An HIV+ Gay Man's Thoughts for Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day
My identity as a gay man has always been intertwined with HIV. Before I came out, I sat in my parent’s living room watching news reports about GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder). As I explored my sexuality with other people, they whispered warnings and shared rumors and inaccurate information.
But at that time, one fact thing was clear. Living this life could make me sick, and I would die.
It was a frightening choice. To deny who I was or be exposed to gay cancer. The shame from years of internalized homophobia created a conflict that almost pushed me back into the closet.
In 1984 I was still hiding my truth. My encounters were anonymous, and none were positive role models. Then I was asked out on a date.
He was passing through town for the night. It was the first time I spent time with someone talking and getting to know them. He was from San Francisco. When he told me this, I froze. It was one of the cities where people were dying.
My reaction was obvious. He began talking about what people were doing to help others in his hometown. We discussed things you could do to avoid being exposed to the virus. He told me we had to care for one another because no one else would.
I don’t know what happened to him. But his words have resonated with me all this time. This year I want to honor him by sharing some thoughts on what I think HIV+ gay men need to do to care for themselves and each other.
Get tested, often
Now that the HIV test is done, focus on all the others that follow. In addition to t-cell and viral load, kidney and liver functions need to be monitored once you start medication.
Cancer screenings and annual checkups are part of the routine as well. And, of course, cholesterol and blood pressure can develop as treatment side effects.
HIV ages you faster and puts tremendous pressure on your body. Knowing how you are affected can help your medical team treat and prevent serious illness before it develops.
A spoonfull of sugar
Take your medicine. Find a way to track your pills when it’s time for your dose. I use a pill box, and I set alarms on my phone. I have a small carrier that I keep with me if I’m going to be away from the house when it’s time to take a one.
Getting your viral load undetectable is the most reliable marker for HIV disease non-progression. It also means that it is untransmittable, so your partners won't be exposed.
Protect your partners
Besides being undetectable as a way of blocking the transmission of HIV, there are other options you can explore.
There are safer behaviors in which you can participate. If you are in an intimate situation, you can disclose your status. This is a highly personal choice that no one can force you to make.
Find support in the community
Whether it’s in-person HIV services or an online community, find people living with HIV to connect with. Life is an overwhelming experience. You don’t have to do it alone. It’s also nice to know that other people have been in your shoes.
Whether you have private insurance or not, there are options for finding someone to talk to if you need a professional to speak to. This may not be something you need right now but knowing where to turn if you do is something you should research now.
Plan for the future
Aging with HIV can be an arduous task. Be sure to plan for the times ahead. Having your medical power of attorney in place can avoid confusion should you get sick. While no one wants to think about tough things while the sun is shining, it’s when you need to put your plan in place.
There are many things to consider. End-of-life care. Long-term assistance. Suppose you have pets; who will care for them? This can be overwhelming for anyone, so it’s best if you seek out help with this. Just don’t wait until you can’t make your own choices.
Many options exist for people to live and thrive with HIV, unlike in the early years. But none of them should be taken for granted. People fought hard for every treatment, every protective law and pushed back against homophobic stigma to give us the options we have now.
We must fight as well. And we must support and care for each other as though no one else will.
Have you ever been unhoused or insecurely housed?