Peter Dombret is positively fit -- and not just his pecs.
"I have the burning desire to be a little bit more positive every day," he said, "and share it out to everyone who needs some help being positive, too."
Peter, a business owner living with HIV in Brussels, Belgium, has taken his HIV status and turned it into a life philosophy of healthy living and positive energy. In 2014, he published a book about his life, coming out and coming to terms with his HIV. Peter Positief (translated as Peter Positive), was a way for him to tell the story of his life and HIV journey. The book was published in Dutch and promoted in Belgium and the Netherlands via television, radio, newspaper and social media.
"I was bubbling with the idea of giving back to society and also celebrating 20 years of living positively with my 'pets'. That's what I call my viruses," Peter said, "my 'intimate pets', whom I'm not rid of yet. Not yet!"
In his book, Peter tells his life story in an open and honest way. He shares what it was like growing up among his parents and three brothers.
"I was born in Reet, Brussels," Peter said. "'Reet' means 'ass' in Dutch, so if I tell somebody that I was born in Reet, everybody laughs out loud! 'Of course you must be gay, if you are born in ass!' So, a happy, funny tone is set."
He realized his own sexuality at age 21 and, after being in the service for a year, he moved to the big city of Antwerp, where he had "no relationship and enjoying the gay world all by myself," he said, "which was great, of course!"
He admits that he was naive about HIV. The AIDS crisis was in full swing in Belgium between 1984 and 1994. "I was not going out in the gay world [at that time], and therefore, all the prevention campaigns that were made in this period passed by me," Peter said. "The first time I went out, really for the first time in the gay scene, was in the year 1995. Nobody was talking anymore about HIV and AIDS. Everybody was AIDS-tired at that moment. I was not well informed," he said.
Peter met a man at a bar around this time. "That superb young guy came to my apartment, and I don't have to tell you that we did not wait for sex after marriage! But we both were also not thinking about protection in the heat of the moment." The two fell in love. Peter said: "The flame was lit for both of us. We enjoyed with every piece of our body and mind. We were in love from both sides."
But, the relationship cooled, and later, Peter became sick with fever and pains. He was diagnosed with HIV. Subsequently, he found out that his boyfriend had been diagnosed earlier and had never disclosed his status.
"We went into the living room, and I asked him if he knew that he was seropositive the moment we met each other. The room became a freezer, and he became nervous." Peter told his boyfriend that he was prepared to forgive him for not being open and honest about his HIV status because he was in love. Peter's sentiments did not warm the situation. The boyfriend remained silent, then asked whether he could leave. "I started to cry," Peter said. "After letting him out, I cried so hard and so long. I was broken. I never saw him since."
Peter struggled for years to come to terms with his HIV. He said he felt dirty and spent a lot of time alone, thinking about his status and future. "How can I fall in love again? Who is going to live [with] and accept an HIV-positive guy?" he thought.
"I also struggled with the questions: Who's responsibility was it not to get infected? Me, or that guy who knew about his seropositive status? The answer is simple but hard," Peter concluded: "both."
That realization put Peter on a path to forgiveness and healing. "Some close people called me stupid that I forgive this guy. No, no, no, I said. To forgive is giving me more strength to live."
After a few years, Peter again discovered intimacy and a joyful sex life. He found himself in love again, only to feel the heartbreak of rejection from a man who decided he couldn't be in a relationship with a man living with HIV. "It was a crazy moment. All respect for him for coming over to tell me. It took a lot of courage." But Peter admitted that he was shattered, "crying again the sea." He thought he'd never love again.
Fate had other plans. A year later, he went with friends on holiday to Gran Canaria (one of Spain's Canary Islands) for sun, water sports and hitting the bars. He met a man and fell instantly in love. They had a brief island romance and, after the holiday, Fernando came to Belgium. They navigated the troubled waters of a mixed-status relationship. "Now, almost 20 years later," Peter said, "I'm still in love with that Portuguese-Spanish little hunk that I met in Gran Canaria."
After living for 20 years with HIV, Peter decided to write his story in an effort to help others living with HIV, and to show that it's no longer a death sentence. "I'm living in all prosperity of health because of the incredible medication."
He also wants to inspire people. "Be yourself. Being gay, bi, positive or whatever, makes you stronger." He advocates: "Don't change for people to love you. Be yourself and the right people will adore you!"
His next book idea, Peter Power, is about physical fitness, body sculpture and bodybuilding, and will hopefully feature more shirtless photos. "It was a dream that I hanged up because of my seropositive status when I was young. But it's never too late!" Peter started bodybuilding at age 45 and is succeeding. He said, "I want to prove that, with good nutrition, while keeping on the cocktail that I'm taking and going to the gym six times a week, everything is possible with the right positive mindset." Peter is now 49 and living what he calls an exceptional life. "I really feel like a long-term strong survivor of HIV."
Peter Dombret wants people living with HIV to know: "You live only once. Be totally yourself." Indeed. With the medication today, and by being undetectable, you are not contagious any more. Your 'pets' are not getting you down anymore. Peter said: "You can really live your life again like any other healthy guy or girl. Make plans and live your life like a dream. Please go for it!"
Find Peter on Facebook at Peter Positief or Peter Power.