My name is Nestor Rogel, I am 27 years old and I was born HIV positive. I live in South Central Los Angeles, and have been advocating for people living with HIV for many years. Being a single heterosexual cis gender man in Los Angeles is difficult. Dating and disclosure have taken on different meanings in my life.
Growing up in a socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhood, living with HIV, I was overcome by internal stigma. I believed I was not human, a monster, never to be loved or cared for. This lead me to enter emotionally abusive relationships. Disclosing to women was nothing short of a trial. I felt I was being judged. It is an overwhelming fear of rejection that comes to mind when I think about disclosure then. If you think about it, you put all this effort into a relationship, you start feeling each other and then you decide to tell her your secret. It feels as time slows down, like the last few seconds of in a boxing match when you are getting wrecked and you are waiting for that sweet merciful bell to put an end to it. If she says no, it has a certain unique feeling of rejection. From experience you can hear her referring to you as "dirty" to her friends. It hurts like hell, but it is life.
On the other hand, she may say yes. Your relationship goes to another level. That does not guarantee a good relationship. In my share of abusive relationships, I felt many times as if this were the best I could do, or this is what I deserved. It took many years of self-reflection and advocacy to overcome this challenge. Upon acknowledging my status, I pushed to better myself. I wanted to reflect the kind of person I wanted in my life. So I went to school and did what I could to better myself.
As I became more conscious of myself I did what I could to protect myself from HIV specific laws. I would take my partners to my doctor to disclose my HIV status to them. This way I would be able to tell her my status and if she had any questions the doctor could give her answers. In addition, I had enough evidence to protect me from a felony, in case she wanted to turn around and say I did not disclose. Later, I decided that, in order to combat stigma and for the upcoming AIDS Watch in 2016, I would get a tattoo on my left forearm that read "HIV+."
This changed disclosure, as now it is written boldly on my skin, so everyone that I shake hands with knows. When I try to speak to women I have seen the transition in their attitudes when they see my tattoo. A friendly conversation, or playful flirting can be shut down in an instant with just a glance. It gives me a very isolating feeling. But I understand that it is for the best. I tell myself that those who do not want to be a part of my life because of my status are not people I want in my life to begin with. What if it wasn't HIV? What if something else would have happened later down the line? Those same people would just as likely leave. Thus I have surrounded myself with people who not only accept my status but are supportive of my advocacy efforts.
Nestor Rogel is 27 and lives in South Central Los Angeles.