Tuesday, December 14, 2010

FA LA LA LA NO NO NO NO, YES!

The holiday season is in full swing.  The first drop of snow for the season sprinkled New York City this week and store fronts are covered with evergreen-scented wreaths.  People flood Rockefeller Center to get their chance at ice skating in front of this years' Christmas tree display.  Even I put my own tree up while watching Frank Capra's, It's a Wonderful Life, in the hopes of getting immersed in the spirit of the holidays.  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful and I think a large portion of it has to do with my exhaustion from this past year.

This week I was due for my quarterly blood drawings as well as refilling prescriptions.  With my "special" type of insurance those procedures involves more than one middle man on several different floors of this one particular building.  First, I have a wasted appointment, with my primary doctor, on the 6th Floor.  Simply because I physically sat in a room with the doctor permits him to write a referral to have me see my HIV specialist.  While waiting for my referral to schedule an appointment with the specialist (whose practice is 40 minutes away from this building) I sit in the lobby.  The receptionist is on the phone with the receptionist at the specialist's office who plans to fax over to my primary doctor the specific blood tests that will need to be drawn that day.  Twenty minutes later we receive the fax and I take the elevator to the Cellar Level where my blood will be drawn.  The lady stabs one of the largest veins in my left arm, removing six vials of blood and causing me to bleed profusely from the outside.  The bleeding finally stops when the medical assistant says to me, "every time you come here make sure you apply plenty of pressure."  I understand she was doing her job but that comment really upset me.  I wanted to say to her, "thanks for reminding me there is no cure to HIV and I have to succumb to this agony every three months." I guess I should be grateful that I am healthy and able to draw blood.

I take the elevator back to the 6th floor where the receptionist hands me the referral.  This piece of paper is my ticket to see the specialist who will (hopefully) tell me, "Everything looks great.  See you in a few months."  Lucky me that in a few months I get to do the entire procedure of riding elevators trying not to bleed on the tile, yet again.  Of course I must make the appointment first with my primary doctor or I won't be allowed to push the elevator button up to the 6th Floor.  Finally, I take the elevator to the third floor where I make sure my prescriptions are being filled for pickup the next day.  I laugh when I think how all of this could have been avoided if I was approved for ADAP.  I'd be able to see one doctor, go to one pharmacy, and work only one job.  I guess I should be grateful that I have some medical care at all.

I was running late for work the next morning.  I get off the subway a block away from my employment when I realized I'd forgotten my medicine at home.  I couldn't go back and get it and I couldn't tell work the truth.  (I am not open about my status at my day job.)  Missing a dose was like having unprotected sex.  You know it’s dangerous, you know you shouldn't do it.  Yet, I felt liberated, I smelled the fresh air.  It was comforting to pretend to be toxic free for just one morning.  My specialist once informed me what to do in this situation so I didn't panic.  I guess I should be grateful that I have options at all.   

Usually at work I roll up my sleeves exposing my forearms, however this day they needed to be covered.  The stab on my left arm had bled internally causing a huge blue stain on the surface (it was ugly.)  Every three months.  I did this not just so I would stop staring at the results of my past mistakes but just in case anyone at work saw the wound.  Meanwhile, this is a job where I've been here for many months and I still don't have a work badge like the rest of the staff.  Said badges have your profile picture and in my opinion it gives a sense of pride for the company we work for.  I know they appreciate my hard work, but it would be nice to finally be part of the team.  Not to mention their benefits package.  It is my main source of income and I can't be too expressive out of fear of losing my role.  I guess I should be grateful that I have a job at all.

I'm exhausted.  I'm exhausted being punished at work, by society, by the government and by my community that I have HIV.  I'm especially exhausted from punishing myself for being HIV positive.  My frustration caused me to pick at a scab on my thumb.  Naturally, blood begins to drip down my finger.  As I clean the hurt and see the infected blood on the tissue I think to myself, "Take that HIV!"  I know it may not be healthy to think about the HIV cells on the tissue dying because they can no longer spread in numbers, however when I used to bleed I would get freaked out by seeing my blood knowing what's inside it.  That damaged me more than anything.  Suddenly, the most remarkable thing happened to me as I dabbed my thumb.  The blood on the tissue was in the shape of a heart!  (I swear on my life I am not making this up.)  I smiled. 

In that instance I knew I wasn't alone in my office.  Someone, or something, is watching over me- over all of us.  I'm not a spiritual person in the sense that I attend a place of worship, but I am a firm believer that there is meaning to all this.  Perhaps after we die we'll understand why the world was destined to become acquainted with HIV.  Sure, I have my current struggles with exhaustion, work, medical frustrations and hardships, relationships, and life in general.  I have to remind myself that it will all be okay and it will all fall into place and someday, someday, the reason for giving me all of my struggles will be revealed.

Perhaps with that in mind I should take my tree down and put it back up again and get immersed in the Christmas spirit I cherished as a child.

I am so grateful for my life, no matter how hard it can be sometimes.  Merry Christmas life and here’s to a happy and prosperous New Year and many more to come! 

Monday, November 29, 2010

MAN’S BEST FRIEND CURES HIV

I didn't want her.  I didn't understand why the ladies of our family wanted a second dog in the household anyways.  Having one dog already was work on its own.  Nevertheless, if they insisted on having a new member of the family I made sure to help choose one that would contribute.

I remember the afternoon when we brought the new dog home from the pet shop.  It was a beautiful spring day, a month before I was due to graduate from Junior High School and the grass and flowers were in full bloom.  The shop was filled to capacity with howling newborn birds, cats and puppies.  The odor was enough to make me postpone my breathing inhalation patterns in an attempt to avoid the delicious fowl. 

I wanted the Shih Tzu with the golden-colored patches on its body.  It was overly friendly and carefree; it jumped around and smiled at me endlessly.  Meanwhile, a darker-colored Shih Tzu lay in the corner like a lump, quiet as a mouse and did nothing to show enthusiasm for wanting a home with humans.  However, she was chosen by my sister on the basis that the two shared the same birthday.  I was overruled and furious.  We brought the lump to her new home and named her Lillie (Tigerlily.)

The infant puppy never cried.  She never barked to be released from her cage.  Lillie was the most obedient baby I have witnessed up until that point.  Once she was house broken Lillie began to do something quite peculiar: Lillie followed me wherever I went.  She slept at the foot of my bed begging me to pet her.  It was as if she knew I wasn't the least bit impressed with her earlier mannerisms.  To make a long story short, I came around and before long Lillie and I were best friends.  I became protective of my pet sister from my human brother and sister's roughness claiming Lillie enjoyed it.  "If she likes it so much why does she come running to me when she's scared?" was my general response.

