One Young Man's Story
The following story is reprinted from a book titled "One day I was fine. A book about grief and AIDS" - (F. Ennis, B. Boland, H. Murphy 1995, p. 82-83). It talks openly and honestly about the fears, and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and provides insights into about how HIV/AIDS affects us all:
"I made the decision to straighten up my life and one of the things was to get tested. I'm 27 now and I found out almost two years ago. It was a death sentence in a way, your worst-case scenario. How long have I got? There goes any chance of a career. There goes living to be old. All this going to straighten up went right out the window. I went out and got drunk.
I spent very little time around doctors before, and then, bang. I was getting all these vaccines and tests done. It was like this false sense that good things could come out of it and a cure is just around the corner. But it didn't take me long to figure out the doctors don't really know very much about it.
It seemed like everybody was dying of AIDS. My good friend and a couple of other young people I knew of were infected. Then I found out I had the same thing. All of a sudden I felt like I didn't have any time left; I had to get something done to make my life complete before it was too late.
I need four courses for a B.A., but I can't see myself going back to university. You put in the time and effort to do it, only to come out and be sick and dying. Being diagnosed sort of put an end to my life. I'm constantly aware that I'm not going to live to be old. The whole thing is having to reduce your expectations. A guy, who is also positive, blew up at me and said, look at yourself, you're healthy. What are you complaining about? Don't be so silly. He's not healthy right now, so maybe that's what he meant. It was almost nice to hear someone say that, because you can make a situation out to be worse than it is sometimes.
At first, I was thinking that if I stayed in my closet a couple of more years things would be different, but a part of me says that's silly. I would have been out of my closet a lot sooner if I thought I could have gotten away with it. It's a big thing not being straight. I wouldn't be gay if I had a choice. I feel like there's something wrong with me, a genetic flaw or something. I'm not bothered about it like I used to be, but that's because I'm more or less surrounded by gay people.
It's more acceptable for a female heterosexual to be HIV positive. For gay men, it's their own fault because they shouldn't be at it. It isn't right, but people believe that. When we were younger and saw someone we knew who was gay, we'd say get AIDS and die. It was really cruel. I don't hang around with heterosexuals the way I used to, but I'm sure that attitude hasn't changed."
The guy in the above quote appears to have attributed his HIV positive status to the fact that he was gay. He displayed internalized homophobia and that his sexuality somehow predisposed him to become infected with HIV.
He probably grew up in an environment that wasn't diverse, supportive, or gave him opportunities to address his sexuality. Perhaps if he had known it was ok to be gay; or if he accepted that being gay is a natural and special thing, he could have been empowered to make healthier decisions about sex and his sexuality. He might not have felt shame and persecution for his homosexuality.
Those are big maybes, but we can all learn a great deal from his story. His example shows how internalized homophobia, really truly affects our lives.