Comment: The second coming out – a PinkNews reader reflects on being HIV positive

PinkNews logo on a pink background surrounded by illustrated line drawings of a rainbow, pride flag, unicorn and more.

In a comment piece for PinkNews, a reader talks candidly about the difficulties of living with HIV.

For many LGBT people, the process of coming out is one of the most nerve-wrecking, nail-biting, life changing experiences they have faced in their lives. It raises many questions such as: Whether to tell in the first place, who to tell, how to tell and most importantly: What will the response be? Close friends are often the ones who are told first, followed by family.

The ‘lucky’ ones are those who are accepted for who they are as a person, not for their sexual preference. Those less fortunate can face issues such as being criticised, ostracised, banned, tortured etc.

So… imagine what struggle is upon those who are HIV positive and basically finding themselves having to ‘come out for the 2nd time’.

Despite a generally greater acceptance of homosexuality these days, HIV is still a completely different story all together.

It starts with being tested for the virus itself. This is for most a frighteningly confrontational experience.

After the diagnosis, you find yourself in a state of shock and asking yourself: ‘Why me? What now? What does this will mean exactly for me, my body, my life etc?’ The 5 stages of grief begin and this is a terribly sad, often very lonely process for the newly-diagnosed.

I knew from a very young age that I was ‘different’, although I had no idea why or in what way. My mother had an inkling when I was about 4-years-old and later on in life she told me she was more concerned about how this would affect my life, not about how she felt about it. For that matter, I consider myself one of the ‘lucky’ ones. My family and friends were all totally fine with it, most had worked out my sexuality before I did.

Many years later, I met someone and had unprotected sex with him. Just once, but it changed my life. He turned out to be HIV positive, but had failed to tell me beforehand. In my naivety, believing that someone would tell such a thing, I had assumed it was safe – how wrong could I have been!

About one year later, I started getting this nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what ‘it’ was. I decided to go for an HIV test, accompanied by my best friend for support. What made me decide to go for the test? I still don’t know to be honest.

When the result came back and it was confirmed I was HIV positive, I couldn’t believe what I was just told. Initially, I thought it was a rather sick joke, to scare me into realising I always had to practice safe sex. When it dawned on me that it was not a joke after all, I remember stepping out of the room and fetching my friend, just to ensure that what I was just told was actually true.

The hours afterwards are still a blur, I was in a complete panic, shock, disbelieve, denial, you name it…Again, the five stages of grief began, but far, far more intense then anything I had ever been through.

For several years, I was as healthy as I had ever been; fit, energetic and full of life. On the inside, however, the emotional turmoil was there; what to do with this knowledge? Do I tell my family? Do I tell my friends? Do I tell my sexual partners, and if so when; when; beforehand, afterwards or should I just not say at all? The questions kept coming and I was never sure what the answers should be.

I did not tell my family at first, I wanted to spare them the pain and heartache of what was going on with me and my body. When my health started to decline, I realised I had no choice but to tell them. I will never forget the sadness on their faces when I broke the news to them. Although I kept the details of the how/when/who situation to myself, they all were incredibly supportive and without any blame.

When I developed severe PCP (Pneumocystis pneumonia) I was admitted to hospital and after that I was prescribed antiretroviral drugs. My life as I’d come to know it in a sense was over. Although the medications I’m on are keeping my viral low undetectable, I am no longer the healthy, fit and energetic person I once was.

I struggle with every day tasks and I’m also struggling to deal with mental health issues that has meant I’m no longer able to work. Like it or not, HIV is now part of my life and there are times where it takes over my life, my emotions, my everything.

It’s now 2013 and because of one stupid mistake, my whole life was turned upside down; everything has changed and I have had no choice but to accept that. It is only through the support of my HIV-negative partner and my family and friends that I have a life worth living.