There was no doubt that Lillie loved everyone in the family.  But, as my brother put it, "Lille was my shadow."  It was hard to say good bye to her when I left for college, when I moved to Florida, or after a short holiday visit home, but she always jumped for joy and wagged her tail uncontrollably when I returned.  Two days before she passed we cuddled on the couch watching the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."  I got up to get a drink and typical Lillie would've followed me- this time she didn't move from the couch.  I knew in my heart it was time.

I shed my tears on the way to my parents’ house the afternoon of her passing.  I wanted to remove it from my system to stay strong for my family when I arrived.  I thought about death which of course reminded me of my diagnosis.  Considering it was Thanksgiving weekend I tried my darnedest to find what to be thankful for in this situation.  I was thankful that Lillie was only sick for a handful of days- which meant her life till the very end was healthy and prosperous.  I couldn't say the same for my other dog where there are arguments that we dragged on his suffering too long.  "Would my family do the same to me should HIV take a turn for the worse?" I thought. 

Suddenly my thankful thoughts turned to anger and resentment.  I was angry that Lillie died on us.  The weeks when yours truly was on his deathbed, as I've referred to it, with early stages of the HIV infection, Lillie was beside me as much as I would let her.  Looking at her eyes I could tell she knew I was sick and there was nothing her paws could do, except to cuddle with me.  I felt her pain for my pain and I loved her for it.  She may have only been a dog, but a spirit nonetheless that I was able to count on the most in my life.

When I returned to the city at the end of the weekend I met up with a guy whom I was recently dating.  I told him about Lillie and her death mixed with my realization of my HIV diagnosis, the nonsense that makes New York, my ADAP troubles and my forced decisions to leave the city to go back to my childhood home where I'd be isolated and alone mixed deeper with my fatigue and my unhappiness had finally taken its toll- my anger from the past few weeks turned to exhaustion.  I'm physically and emotionally exhausted and all I want to do is take a nap.  Then, he said something I'll never forget; He explained that an argument the two of us had wasn't about me and him, but that he realized all I need in my life is a friend.  Someone to tell me everything is going to be okay.

I have friends, of course.  Some very close friends that are dear.  And after I spoke with him it dawned on me that he's right- I don't have a friend, a best friend, the kind I speak to almost everyday where we check on each other and can't go to bed without speaking to one another.  Lillie, should she have been human, would have been that friend. 

I didn't want her.  And now I didn't want her to ever leave.  If she was here and was able to speak to me I'm confident she'd say this to me, "Christopher, so what if you're HIV positive.  You're better than this.  You're my best friend and I know you better than anyone on this planet ever will.  I know all your secrets, your happiness, your sadness.  I forgave you when you left me for school.  I forgave you when you left me for Florida.  I forgave your drinking problem and DWI.  Only I understand you.  Now, Christmas is coming.  My gift to you is this- my blessing.  Go!  Do what you've been debating about.  Ignore everyone else's opinion and sarcasms.  They don't know better because they are not you.  Your life has finally been heading in the right direction, HIV or not.  I will always be here to support you."  

Lillie is right.  I need to make the arrangements, send for an extra supply of medications and get the hell out of the presence I'm in.  It's time to say good bye to New York City- for good.

I will always love and miss you, Lillie. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

BEING RESPONSIBLE IS IRRESPONSIBLE

At least that is what I'm starting to believe in our country.  I'm a responsible citizen: I pay my taxes, I bring home an honest paycheck, I take care of my heath, I volunteer, I even vote.  However, I am starting to understand that trying to stay ahead and doing the right thing is working against me.

Let me explain.  I work a full time job through a temp agency.  The agency has an extremely limited benefits package that will not cover my specific HIV medical needs.  I also work part time at night at a hotel of which is my only medical coverage.  This part time gig is a union job.  Regardless of your opinion of unions I will say this: I believe unions are necessary solely for the purpose of employers and employees having equal opportunity in an environment that would have otherwise.  Sure, there are abuses on both sides, but I digress.  My union benefits differ from regular medical benefits in a number of ways.  I cannot choose my medical care.  Instead, it is required that I see their doctors and their specialists in order to be covered.  The problem with that is that it can take as little as a few months to see a doctor for a sore throat.  Their response is if you need to seek help go to the emergency room.  Being HIV positive and required to submit bloodwork every three months in addition to my primary care follow up of said work, it is a necessity that I am able to schedule my appointments in a reasonable matter.  Of course there is no HIV specialist under my medical plan.  Finally, if I want to see a specialist not only would I need a referral to see that specialist (every time I need to see him), but I would also need a referral to get bloodwork drawn (again, every time I need it done.)

For the time being, I have been paying for my blood work as well as my doctor visits out of pocket.  Thousands of dollars later and I still owe a significant amount.  Unfortunately, until we find a cure, or I quit my jobs all together, this cycle will have no end.  Naturally, I can see how the world outside of HIV take this illness less and less seriously given your "once-a-day" medications and living longer lives.  This side of the epidemic isn't spoken about enough to the general public.  I've had endless meetings with social workers over months on end.  It has come to the point where I have pleaded with them with what I should do.  "Give me an ultimatum," I say. 

Scenario One: IF I quit my part time job and have no medical benefits I will qualify for New York's ADAP (Aids Drug Assistance Program.)  Consequence to Scenario One: my income will be significantly less and I may be forced to leave my home and move back in with my parents.  My temp job is above the poverty level, but just enough to barely make ends meat, so I don't qualify for government assistance.  Food will become a luxury.  My parents live outside New York City, and our state is under the radar for falling into the ADAP "waiting list" category.  For further information regarding ADAP and the waiting lists (if there is one in your state) and what you could do to help, click on the website here: http://www.adapadvocacyassociation.org/ 

Scenario Two: IF I keep both my jobs I will not qualify for ADAP.  Consequence to Scenario Two: Not only will I run myself down with fatigue working 60 hours a week like I currently do, but I will somehow have to conjur up $750 every three months.  At least my medicine is still covered with my current part time job.  That is, they haven't questioned my prescriptions at this point.  Praise be to God that I don't have to ever pay for my medications out of pocket.  Seeing how much each individual pill costs turns my olive skin to snow white.

There should be a law of some sort where employers only have a certain time frame to decide whether or not they'd like add a temp employee to payroll.  There should be consquences should they string hardworking professionals along.  Maybe there is, but I doubt it. 

