It was just seven short years ago when Cindel Coss – the popular Chicago-based DJ Cindel, primarily from the worldwide circuit scene – was told what he thought then was the worst news of his life.
He was diagnosed as HIV-positive.
“I remember thinking my life was about to change for the worse. I remember feeling defeated and so ashamed of myself for not being careful enough. I beat myself up for months and didn't think I was worthy of love again,” Cindel said.
At the time in 2013, Cindel was staying at a friend's home in downtown Chicago when he asked to be taken to the hospital because he was having breathing problems. “That day, I (was) trying to go up a flight of stairs and couldn't breathe, on top of having lost a significant amount of weight was concerning enough for me to realize I needed to see a doctor,” he said.
Cindel was taken to UIC Hospital and immediately admitted. After eight days with PCP pneumonia, the results came back. “I was told I had AIDS due to the fact that my CD4 count was lower than 50 and my viral load was over 2 million copies,” Cindel said. “That week was very rough for me. I remember thinking the fever would eventually kill me. I am forever grateful to the doctors and nurses who took care of me and made sure I was ok.”
His first reaction after hearing the diagnosis was: “FUCK … Why and how?!”
But he knew how.
“I did not cry right away. In a way I was in shock because I was not expecting that,” diagnosis, Cindel said. “It took me a few days to process what I had heard before I collapsed on the floor in tears. I quickly snapped out of it and told myself, 'Everything happens for a reason; you are strong and you will overcome this,' and from there on I was in charge of my future.”
The low point quickly changed his life. “I began to take care of myself like I never did before, both mentally and physically,” he said. “Today I can say I feel the healthiest I have ever been. In a way I am glad to know my status because it has allowed me to value my life and the world I live in so much more.”
Cindel knew the risks of unprotected sex, but never thought anything could happen to him.
“I was wrong in simply trusting everyone, even when they were just a one-night-stand. I learned the hard way.”
The first person he told after learning he tested HIV-positive was his sister, his best friend Yvette, and he also then told his partner at the time.
Cindel has grown from the sadness and sorrow of the diagnosis, plus the stigma that comes with HIV/AIDS. He now shares his story and diagnosis on social media, if only to potentially help one person.
“The topic still makes many uncomfortable and we need to break free from that – HIV is NOT a death-sentence; it is NOT something to be ashamed of,” Cindel said.
“Having the position I have today just seemed like the right thing to do – to come forward publicly and tell the world my status, which was freeing and emotionally-rewarding. I understood that someone as visible as I am in the LGBTQIA + community could make a great impact by coming clean and sharing my story. There are so many people still living in the dark, not being their true authentic self, dealing with the same issues I once dealt with when recently finding out about my positive status.
“I came out publicly as HIV-positive not for pity, but with the genuine intentions of being a role-model for others living with HIV.”
Cindel now lives by a simple mantra: Live Your Truth.
“If you aren't living your truth, are you really living?” he said. “There is nothing more liberating than accepting what and who you are and loving yourself in its pure form. Living your truth is a way of letting go of anything and everything that is toxic to your well-being. When you live your truth, you see the world differently, you aspire, you dream, you set goals for yourself, you understand that you are important and are here in this world for a reason.
“It is so important for me to be open about who I am, (especially) when (there are people) living with HIV who are still being rejected and not accepted if they reveal their status. It is important because there are people who look up to me. It is important because this is who I am. It is important because being opened about my status encourages others to do the same and to break free from the stigma.”
Cindel knows there are plenty, many right here in Chicago, who are struggling, just as he was just seven years ago, in 2013. His advice is direct: Never give up and continue pursuing your dreams because HIV/AIDS is not the end.
He quotes RuPaul: “This is the beginning of the rest of your life,” so live it up to its fullest.
“Unfortunately, the world we are living in still needs major education when it comes to many HIV-related topics,” he said. “I dealt with rejection even before I came out as being HIV-positive. We must change that, especially within our own community. As humans we judge (others), it's part of being alive and human. But it would be a better world if we did it less, if we accepted one another for the way we are and as we come. We need to love more and hate less. As long as there is stigma, there will be rejection from individuals. I have coped with it as best as I can and if someone rejects me, it's their loss.”
Cindel takes HIV medication daily, and likely will for the rest of his life.
That's made him stronger, he said.
“It's a commitment to myself and my health. I say it has made me stronger because I love myself more, I value myself more,” he said. “Being HIV-positive is who I am, and I hope I can continue to be a voice, an inspiration to others living a positive life.
“I am not ashamed of my past; I am not ashamed of who I am. I am not ashamed of being HIV- positive. I am proud of what I have accomplished, of the man I have grown to be. I hope my story inspires others and allows them to see who they are and how loved they are.”Related: DJ Cindel Talks The Struggles Of Being A Local Entertainer During The Pandemic