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Running From The Devil
HIV & Me: The Early Years

By Philip D.

June 1, 2011

Philip D., 1982 -- long before Bieber ...

Philip D., 1982 -- way before Bieber ...

I first read about the new gay cancer in the summer of 1982. Barely 18, my hormones are continually escalating and men are really starting to notice me. There are so many things I want to try with them but it isn't worth dying over.

Some say you can get it from kissing. Maybe if I only mess around with guys my age that haven't gotten it yet. Men who've had sex with other men can no longer donate blood. I read stories in the gay mags that hide in the back of my closet. Pictures in those magazines show me all the things I should never try. AIDS kills those that do. I pray that God knows I'm a good person. Why can't I be straight?

Can I tell who is sick? All the pictures I see, the men are about 30. Stay clear of men over 30 who are from California or New York City. Look to see if they're very skinny and have a certain look in their eyes. I study it every time I see a picture of it. Learn well ... it might save my life.

The Internet is still a dozen years away and since I'm too young to go out to the bars, I meet men however and wherever I can. I know it's dangerous to go to public parks and bookstores. I want to stop. Like a moth to the flame, testosterone leads the way. If only I could meet a cute, young guy that didn't have "it," and we only had sex with each other; maybe we could survive this plague.

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"Rubbers" are not always used until I hear that's how doctors think maybe HIV is spread. It's not easy finding them so sometimes I get them from gas station vending machines. Not everyone is using them yet but they will if they want to be with me. I also learn firsthand in 1984 that some men cannot be trusted. I have my first HIV test that same year. It requires a doctor's prescription and is one of the most fearful weeks I've ever experienced. Will I live to see 30? My parents don't deserve losing their son in such a horrible way. The results are negative and I promise myself that I will never trust anyone or be fucked without a condom again.

Rock Hudson looks like he's aged 25 years overnight. He kissed Linda Evans on the mouth. Can he give it to her? Can girls get this too? Liberace, Halston, Freddie Mercury ... every week it seems there is a new, "potentially gay" celebrity that dies young. I lose my first close friend to AIDS; David was only 28.

I watch Longtime Companion alone. It's easily one of the saddest movies I've ever seen. Will I ever find love?

Five years later, love walked in. The young doctor tells me that he loves me and will be 100 percent faithful. We could both be tested and if that went OK, we would finally feel sex the way we both wanted so badly. For six years, we never once use protection but staying monogamous is easy when it's a matter of life or death. We announce we are moving to San Francisco. Be careful Philip, I mean really careful ... AIDS is everywhere there.

We build our new life together as I cultivate "the family I choose for myself." Much fun and experimentation in the early '90s but I never ever stray from the relationship. Too dangerous in this town. I see that look in too many eyes.

Love walks out mid-decade; the candy store and all its treats become available to me. I don't want to become one of them so it's "oral only" until this ends. Extra safe? Always. Fun? Uninhibited? Connected? Rarely. A sex partner half-jokingly calls me "the condom police." Go ahead and laugh; I'm still negative.

I read And The Band Played On. WOW. Seems like a lot of people really didn't care when it was killing the homos and IV drug users. Ronald Reagan helped it spread like wildfire.

I go to the hospital to see a former co-worker for the last time. He's so sick. What can I say to him? He dies a week later.

I start a brand-new business with my best friend. He's been HIV positive for seven years. What if something happens to him? I decide if he's not worrying about it, then neither should I. I do my best. One night, after work, we go see Love! Valor! Compassion! and hardly talk on the way home.

My "friend" and newspaper columnist, Robert DeAndreis, dies at 36. I cry like a baby even though we've never met. And Randy Shilts. When will this end? Does God hate us?

Friends tell me one after another that they're now "poz." I try to pretend it's cool. I'm scared for them.

I get tested for HIV every six months or so. How do you stay so strong and safe? Are you serious? The will to live is a strong motivator. Every time I leave the clinic, I'm relieved but it's impossible to feel proud when so many I love are not so fortunate.

My best friend tells me that his doctor wants to start him on The Cocktail. He tells me that he's scared of the side effects. He lists them and I don't blame him. I try to pick up the slack and support him as best I can. I have learned so much seeing how he lives his life. He's intent on being around for a while.

I begin to notice some men's bodies and faces are changing. It's never been so obvious to me who was carrying the virus I've feared for the past 15 years. Was this a blessing or a curse? It was easy just not to ask another's status in the past but now it was impossible to feign ignorance. I often make feeble excuses to those I suspected and I loathed myself each and every time I did.

Now that HIV is not a death sentence, positive men are identifying as "poz" and admitting their status semi-publicly. They are grateful for their new lease on life yet struggle with the harsh side effects that come with the precious gift of antiretrovirals.

Just heard about something known as barebacking. Parties are forming in my neighborhood where men give the "gift" of HIV. Bug chasers?? Gift?? Are you kidding me?

I decide that my "oral only" phase needs to end with the 20th century. Bring on the condoms. If I get it, I get it but I'm tired of living in fear. I spend the next six years making up for lost time but I figure, long as I'm safe, anyone is possible. Just get tested like you've done a hundred times before.

"I'm sorry, but your results of your rapid HIV test came back positive."

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