I haven't reached my offical one year mark being HIV positive and I'm already exhausted.  I'm tired of closed doors and "we can't help you" answers.  I try to do the right thing by working hard and paying my dues with no end in sight.  I was once taught to aspire to a world with a house and a white picket fence and landscaped gardens.  For all the Americans on waiting lists, live hours and hours away from medical care or try to do the right thing and still get spit on like me I say this: even in a metropolis like New York City, you can feel alone.

We really are all in this, together.

Friday, November 12, 2010

TABLE FOR ONE

I'd like to start off this entry by thanking my fans, friends and family for not allowing me to swim in the middle of the ocean without a life jacket.  You wouldn't let me get away with expressing my anger and frustrations without having the final say.  I was reminded that there is still plenty of love, compassion and support out there, even when I temporarily lose hope- for which I am truly grateful.  

For the past few weeks on numerous occasions I was reminded of some of the harsh realities I face.  The specifics don't matter.  What matters is that by more than one individual I was put into a corner regarding my HIV status, made to feel worthless and to blame.  As if something was wrong with me or that I wasn't good enough.  Even in a liberal city like New York I have found people here to be uneducated and lack support.  If that weren't enough I was reminded on how we as a gay community are cruel and discriminative towards each other- just for the temporary satisfaction to feel better about ourselves.  If you're living as a gay man the chances are you were never accepted by anyone as an equal- in high school, in the workplace, or wherever you may roam.  You're more like a side show to the outside world, weak enough to be picked on without consequence.  In turn, we hurt each other within our own community.  

If your not lifting weights eight days a week, or a Glee fan, or HIV negative, your chances of acceptance in our own community are dire.  It doesn't work in our favor to be honest with people.  Guys would rather not know your status and pretend it's not there.  If we don't talk about HIV then it won't be under the sheets.  I know I was once a guy that thought that way. 

These past few weeks we all, including myself, have reached out to teenagers all over the world with our message that it gets better.  Does it?  It may get better, sure, but the pain and the hurt doesn't get any easier- unless you’re either an Adonis or a Broadway fan.  When does it get better for someone like me who are neither of those things?  When does it get better for someone like me who goes out to dinner by himself?  When does it get better for someone like me who has a phone that never rings?  When does it get better for someone like me who is never approached and stands alone at the bars?  When does it get better for someone like me who throws their medications against the wall in disgust?  When does it get better for someone like me who is tired of hearing the silence?

We've all heard this phrase, in many forms, by loved ones when we are down: "You're okay.  There are so many people out there in worse situations that yours."  I have two problems with this.  First, we are asked to dwell on other people's pain and suffering so we can feel better.  Where's the humanity in that? Secondly, we are asked to never put ourselves first, that we should ignore what our soul is feeling.  As long as the Earth's heart is beating there will always be pain and suffering.  When is it okay to take care of yours without being made to feel like you have nothing to complain about?  

I am no stranger to depression.  When I am down like this I bring myself back to my childhood, where most of my free time away from homework was spent alone in my bedroom with my Legos.  Indeed, Legos was my saving grace, but I refuse to let myself go back there.  I had a period of weakness, sure.  And I let the world know about it.  I guess it was a cry for help.  

However, I am slowly relapsing now and coming back to my old self again- the man who fell in love with himself, even with HIV running in his blood-the man who put others ahead of himself- the man who never ignored the people around him by chatting on his cell phone-the man who asks, "How are you doing?" and actually mean it.

Thank you all, one last time, for letting me feel life's sadness for a quick moment and knowing that at the end of the day it all will be okay.  If there is any advice I can give this week it would be this: put down your cell phones.  Sign off of Facebook and Twitter.  Take a night off from work.  Call an old friend, check up on those around you.  A simple "Hello" and "How have you been?" vocally, as opposed to a text message, can make all the difference.  It did for me, today.

To everyone that I am blessed to know in this world, thank you for letting me be me. 

Specifically, thank you to my sister, Katie, who I wasn't ignoring, but I couldn't let hear the ugliness I was experiencing.  Thank you to an old friend, Bridget, who reminded me that words speak so loud for themselves and I'll never forget the letter you wrote me.  Finally, thank you to Theresa, a coworker and friend of mine who understands hardships, but still found the time to hold me when I needed it.  There are so many people to thank, so for the sake of sounding less like an Oscar acceptance speech I collectively say, Thank You, everyone.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day- my writing class- the first step towards enjoying the pleasures surrounding me, once again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

FIGHTING DEPRESSION THROUGH A NOVEL

The colors outside are changing and daylight settles in earlier than New York has been accustomed to in the warmer months.  It’s time to hang up the swimming trunks and snuggle up with a blanket with some green tea.  I hear it’s a great source of antioxidants for HIV positive individuals like me. 

As much as I try to celebrate this beautiful, yet chilly time of year I can’t.  I’m having trouble getting myself out of the “funk” that I’ve been in the past couple of weeks.  All the things that I once got a charge out of are now a chore, like going to the gym or volunteer work or having a nice dinner.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what the culprit is that are responsible for putting me through this:  Perhaps it’s been sinking into my mind that I have HIV and the discipline of medications is starting to take it’s toll- or that I live in a city of which I don’t find beauty in like everyone else- or maybe I’m tired of spending so much time alone.  Regardless of the reason I am trying my hardest to not go down the same path that got me in trouble the first time around.  I must admit that on many occasions I cannot the resist the temptation of chilled Bourbon on the rocks and that scares me.

There’s only one thing these days that stimulates my mind: my writing.  I’ve been working on a novel for the past few years and with the help of a friend of mine I’m steps closer to finishing it.  Many have pestered me to speak of the story and I’ve tried to defy conversing with others about it until the book is in production.  Considering this funk I’m in and my defenses are low I thought it deemed appropriate to finally talk about one of my current joys.  For my avid readers, this is the first time I am publishing a synopsis of the storyline.  I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoy writing it.  Every completed page is one step closer to publication and another smile on my face.  Here it goes.    

Every individual has rituals of their own when it comes to problem solving.  Some turn to friends while others want to be alone and drink their sorrows away.  Some may go for long walks to sort their thoughts while others run from them.  Nathan, an introvert with a closeted past finds refuge in his laundry. 

Laundry is this adolescents’ alone time where he is attentive to his clothes circling in the machines.  For him the problems go away with the stains and the marks- ready to conquer the day ahead as soon as all articles are folded and set. 

