Not long ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine over a glass of wine. He's a server at one of my favorite Lakeview restaurants. We will call him Jay. (Not his real name) Like many in the gay community, Jay is the perfect host and always has a story to share. On this day, Jay confided in me with some information. Life changing information!
Often, I've been lucky to be trusted by people with extremely confidential news. More than often it's been from folks that I don't know that well. This was the case with Jay. He just blurted it out! He was HIV positive. At that moment my life honestly stood still. Right at that instant I said to myself, "Bill you need to listen carefully and reassure him!". I made the effort to really listen to Jay and then comfort him that he could trust me with his news.
Can you imagine receiving that news from your doctor? I can remember when our family friend Ned Behnke was diagnosed with AIDS. I was young, but he was the first person that I knew with the life altering illness. Ned was an amazing person. He taught the deaf students at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and his legacy continues to this day.
For 28 year old Jay, this news was all still so fresh. We're talking a few weeks old. I could tell he was putting on a brave face, but I knew inside he had to be really scared of the unknown. Here he is, a young man, and his life has been forever changed. As I listened to Jay; one question came to my mind for him. Finally, when the moment was right, I asked, "Do you want others to know about you?". He thought about it a bit and then said something so kind and gentle, "I want to make sure nobody else has to go through this!". With that came the idea for this interview.
This will be a honest interpretation of life as a person with HIV. It is real, dirty, and transparent. I share the hope that Jay does; that it will change the course of those reading it. In honor of December's World AIDS Day I give you Jay's story:
How did you live your life before you knew you were positive?
To be honest with you I was a complete mess!! I was going out on average four to six nights a week. I went on a vacation in the summer of 2006 and when I got back from the trip, I continued to party and got into this horrible routine of drinking and drugging.
I wasn't taking anytime out for myself; to do the simplest of things; to live a responsible life. I was late on all bills. I cared more about being out in the scene than how I was going to eat the next day. I was really bad off. The only thing that made me feel any better the next day was to go out and have a drink and be social. It made me feel better to know that I was a popular person. People expected to see me out and to be one of the people in the crowd that helped make the party happen. It is very addicting, just as much or if not more than drugs and alcohol can be!
How old were you when you first had sex?
Well it depends on your definition of sex. My first time of anal intercourse was when I was 19. First time I fooled around with a guy, was when I was in the fourth grade. After the first time of having anal intercourse; whenever I would have sex with someone, we did it all. It is no secret that I have dipped my hand in the cookie jar a Lot! I have probably been with over 300 men; if not more. Not all of those experiences resulting in intercourse but probably a good 2/3 did.>
Did you test the limits on how far you could go without using protection?
It's kind of funny, I was very good about practicing safe sex for many years! It has only been in the past couple of years that I really started taking big risks with my sex life. I would say that 99% of my sexual encounters; I was drunk or high, or both. My drugs of choice was cocaine and alcohol. Every blue moon I would dabble in crystal but that was never my major vice.
Did you think that AIDS would happen to you?
I always knew there was a chance, of course, but a lot of time I dismissed that fact when in the act. It was easy for me not to think about it, and continue with accomplishing my goal, getting off, but I attribute that mainly to the alcohol and drugs. I let drugs overtake my mind and interfere with my ability to make good decisions; not just with sex, but with ALL aspects of my life. I got to the point of not asking the men I had sex with if they were positive or not. After my almost ten years of being sexually active, my experiences concluded that most guys rarely asked themselves, so I got in the habit of not asking either.
Do you look back in regret?
I try my best not to live in regret. The first thing that a fellow HIV infected person told me, the day I found out, was that half of the battle of staying healthy in the future was a healthy mind set. That person was my nurse. He let me cry on his shoulder for a good 15 minutes. So, I have forgiven myself and do not regret what happened.
It's crazy to say this, but I am now living healthier than I have in years. HIV was a horrible wake up call that stirred this inner fire in me, to get to the root of why I let my life get to where it had.
To anybody that has been recently infected, I would say, don't be scared. Hold your head up high, and start to immediately educate yourself on how to live with this chronic illness. It fucking sucks, but it doesn't have to be a death sentence anymore. It is definitely serious and needs to be understood thoroughly to continue to live a long life. That includes, medically, mentally, and physically! I've learned to do the hard work in living healthy or else suffer a long and slow living death.
It's all incredibly overwhelming, but we shouldn't be afraid to ask for help. That is something I've have learned. The state of Illinois is incredibly rich with resources to help those in need. There are people and Organizations that are there for you 24/7. Don't be afraid to ask for help!
Do you know the guy who gave it to you? If so, did he know he was HIV+?
I didn't know the guy that infected me. I met him on a Sunday afternoon. I ended up getting drunk, but still managed to ask him if he was positive. I kind of suspected. He told me yes and we began going at it, first protected, but then unprotected. I just let it happen! I don't quite understand why I did that. It's as if I let it happen, sobered up and then said to myself what in the fuck did I do. I don't know why I did that. It's so embarrassing and I am very ashamed of my actions, especially when I am someone that is educated about this subject and knew the importance of safe sex. Clearly I was not in the state to make healthy decisions.
As you can see, Jay is willing to be transparent about his experience with the hope that he will help countless readers. I applaud Jay for his courage and vulnerability in this venture.
Even now as Jay and I prepare this four part series; there is someone being told they are HIV+. I am hopeful that Jay's story will help them. We also want to help prevent people from being diagnosed. I challenge everyone to play safe; get tested; and make healthy choices!