Five Years On: My Diagnosis and Mission Living As HIV-Positive
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This time of year is often melancholy for me, and I often am asked why I tend to be a bit cranky. Rarely have I ever revealed the real reason. Five years ago in November, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.
Following a serious bout with symptoms that I initially thought were a case of the flu, or just fatigue brought on by my normal workaholic tendencies, I visited the City of Chicago Department of Health's drop-in testing center on Clark Street. While other people were busy shuttling their kids from house to house for candy; donning their fake boobs, wigs, dresses and high heels for the annual High Heel Drag Race in Boystown; or getting some action at packed-to-capacity bars citywide; I was living my own macabre "Nightmare on Clark Street" by letting out 10 vials of blood and being counseled on what I might be facing for the rest of my life.
That night, as the medical technician was searching for a good vein to insert his needle, I silently started to shrink inside. Up to that point, I thought I had seen my trials by fire in life; after losing a political career in Bush's theft of the 2000 election from Al Gore, in the same week my South African live-in boyfriend trashed my heart by leaving me at Boston's Logan Airport, never to be seen again -- each coming in succession after I lost all my money and the trappings of the high-flying Internet consultant's life when the bubble burst only three months earlier. Here I was, though, as my friends were gathering to celebrate a night of revelry, and probably a bit of gleeful debauchery, sitting in a clinic with more fear and terror in my heart than I had felt ever before.
I tried to put on a brave face while gnawing a piece of caramel as the tech stuck me the first, the second, and finally, the third effort to tap a main line in my left arm. Surprisingly, the whole process only took a few minutes, and after a very brief confidential counseling session where I was told it would be 10 days before I could learn the results; I was back out on the street to begin the longest 10 days in my life as I waited for official confirmation of what I already knew. I had become one of the millions of people around the world infected with HIV.
Reaching my little rented coach house that night wasn't easy, as I navigated through the surreal scene in Boystown and Wrigleyville, reminded along the way of how I had gotten to this place in my life. The entire way, I encountered drunk, buzzed, swirled and tweaked people escaping the daily grind of their lives any way they could, all seemingly just on the brink of getting lucky. For the first time since I had experienced the excitement of the urban jungle's favorite night of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, I wanted no part of it. I went home and fell asleep, drained by the effects of the hidden biowarfare going on in my body and the weight of the psychological burden I was carrying.
I was sinking into the depression and overwhelming doubt that accompanies the long wait, and the days that followed were tainted with self-destructive behavior. As a long, stormy, wet week of driving rains were swept out by the first cold snaps of November, I eventually cracked under the pressure, sinking into a marathon of pornographic self-indulgence with a string of guys I can't even remember now. With every one of them I had unprotected sex, and made no bones about the fact that I had just gotten tested but didn't know my results yet. Nobody cared, and seemingly all were in the same place psychologically. While growing up in the Midwest hiding our true sexual identities, all bullied by the objects of our desire -- the jocks, farm boys, frat boys, and even other closeted "bi-curious" guys, we all had escaped our painful adolescences and moved to the big city. At this point, we were free for the first time to be ourselves and to actually feel loved and desired for who we really were as young gay men in our sexual prime. Nothing and no one was going to tell us we were wrong, and if they did, fuck 'em, because they had no idea what it was like to be us and had no right to tell us anything about morality, safe sex, real love or the perils of real life on this Earth.