However, for the first time Nathan is challenged by family and love and all the detergent in the universe cannot help him.  With the help of his sordid friendship with the Laundromat owner, Mildred, Nathan must face his most difficult challenge of all: Life.

The chapters are broken down by articles of clothing, each with their own storyline.  We begin with Nathan’s entrance into the Laundromat and journey with him through the cycle to an ending that no one would have predicted! 

Keep your fingers crossed that one day Nathan’s story, which so many can relate to, makes it on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

CHRISTOPHER’S “IT GETS BETTER” STORY

In response to the recent teen suicides in our country hundreds of Americans, including celebrities, posted videos they’ve created for the gay and the questioning teenagers.  They talk about their high school experiences and stress not to give up on life and that things will “get better.”  I would like you as a reader to indulge me for this blog entry by allowing a break from the topic of HIV this week so I may progress this noteworthy and effective movement -in my own words.

For the teenager out there who’s reading this:
  • I speak to you as an adult who was once a scared teenager like you
  • I speak to the adult that you are becoming
  • Whether you’re male, female, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, Black, White, Asian, short, tall, skinny, fat, popular, friendless
  • Who is considering to end your life
  • Who have been bullied
  • Who is a bully
For the teenager out there who’s reading this- this story is dedicated to you.

When we were born we had no knowledge.  When we were children we asked many questions and accepted the answers given to us.  When we became teenagers we asked less and less questions and repressed the answers given to us.  When we became adults we no longer asked questions because we knew all the answers.  At such time a child asks the questions of which we provide the answers to.  And so the child sets off with this newfound knowledge we granted him/her.  What was the message we gave them?

I’ll tell you the message that adults, especially parents, guardians, and teachers should always give to children: Life will never be easy because every day we learn something new, even as adults when we are expected to have all the answers.  We learn that each day will never be the same as the other, filled with happiness and celebration, or heartache and sadness.  But most importantly, no two human beings will ever be the same as one another, but all human beings are equal.  As you get older and you as a person change both physically and emotionally you will begin to understand this.  In the meantime, you must never hurt others for what you do not understand or are afraid of.  Everyone, including you, has the right to be themselves.

Generations after generation of teens have been taught to believe that you need to have all the answers by the time you finish high school and know what you want to do with your life.  I had no idea who I was in high school.  I had no idea who I was in college.  Now, I am twenty seven years old and I am still discovering who I am and realizing the things I have always been- special, loved, wanted, and welcomed.  If we all knew then in high school what we know now as adults perhaps things would have been different.  I wouldn’t have isolated myself as much as I did out of fear.  I would’ve ignored the teasing and remarks aimed to hurt me.  I would have known that high school was only the first chapter of my life.  Unfortunately, life does not allow that luxury and maybe for good reason.  Where are all those people that verbally hurt me back in high school, today?  Who knows, who cares. 

I can sit here and give you specifics about my high school experience.  However, so many individuals have already done so on Youtube through Dan Savages, “It Gets Better Project” and I cannot thank them enough for their bravery and speaking their thoughts.  I only wished these resources were available to me when I was younger. Perhaps I would have made smarter choices in high school and reached out to peers and educators and loved ones.  Perhaps I would have realized that I am not alone and that there are others out there just like me rather than choosing to isolate myself.  That hurt I created I believe was the ultimate reason to the predicament I have created - living a life with HIV.  But that was me and this is you.

Let me offer my hand to the gay and questioning teens that are currently victims of bullies.  Don’t give up and don’t let them win.  There is nothing wrong with you.  The bullies are the ones with the problem only because they don’t understand you and are yet unable to value all that you will accomplish when you are free to dictate your own life in the years to come.  Bullies can also be adults as well as peers.  Find someone to reach out to if you are being harassed in any way.  Remember that everyone, including you, has the right to be themselves.

If you are someone who is a bully- leave them alone.  You will only be doing greater damage to yourself in addition to the person you are physically hurting. 

My final thought on this entry is this- not only will I promise you that it gets better, but it gets incredibly and substantially better.  Hang in there and when high school is over you will be free to live as the person you desperately have been trying to be.  Who knows, by sticking around you may save the life of another teen who will one day seek your help. 

We in the LGBT community will always be here to welcome you with warming arms.

On October 20, 2010 remember to wear purple, in honor of the lost teens who felt they had no one and nowhere to turn to in their time of crisis.  They will forever be in our hearts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST

“Going to Jump off the Bridge.  Sorry.”   -Tyler Clementi (1992-2010)

Those were the last communicative words the world read on the Facebook status message of eighteen year old violinist and Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi, before choosing to take his life on September 22.  His car (containing his laptop, wallet, and phone) was found abandoned on the George Washington Bridge here in New York City.

If you had not recently read in the papers of this boy’s demise then I will give you a brief synopsis.  Clementi asked his college roommate for some privacy until midnight one night.  His roommate, by name of Dharun Ravi, obliged and sneakily set up his computer’s webcam.  The end result of this prank was Ravi recording Clementi having sexual relations with another man in their room without Clementi‘s awareness.  It wasn’t until later on did Clementi find out about this video and that it had been posted all over the internet for everyone to see.  Humiliation does not justify what his feelings must have been when he found out. 

It is not proven that this particular incident drove Clementi to his death, but if I was to speculate (and I will) the fingers do point in that direction.  This poor child is dead and the worst punishment Ravi will receive is up to five years in prison.  That’s how the justice system handles a bully picking on a weaker individual because he was gay?  How many more gay men and women have to die before society will take this seriously?  

It is obvious being a gay individual why I would be disgusted with this case.  I can talk about the politics of hate crimes in this country and the hardships minorities face, but I will leave that to others.  I will refrain as best as I can and I will talk about how this story relates to me and HIV, which my blogging is ultimately about.

ACCEPTANCE.  A simple concept, yet the world won’t allow themselves to practice such.  It is a concept that any gay individual, including myself, strives to find the meaning of.  Society and religion are two variables that tell people what is right and wrong in life and what we should and shouldn’t accept.  Unfortunately, being gay for the majority is wrong in the eyes of most.  This causes those who are different to feel isolated and unloved.  I was lucky growing up.  The worst torment I ever experienced was verbal abuse- “Hey faggot,” “Fairy, what’s up?” “Kiss any boys lately?” “You hate pussy, don’t you fag,” to name a few.  It was all sticks and stones, but rarely would people physically try to attack me.  It’s easy to pick on the kids who are weaker and introverted.  I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and before my junior year I was never the most popular person in school, spending many weekends at home by myself. 

