safe sex and take the precautions.
Where'd you meet him?
Online. Yahoo chat.
Were you afraid to disclose your status?
No, I told him the first time I met him online. I told him I was HIV positive. He said, "OK, that's fine."
Has that been a lot of the responses you've gotten in dating? Or have people sort of been --
Did get both. I was doing a lot online on gay.com and different things. As soon as you tell someone, it's like, "OK, they're gone." It was hard sometimes, but it's to be expected.
Now that you're in a relationship with someone who's negative, do you feel afraid sometimes? Do you feel, "I hope I don't --"
Yeah, if I were to infect him, it would devastate me. I've never [infected someone], as far as I know. I've had protected sex with everybody. No one's come back to say, "I'm positive." That would be really hard.
And you guys have been together for eight years?
Let's talk about your health care and your treatment. You said you started treatment in '97. Are you still on treatment now?
How did you find your HIV specialist?
The Beaver County AIDS Service Organization.
Can you tell me about that organization?
They're actually closed. It's a long story. But I've opened a new agency since then. It's called Project HOPE: HIV Outreach Prevention Education.
We are applying for nonprofit status. It's in the works. Right now, we're applying for an HIV testing site number from the PA Department of Health. We do support groups and food banks for now. I just had a support group before I came, on Thursday. We had 23 people show up. I live in a rural area, so that's a pretty good amount of people to come out, because the transportation's really hard. A lot of people have to drive or take a bus or get rides from other people coming to the group.
And these are people who are positive coming to the support group?
There's probably 13 positive people and the rest were family and friends.
Gay Men's Perceptions of Sexually Transmissible Infections and Their Experiences of Diagnosis: "Part of the Way of Life" to Feeling "Dirty and Ashamed"
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