"The word 'positive' seems to be the right word to describe me!"
My first awareness of HIV was in a rural secondary school in the late 80s where I was asked to teach about this new deadly virus sweeping across America. The second contact with it was in 1993, a year after coming out as gay, when my first and new partner was informed he had AIDS; I was told I had to give up my teaching career to care for him in his final numbered days.
They tested me routinely a short while later and a ‘health advisor’ delivered my coup de grace in a matter of fact way as though it was something I should have expected because of my promiscuous lifestyle. I only knew one other gay man!
On reflection there was an air of panic among the Somerset medical and support people back then and my partner and I were curious novelties. We were thrown into the mysterious world of state benefits for the severely disabled.
The partner gradually recovered, and then it was my turn. Collectively the next ten years were a weekly series of hospital visits and stays, undignified and painful tests, failing pill regimes, after-effects and stress. The relationship broke down.
But in time I realised I could live with this thing, it wouldn’t win and I had rediscovered myself. It had made me stronger. I had no guilt; I hadn’t deserved it, and I was just unlucky.
Eighteen years forward and I’m still trundling on. I’ve done lots of things I would never have achieved without it; painted, written, got spiritual, become caring. I learned quickly there was nothing to be gained from taking the ‘victim’ slant, or apportioning blame. In fact, in a perverse way I’m quite proud of being HIV positive, and people say the word ‘positive’ seems to be the right word to describe me!