As I became an adult and understood that I was attracted to men was when the real danger happened.  I began doing things that was only going to hurt my health down the road.  But, I did them because I was tired of rejection and feeling alone- like most of us in the gay community.  I found a home where I can share stories and relate with other guys who were picked on and beaten in childhood just because they were born with a genetic makeup that causes attraction to the same sex.  But like I said, I was lucky.  I am still alive and here to talk to others while I can’t say the same for the innocent Clementi.  I’m lucky to have supportive friends and family who love me unconditionally. 

I knew that unprotected sex can get me in trouble, but before my diagnosis and my enlightenment I didn’t love myself enough to care. The piled up years of others not loving me or accepting me took a toll on my attitude about things.  Inevitably I got HIV. 

Society enforces that being gay is wrong because of reasons like HIV and Meth users, etc.  God forbid they see us as individuals.  It’s okay to be sympathetic to straight people with alcohol problems, but if you’re a gay man then you are a time bomb for falling into drugs or getting HIV, and no one can help you, right?  Well, society seems to think so.    Hence, hate crimes continue without consequences and HIV spreads.  As time passes I am learning to think that HIV has saved me.   Of course, HIV is a serious illness and nothing to joke about, but as said in entries past I plan to look at HIV in a different light than what I was brought up to believe.  Being diagnosed was the thing that changed my attitude about myself.  

“Oh no world,” I say, “I may have low self-esteem and you may tell me it’s wrong to be gay, but no way will I let your cruelty and non-acceptance prevail and win!  I have more self worth than that!” I refuse to let HIV take over and kill me.  My body and the medication I take illustrate that.  In the end, I win.  It is a shame that Clementi, being a gay man wasn’t as strong.  I did not know him personally, but as a gay man I wish I could give this boy a hug and say, “You’re not alone, don’t let them win.” 

It is not enough for me to educate the world about HIV and prevention.  We need show the world that consequences for hate crimes should be dealt with harshly.  Parents need to take a stand with their kids and tell them that other kids on the playground will be different- from skin color to handicaps to love interests.  Said kids need to understand that the occupants of the world will never all be the same and you must accept that.  Little Johnny or Sue are no better, nor worse, than they are.  The world we have created for younger generations is filled with cruelty and nonsense.  It needs to be stopped.  We need to reshape people’s attitudes of the ever-changing planet we live in if we are ever going to live in harmony.  If we don’t then negative variables like HIV and suicide will continue to increase in numbers and win.
<-Tyler Clementi

Saturday, September 18, 2010

HIV’s LATEST VICTIM: APPROXIMATELY ONE YEAR LATER

This entry is for everyone, in particularly HIV NEGATIVE individuals.  I want to wend the importance of PREVENTION and TESTING and how a negative diagnosis works without discussing too many specific medical technicalities considering I am not in the profession.  This entry is a bit detailed, but as I have reiterated in the past it is my decision to share my story so I can tell others out there not to make the same mistakes I did.

Reference:
Sept. 29, 2009- Tested HIV Negative
Oct. 16, 2009 (approx.)- Hospitalized and severely sick
Jan. 21, 2010- Tested HIV Positive

Let me start by saying that I forgive myself for making poor choices in my life.  However, as much as I’d like to I shall never forget the demonic occurrences that got me to where I am today.  Not to mention if I am going to spread the word of prevention to the world it is important to remember why I am laying in my bed right now writing about this topic as opposed to a sassy love story. 

Last summer, 2009, was a tiresome and lonely one.  I worked most weekends and major holidays acting like I had been deprived of my favorite season and all its pleasurable events.  When I had spare time I would drown myself in alcohol and parties that lead to me to these poor choices I speak of.  There’s no need to give specifics. 

 As summer winded down and September approached I reached out to a couple of close girl friends of mine at work and explained to them that I had reason to worry about my health.  No matter how many times they urged me to get tested for HIV I thought it’d be best to avoid testing altogether and perhaps my fears would go away in time.  Finally, one the girls grabbed me by my non-existent hair and dragged me to a clinic in Midtown, New York City.  The counselor conducted a painless oral swab that took twenty minutes for the results.  While waiting the counselor spoke to me about my sex history and how I can prevent myself from endangering my body.  The first piece of advice I can give those individuals that are due for an HIV test is to find a clinic that has counselors that will sit and speak with you while you wait for the results- not only did it calm my nerves to speak with someone, but it made the time go fast.  Low and behold my results came back negative.  My friend was overjoyed and although I was happy to an extent I knew deep down that I was not out of the woodwork. 

My specialist broke it down for me months ago- since I was tested Positive in January 2010, but Negative in September 2009 and got sick in October 2009 does not mean that I was infected between the Negative diagnosis and my sickness.  I was already infected before my negative diagnosis.  Like I’ve stated, it was a summer where I made idiotic choices.

If HIV were a person on a scholastic scale, then they would be considered a genius.  The virus knows when entering a new system planning to attack healthy cells that it also needs to hide from the cells in our body that will later kill them-our T-cells.  T-cells, or CD4 cells, are natural cells in our bodies that continuously travel the entire organism seeking to attack viruses like the flu or common cold that are dormant in us.  HIV has two goals: to replicate and to survive.  It needs to replicate TO survive.  The virus can only replicate through, literally through, the cells in our body.  The virus will survive as long as they hide from our T-cells.  Unfortunately, the virus will be successful in its attempt to escape the doom of T-cells.  By the time our heroes come to save the day, the damage has already been done.  In essence, when I received the NEGATIVE diagnosis in September the virus was already in my body and my T-cells were unaware of HIV roaming around replicating as we spoke.  It was a matter of weeks before I was on my death bed.

Later in October I began to fall ill.  I remember being at my place of employment and having severe chills.  I figured, “tis the season” and I will just have to keep an eye out for the flu.  As the week progressed I grew a fever up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  I had night sweats, no appetite and I could barely swallow water.  I needed my mommy to take care of me.  I took a medical leave of absence from work and was in and out of the hospital and my doctor’s office.

I had other symptoms, but there was never a cough, a sore throat or a runny nose.  My doctor said my tests work showed no sign of the flu, a common cold, or strep throat.  It began to dawn on me what the diagnosis possibility was, but once again because of fear, I kept my feelings to myself.  Halloween came and gone without celebration and before I knew it the fever was gone and I was back to myself, twelve pounds lighter.

From that day on I would dwell on the fear that I may have HIV but was too afraid to find out the truth.  It took two and a half months for me to build the courage to face the music and see if my deduction was correct.  On January 21, 2010 I was diagnosed with HIV.

