Today is my 4 year anniversary of being diagnosed with HIV. On December 1st, 2012, World Aids Day, I thought it would make sense to go and get tested. I was convinced I was negative, as I always had sex with protection (except that one time, when I topped a guy and made him swear that he was negative). I also wasn’t suspicious when I had to spend almost a week in hospital due to a severe tonsillitis, as the doctors didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Now I know that this was Sero Conversion.
So there I was, at the London-based HIV charity “Positive East,” waiting for my results of the rapid test with a social worker and another volunteer. One dot means that there are no HIV antibodies in the blood and two dots mean that there are, the social worker told me. When all of a sudden the second dot appeared, my whole world came to a halt. I was like nooooo way. And before I even spent a second thinking about myself, I thought about my boyfriend. I had to call him and tell him what happened. I felt the whole world closing in on me. What if I had infected him? What if I had ruined his life? I could not think about anything else.
I called him in tears and within 15 minutes or maybe an hour he arrived, hugged me and told me that everything was fine and that he would always be there for me. I couldn’t stop crying; I felt this horrendous fear that I might be responsible for infecting someone else, a person I absolutely adored, someone who I called my soulmate. He took me by the hand and we walked home.
Even though I had just experienced probably the most intense emotional moment of my life, the healing process started immediately. We walked down the road — it was a foggy winter’s day — and I couldn’t help feeling any differently than I had before I was diagnosed. I spent the next couple of days in a state of intense self-reflection. Of course, the test result was at the forefront of my mind the whole time, but I also realised that I wanted to achieve something in life. I wanted to give my life meaning. I quickly realised that HIV was something I couldn’t change. Even though I still had to fully process it, I decided not lose sleep over it, as it wouldn’t get me anywhere.
I started to apply for new jobs, as I was unhappy in my current position and all of a sudden, I had this immense longing to achieve something in life. Within a month, I found something new and my life was back on the right path. Of course, not a single day passed without me thinking about my new status, but instead of it crushing my personality, I somehow found strength in it, knowing that it was my actions going forward that defined me as a person and not HIV.
Thankfully, three months later, my boyfriend’s test result came back as negative. I don’t know what would have happened if the result had been positive, but all of a sudden not feeling the guilt of what I might possibly have done was immensely liberating. A year later, I decided to go on medication, which meant that every day I had to take a pill of antiretroviral therapy. I was really worried about the side effects as, just like everyone else who was born in the 80s, I had this stereotypical image of an HIV patient marked in my brain.
Contrary to expectations, I didn’t have any side effects, and taking a pill every day meant that, within the course of a month, I would soon become undetectable. Recent studies show that the chance of transmitting HIV when undetectable is virtually 0%. I do want to stress that I’m not promoting unprotected sex here, but I want to make the point that if the chances of me transmitting it during unprotected sex are almost zero, what is the worst that could happen when I wear a condom?!
On a recent trip to Berlin, I saw an HIV awareness poster that said, ‘I’M OKAY WITH HIV, BUT NOT WITH THE REJECTION.’ This about sums it up for me. I’ve really come far since the day of my diagnosis. And thankfully, I’m absolutely fine with it now and have found a way to prevent it affecting my entire life. HOWEVER, as much as HIV research has advanced in the last years, the stigma around HIV/AIDS in many ways remains. I would even go as far to say that it’s the only aspect of the virus I’m not able to cope with.
My relationship came to an end two years ago (though not because of my HIV positive status), but thankfully we’re still great friends who love each other. However, leaving this relationship meant that I was a single man again; now, every time I meet someone, I have to worry about how they will react (which, unfortunately, is something you cannot predict, regardless of how “open-minded” someone is). All I can do is be as self-confident as possible and hope for the best (equipped with all the facts of course). It definitely also helps to have a couple of drinks first.
The fear of “coming out” as HIV positive doesn’t end with romantic relationships. Telling the people closest to me has always been a very difficult task, and it’s particularly difficult with my straight friends, who aren’t very well informed about HIV/AIDS. After telling them, I can always see this realization that they might lose me in their eyes. Though I completely understand, I know that they probably wouldn’t react this way if they were more informed. And I’m talking about people who come from the same educated middle class background I’m from. That’s the exact reason why I decided to not go public with my HIV: I’m far too scared to see how my parents might react.
I think it is absolutely essential to prepare our future generations for the world out there, tell them to practice safe sex and let them know that if they do happen to contract HIV, that life isn’t over. There are also preventative medications like PREP and PEP, and it’s important that people are aware of it.
I want the world to know that I am HIV positive, and that I am alive, happy, and completely aware of my bodily and sexual health. Today, there is still a huge number of people who do not even know that they are HIV positive. It’s important to know that the biggest risk of transmission comes from people who are newly infected, which unfortunately was my fate, as I’m convinced the guy who gave it to me just didn’t know.
Please do me favour this year: go out, get tested, and KNOW YOUR STATUS! Hopefully, one day we will be able to look back at history, and the HIV epidemic will be a thing of the past. I really believe this time will come. Until then, stay safe!
Happy World Aids Day!
Now that your banging body will be hidden under layers and layers of fabric, you might as well add some extra insulation to stay warm. The added benefit is that it keeps the heating bills low, which is good for the environment. All these extra meals (especially when they’re organic) are basically your contribution to stopping climate change and saving the planet, you wonderful, selfless human being!
If your job negotiations didn’t include discussing flexible work arrangements you’re a fool! But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Come winter, “working” remotely or at least “working” from home is everyone’s dream and annoyingly, we all know people who are already living their nauseatingly envy-inducing dream lives. We’re happy for you, but also, maybe… not? Anyway, these jobs are definitely out there, but there are downsides too: You won’t get to see, hear and smell your coworkers for 40+ hours per week, and you’ll have to get through the day somehow without drinking the best coffee in town, playing ping pong or chilling on those über cool bean bag chairs (courtesy of your super edgy workplace), so think this important lifestyle change through before making this sacrifice.
Winter is so boring that you might actually stand a chance of getting shit done. Shit you should’ve done in summer when you were busy having an epic time doing things you can’t remember now. Time to finally sort out your documents, bills, finish that project or pick up a post-ironic hobby. In short, be productive. If that doesn’t sound like you then fuck it, be that grubby winter blanket, get messy weekend after weekend — and don’t let anyone shame you for it.
Everyone has a different definition of fun and pain. Some people have a jolly good time when they see their loved ones during the winter holidays. Others aren’t massively into shelling out (financially or mentally) for an underwhelming family reunion that usually opens with someone saying “You’ve gained weight” followed by “Are you pregnant?” followed by a long speech about your waning fertility.
If that’s not what you consider as having a great time, then use the money you’re saving on not having procreated and splash it all out on a ridiculously overpriced trip abroad. It’s not like you’re going to enter the housing market anytime soon anyway, so you might as well shorten winter by going on a holiday with people who are actually fun to be around with — and then return to the city with a big smile on your bronzed face because spring is finally within reach.