We live in a world that seeks to label us and box individuals into various categories in order to better understand the complexity of the human race. However, these labels can often be problematic and confusing: life is much more complex than the black-and-white thinking we tend to use. I have struggled with the concept of labels myself, including their advantages, disadvantages, and purpose in my life; in particular, my sexual orientation. For the past five years, I've been known as the "HIV positive heterosexual male go-to guy," a seemingly non-existent, rare voice within the HIV community. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I finally came to terms and acceptance with a very personal topic I've grappled with for quite some time, the realization of my bisexual identity.
My journey to self-discovery of my bisexuality began in my early teens, the time of puberty when many youths begin to explore their identity and the meaning of their life. In addition, this is a time in life where society and family values play a big factor into shaping young people into what the world thinks to be ideal and "normal". Ever since I was a young boy, I feel that I didn't always fit into the societal norms I was expected to follow. Whether it be a lack of interest in sports, a strong interest in drama and the arts, or the obvious number of friends who were boys compared to girls, things felt different. I did have feelings for girls but I also had feelings for boys. However, because of religious beliefs, the societal thinking of the time, and personal experiences in my own life, I suppressed much of what I felt for the same sex. I figured it was a phase, it would pass.
I used illicit drugs for many years, crystal meth in particular, to suppress the feelings and give me a sense of belonging, despite it being an unhealthy lifestyle. Other kids at the time had suspicions that I had feelings for both to the point where I was even assaulted at one time by a close friend whom had sent false signals that made me assume he felt the same feelings as well. I never told my parents about it, but it's something that stuck with me. The confusion was due to the black-and-white thinking, you are either gay or straight, there is no in between. Or at least that's what I thought at the time.
In addition, I was more interested in drugs than I was sex in my teens, thus I didn't really have a lot of experience. Sure, I had experienced feelings for both genders, but I never had actually had sexual relations with either. Therefore, I decided to put myself out there more and explore the world of dating and sex. At first, I was sexually attracted more to women than to men but that was because of the fear that I felt inside, I didn't want to go to hell and that's what I felt would happen at the time, much of which I attribute to religious beliefs and a fear of death.
However, when we moved to San Diego County, I decided to overcome the fear and really listen to my inner feelings. I began to have sexual relations with men, but was scared of intimacy, that was simply too much at the time. When I got into a relationship with my ex-girlfriend in Mexico I once again suppressed those feelings and thought with time they would simply go away. After all, I was in a steady relationship, where sex and intimacy was very much part of the connection we shared.
It was during this time I almost died from necrotizing fasciitis, survived septic shock, and in the following years would go on to endure multiple hospitalizations from cellulitis. I remember praying to God before going into surgery and after, begging and praying as I thought I was somehow being punished for actions in my past. I promised I would never sleep with a man again or have emotional feelings for one. That obviously didn't work because sexuality isn't a choice.
Following the break up with my ex-girlfriend, I used sex with both men and women as a way to cope and forget the past. Five months after the break up, I received my HIV diagnosis, which again put the thoughts in my head that I was somehow disobeying what God wanted for my life. I didn't understand how I could like both, again I just thought perhaps it was a phase that would come to pass. Telling my mom I was HIV positive, and hearing her ask me, "Are you gay?" really threw me for a loop. I wasn't expecting that. I knew that I wasn't but at the same time, I knew the experiences and feelings I had had in my past.
Then came the world of HIV activism shortly after my diagnosis; advocacy not only helped me cope with my HIV diagnosis, but also to become closer to the LGBTQ+ community, and in turn better understand my sexuality. I saw the need for a heterosexual voice, and at that time, up until recently, I identified as heterosexual. However, I also felt that a part of me had become suppressed as I was in a denial of sorts when it came to my feelings/experiences. My mental health and depression suffered greatly because of this internal battle regarding my sexuality, to the point where I felt like I would simply snap if I held it in any longer. The constant barrage of people writing "the straight guy with HIV" didn't make it easier. Don't get me wrong, I love helping people, advocacy is my passion, but I felt the constant title of "a straight guy with HIV" pressured me into fitting that label and made it harder to come to terms and acceptance of my bisexual identity.
A few weeks ago, I decided that this was something I could no longer keep inside, it was time to come out of the closet. When I stopped focusing so much on labels and boxing myself into whether I was "gay or straight" it was then I realized that there is nothing wrong with liking both. This is not a phase, this is my life and these are my feelings. I feel equally for both and why am I going to repress my feelings for a lifetime, when complete authenticity with myself is what matters.
For the most part, I have received nothing but love and support from my family, friends, and followers since coming out. I was a bit concerned, as I soon realized when coming to terms with my sexuality, that there is a giant stigma from both communities against those of us who are bisexual. I hope my story and life can help to break some of those stigmas. I know everyone may not understand my bisexuality (it took me 15 years to figure it out) but ultimately I've come to understand and accept it, that's what matters. Through this journey I've grown in so many aspects, including spirituality, confidence, and consciousness. Coming out was definitely one of the scariest things I ever had to do but also one of the things I am so thankful that I did. I'm still the same person, the same advocate you've come to know and love, but now I can love myself fully for who I am as I open this exciting new chapter in life.
[Note from TheBody.com: This article was originally published by HIVE on Aug. 8, 2017. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]
Read Josh's blog, PozitiveHope.