My description is not made to scare you.  I want you to understand that getting sick the way I did was a good thing.  My HIV specialist later explained to me why my illness was so severe.  My body was working double overtime trying to kill the HIV virus.  Back in late September, or early October, just before I grew sick was the time period when my T-cells discovered an HIV cell and sent in the troops (other T-cells) for backup to kill the foreigner.  As uncomfortable as the experience was I do understand that my immune system fights hard to keep me alive, whether it’s killing HIV viruses or any other viruses.  Now my body is aware that there is HIV in me and as long as my heart still beats it will forever battle the cells- or until there is a cure.  Just like any war there will be deaths on both sides of the battle field.  HIV cells die, but so does my T-cells in the battle.  My T-cells can’t fight HIV alone so it needs allies- my medications.  Now T-cells can have coffee breaks or fight other sicknesses in me, like the flu, while my medications do some of the work.  Now the possibility of me dying from HIV is almost non-existent so long as I am obedient and take my medications everyday and at the hours I am supposed to.

So for all of you individuals out there who test negative on an HIV test- I want you to understand how important it is to follow up on testing every 3-6 months to be 100% sure that you don’t have HIV.  Together, we can stop the replication of this horrible illness that has taken the lives of millions.  Be safe.

My Final Reference:
1-HIV Negative Individuals: approximately 500-1500 T-Cells in the body
2-My T-Cell Ct as of March 2010: 391 T-Cells (due to the significant toll my body took in Oct. 2009)- no meds
3- May 6, 2010-virus UNDETECTABLE IN MY SYSTEM- 460 T-Cells with meds
4- August 4, 2010- 652 T-Cells, with meds, and still rising

*The latest recommendation I read that an HIV positive individual should consider starting medications- <350 T-Cells
*considered an AIDS patient- <200 T-Cells- note that even in this category you can get healthy again and go back to an HIV-level patient. Hence, not a death sentence.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WORKING NINE TO FIVE: THEN SIX TO TWO


Let me start by apologizing for my absence. It has been a couple weeks since I’ve posted a new blog on the internet.
 
My reasons are just. My calendar is filled to the point where even yours truly can’t keep up with all that needs to be done! No, it’s not my non-existent social calendar, but my calendar filled with events and tasks that stimulate my brain. I purchased a white board today that swiftly became my daily “To-Do” list preventing me from falling behind OR not completing tasks of which I promised to do for others. Let me share with you the bullet points on that board:

 
  • Look over & give feedback for the new POZIAM website
  • Help build the “Does HIV Look like Me?” newly diagnosed section of their website
  • Take pictures with DAB the AIDS Bear with NYC landmarks- ongoing
  • Create next blog entry- TONIGHT
  • Pay final Verizon bill on Friday
  • Pay portion of blood work bill as well as Doctor’s visit(s) bill- ongoing
  • Pick up paycheck from staffing agency on Thursday
  • Former 401K plan- use $$$ to pay medical bills? Pending
  • Upload Part 3 and 4 Vlog series to Youtube- attempt No. 6 or is it 7?
  • Hang Curtains- DONE!

I’ve been slacking on my response to a handful of these tasks simply because I hadn’t had the time to commit. I always get everything done in time, but challenges have approached me. I recently accepted a new job as an administrative assistant at one of America’s well-known railroad companies. That’s right; I can almost say goodbye to my crappy job (that I have written about previously) and say hello to my full time career! However, in order to cross some of these particular tasks off my list sooner rather than later I felt it best to stay at that bartending job a couple nights a week. As if I had time to spare originally- now my free time will be further limited for a while. I spent most of the summer working two jobs and now it seems to have no end in sight.

 

In my opinion, being HIV positive creates a barrier in the workplace. There are so many things to consider before walking out on a job that I’m less than satisfied with- especially when their health insurance plan covers my medications one hundred percent. That was the only reason I stayed at a job that I dreaded going to day after day. Unfortunately, until I can get my blood work and hospital bills settled (bills that were not covered by insurance) I feel trapped for a while leaving myself working two jobs. Of course living in one of the largest and most expensive cities in the world never helps.

 

Stress and fatigue caused from working two jobs will only play against me in fighting HIV. As long as I keep telling myself that it’s only temporary and that I am still young and healthy then it will be okay. Some would relax from these stresses by binge drinking or other bodily irritants that temporarily take the stress away. I turn to my writing to calm me. I sure do miss having more time to my writing and blogging though- it’s only temporary, Christopher.

 

Perhaps one day soon the price we pay to stay alive won’t be so expensive.

 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

IN A GAY NEW YORK MINUTE

Last night I decided to bar hop for the first time in a while. After my friends and I enjoyed a fabulous Thai dinner we made our way to the watering holes in Chelsea and the West Village. As the night played out I unexpectedly analyzed everything going on around me rather than getting loaded and making new acquaintances like probably should have. Perhaps it was the bourbon that caused me to observe or if I was experiencing side effects from my medications. Regardless of the reason last night was an eye opener for me to rethink strategically how I am going to conquer HIV in this gay Mecca.


One of the most appealing attractions of NYC is the various communities and neighborhoods and the diversity of its occupants. There is something for everyone here. NYC is a safe haven for the gay community- the boy who grew up isolated in rural America simply because he was different knew one day he could run away to this city where he’d feel safe. Take note that it must never be forgotten that this city once oppressed those that were ‘different’ and all the tears, blood and shouts that were shed to fight the corruption. I thank those men and women for bringing me one step closer to showing the world it is okay for two people of the same sex to hold hands down Eighth Avenue.

With that said, as I sipped my cocktail and listened to the DJ blasting the latest dance tunes I asked the gay community in NYC as a whole, “What happened to us as a community? When did it become okay for us to be complacent?”

Let me give you a few quick examples of last night. We went to one bar in Chelsea filled with clicks and attitudes where majority of the patrons were dressed in tank tops and sweat shorts. Is this night life or did I make a wrong turn and enter the gym? Learn proper dress attire for the evening, I say. I had enough and headed to the West Village for some good old fashioned karaoke, and coincidentally, one of the few places that have the proper ingredients for an Old Fashioned cocktail. The clientele median age was 22 or so. The MC played the hit disco song, “I Love the Nightlife,” by Alicia Bridges. Unfortunately, my friends and I were of the handful of people in the bar singing along as the rest of the patrons had no idea what the song was. Taking note, the MC made a comment to the audience that maybe he should play some “Salt and Pepa” tunes to bring the kids up to speed. I swear on my life someone shouted out, “Who?” Come on now, these were songs I listened to as a kid in my bedroom fearing I’d get beaten up in school for knowing all the lyrics. Sure, I’m not a Streisand fan, but I still recognize her as a gay icon for the generation before me- for men who needn’t dare admit they were in love with her putting their own lives in jeopardy. Do the youth not recognize that Lady GaGa and TV shows like ABC’s, “Modern Family” were not always in existence? Brush up on gay history like Stonewall and life before it, I say. And finally, the icing on the cake was when I told my friend, who is in his mid forties and came out of the closet at thirty, that I’m HIV positive. His immediate response was, “Oh no you have AIDS!” Learn the facts of HIV before spreading lies, I say.

I could continue with my tangent forever, but let me get to the point. Gay guys here seem to be all over the spectrum, with a sense of entitlement- and why- because we are gay? Sure, it’s great that couples here can go to Connecticut to get married and come back to Manhattan. But, does it not dawn on them that you can’t get married in your own state? Why aren’t these Chelsea queens and the youth giving back what was privileged to them? Everyone seems to make time for the gym and brunches and frivolous things like that. Then, why aren’t more voices fighting for gay marriage and educating themselves on the ADAP crisis- chances are they have a friend or two in this city living with HIV. We are a city of eight million people, and sometimes this community can seem so small.

As I contemplate about relocating to another city, like Philadelphia or Washington D.C., I am starting to wonder whether New York City needs someone like me to bring back that sense of urgency and radicalism that gave us the freedom to be gay here. I am proud to be a New Yorker, but now I must speak to you, New York, as a whole: You’ve got a lot of shaping up to do.

MY DISCLOSURE TO THE WORLD

Last week I posted a video on YOUTUBE that spoke about my brief history living with HIV. In addition, I offered my words of advice for newly diagnosed individuals and their loved ones. Overall feedback from viewers was all sorts of encouraging words thus allotting me the confidence to continue videotaping my fight against this illness.


Let me be clear before I continue with my blog entry. Disclosure is a constant debate. I considered all of the avenues of disclosing my status up until the minutes before recording. My opinion rests that it is solely up to the individual as to whether or not to disclose his or her status to loved ones and friends. This does not include sexual partners of which I feel deserve a right to know. The truth is there is no right or wrong answer as to when one should disclose. Once you tell one person the possibility arises that more people will know without your control. It’s understandable for people to want to wait until they are mentally ready to tell their secret.


I wasn’t open about my status in the beginning as I am now. At first only a handful of people knew about me. I halted my sexual encounters for a while to focus on myself. I thought I was safe that way. Consequently, this action left me in isolation. Days turned into weeks turned into months and I had a less than satisfactory support group. Something had to change before HIV and stress would take over sending me six feet under.


So- I came out of the closet for the second time in my life. No longer will I be hiding in the shadows just because society teaches me to fear HIV/AIDS. I plan to do my part to end the stigmas against this illness. It had shown that my courage has proven beneficial- all of my friends and family stand behind me and wish me all the luck and happiness life has to offer. My support group is larger than ever with nothing stopping me in the interim.


Don’t get me wrong- disclosing will have its up’s and down’s and there will be scary ventures ahead of me. But, if I don’t do my part to help make a difference then who will? I speak for my brothers and sisters who no longer have a voice. I speak for those who are not yet ready to disclose to others and most of all I speak for me, the most important person in my world.


For all those out there who are afraid to speak, refuse to speak, or want to speak louder- I offer you my hand in support and comfort, and will always be here to help you.

GOT STRESS? A STAYCATION IS THE CURE

While writing this blog I am listening to Sheryl Crow’s, “A Change (Would Do You Good).” I thought it was fitting and motivational and after reading this you may agree. Are you someone like myself where every time you take one step forward you somehow take three steps back? This seems to be an ongoing pattern in my life right now which is really getting old. The bills, the rent, medication reminders, work problems, doctors’ appointments, etc. There is only one simple solution- a “staycation” from my life. For the record, I hate combining two English words into one in my writing like “guesstimate,” but considering my vacation started today it seemed appropriate to go beyond my boundaries.

That’s right, after working a year and a few months at my crappy job I finally earned some paid vacation days. Sure, I could have gone somewhere exotic and rode an elephant somewhere in Asia or hike the rainforests of the Amazon. But unlike others, I am an individual who enjoys lounging at home over the excitement of losing luggage, sightseeing in one hundred degree weather and turbulent plane rides to foreign land. And to be honest, I barely have the finances right now for a day trip around Manhattan.

Things have been so crazy on my home front lately between sorting out medical bills, working situations, and friendships that it’s as if my life’s problems threw up on me all at once. God’s little test, I guess. But, being HIV positive I have to remember stressing about all the little variables in life will only do more damage to my health in the long run. So, I have learned to brush things off and not get myself sick over frivolous things. For example, I tell myself, “This bill is all messed up and the phone operator can’t fix it at the given time? No big deal.” As long as I don’t build this thought up into stress it will be okay. As a writer my best friend is a notepad- I carry one everywhere I go. I just leave myself a note and put it on my “to-do” list. So what if that list is growing? It’ll get done.

For the next twelve days I will be in my apartment. If I’m not there then I am at the gym doing my laps and lifting free-weights. If I’m not at the gym or my apartment then I am somewhere where I don’t want to be reached. This will be MY TIME where I can work on the novel I have been writing for quite some time now. My only life reminder that I will have with me is my medication, of course. Yes, a vacation for me is a vacation from everything. Peace a quiet.
Listen for me on the POZIAM radio show this month! I’d love to hear your comments about my blog.    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/poziam/2010/08/09/christopher-myron--poziam-blogger

DAYS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UNAVOIDABLE

In a previous blog I wrote about how I wake up every morning with a smile. Well, just like anyone that has a functioning pulse can say that even those in great spirits have days where they don’t want to get out of bed. There are numerous variables that put me in this category- stress buildup, waking up alone, going to a job where I ‘m hated, the reminder that I am living with HIV, to name a few. I pat myself on the back for being able to move on with my life so quickly since my diagnosis, but I have to admit that some days are easier than others. I guess the “waking up alone” part can get to me because it must be nice to come home after a hard day and get your feet rubbed and have someone to relieve your stress with.


Listen to what happened to me this past week. I received a call from the New York City Department of Health (DOH) requesting I come in to be tested for HIV as they feel I “may have” been exposed to the virus. As I commend the gentleman (my past partner whoever it may be) for being socially responsible and listing his past partners that may be in danger I question the DOH. I explained to them that testing is no longer necessary for me and that all of my STD tests are up to date from the current month through my primary care doctor and I haven’t been with anyone in months. Yet, they still wanted me to come in for an HIV test. What the…? Two days later I received a letter in the mail and what was flabbergasting about the whole ordeal was that the clinic that was harassing me to come in was the same clinic that diagnosed me Positive back in January of this year! WHAT THE…? Finally, three missed calls today from the clinic. Gosh, leave me alone!


I guess I shouldn’t complain. I’ve mentioned before if there was anything I could change about my DAY ONE episode it would have been my experience with this clinic- and this incident further proves my point. I should be happy that I am healthy and that it could be much worse. But, lately as I thought I finally began to get a grip on my new life I have constant reminders interrupting my daily activities. As if pill popping and disclosure wasn’t enough of a reminder. When is enough, enough? When is it considerably okay for me to jump into a pool, go under water and scream at the top of my lungs without someone saying, “It could be much worse, Christopher.” When is it acceptable to be selfish for just a few moments?


When I let out that scream, I feel better for the time being. I tell myself that the medical bills will be paid, I’ll save money soon, I’ll start dating soon, and my life will find purpose-soon. These are the thoughts I say to myself and then life and my smile continues. I begin to think of all the positives in my life- no pun intended. I have a loving and supportive family, I have a full time (yet terrible) job, and luckily I have medical insurance for the time being, and most importantly, I’m alive.


The best feeling in the world for me is sitting on a beach with the palm trees swaying in the wind and hearing the ocean’s flow. That’s the beauty of mother nature- absolute silence and serenity. Boy, do I miss my palm trees.


Thank you readers for letting me vent. I feel better now.

MY FAMILY’S REACTION TO THE NEWS

As promised, I’m going to talk this week about how my parents took the news about my HIV status. It’s a short and to-the-point blog. Let me tell you that I thought I planned every possible scenario out in my head prior and was certain that I had a pretty good idea as to the outcome of my parent’s reaction to the news. If you read last week’s blog I give a fairly good description of what my predictions were. However, NOTHING prepared me for the actual results.

I sat my mother and father in my old bedroom and just flat out said, “You two need to know that as of January I found out that I am HIV positive.” Then, there was a long a pause, and god strike me dead if I ever forget what my mother said after that- take note of the paraphrasing. “To be honest I’m not surprised considering your life of promiscuity.” Talk about being thrown off and being far from the truth. Was I back in church? Where did that come from? She later apologized for that remark, but moms sure know how to throw your train of thought off. Once that blow was settled my parents heard me out and pretty much asked all the right questions. I told them it wasn’t important “how” I got it, but that it’s not going away and we are all in this together. There was no screaming, no unbearable silence, no tears. They showed concern and just wanted to make sure I was being taken care of medically and mentally. Long story short, they were completely supportive of me, just like a family should be.

Even though I told her it wasn’t necessary, my mother plans to buy me a medic alert necklace that says the medications I am on should I ever end up unconscious- but that’s a mother for you. I assured her that there is nothing to worry about with me as my health is excellent and I haven’t missed a dose or doctors visit to date. I told her my recent involvement with wanting to help with ADAP- for another blog. That brought on the tears and my mother saying how proud she’s always been of me and that never had to worry about me.

If you recall, my father’s reaction was what I worried about more due to his past relationship with his family and HIV and coming to terms with my gay life. He was quiet, as usual, but after a few minutes he joined in on the question asking and showed his support for me. We shared beers later the next day and just talked about his diabetes and my HIV. What I’ve learned about disclosure is that each and every time I plan to tell someone I have HIV, whether or not I agree with it I have to cater it to the way they will handle the news. Sounds obvious? Not really- it only took me a few tries to get it right.

In closing, now that I told my parents my status there is no one I need to hide this from anymore. No one.

IT’S TIME TO TELL THE PARENTS

If you are an individual like I was who exhausted all the pros and cons as to whether or not to tell mommy and daddy that you have HIV, then this blog’s for you.


For me, if there is an even greater obstacle than dealing with my HIV status it would be telling the two people I trust the most in my life- my parents. I never actually said that out loud that I trust my mother and father the most in my life, but when it comes right down to it it’s the truth. I am very fortunate to have been adopted into a healthy, yet occasionally dysfunctional, household. My father was a hardworking provider who made a manageable income for my stay-at-home mother of three kids to prepare food for the dinner table. As my teen years arrived I learned to resent them just like any other adolescent would do. However, at the end of the day they are the two people I can always count on- no matter how many headaches my mother gave- and still gives me.

At first I convinced myself that NOT telling them was the right thing to do- that they have their own problems and I don’t want them to ever worry about their middle child. But as I spoke with my mother on the phone a few times knowing I was hiding this secret from her it began to dawn on me. What if something happened to me and I was unresponsive? Shall I leave it to a disconnected physician that their pride and joy was HIV positive? I can hear my mother already asking herself, “Why did he hide this from us? I could have helped him!” Would my parents think that they failed as parents because I was afraid to come to them with anything I had to tell them?

Let me give you a quick background of my old school Greek mother and Irish father. My mother is crazy- mostly in a good way, but sometimes in an eccentric way. I have a pretty good idea as to how she will handle the news. She will cry, be scared and worry about me. I say, LET HER- she’s a mother and she’s entitled to that. In time, she will realize that there is nothing to worry about. It’s my father who I am more concerned about. He is a very quiet, keeps to himself personality type of person who at the same time would bend over backwards for the people in his life. He doesn’t say much, but when he talks you listen. He had (and still has) a hard time with the fact that his middle son is gay. His brother, and best friend, was a gay man who died of AIDS in 1988. He’s supported my decision to go to college, to move to Florida-then back to New York, to pay for my DWI charges myself, to name a few decisions I’ve made over the years. But, for the first time in my life I have no idea how my father will react to this type of news. When I say, “I am HIV positive,” it will be 1988 all over again. How do I ensure him that everything will be all right and that there is nothing to worry about? I can send him all the internet sites and buy him books on HIV in 2010, but it may not make a difference- who knows. It will take a long time, but they will accept it and be supportive of me.

Parents are smart creatures. They know when something is wrong with their kin. When I asked my mother for my birthday for a watch that has an alarm on it her first response was, “are you on medications that I should know about?” Now that I think about it that was when I started contemplating telling the folks about me. When I was sick for two weeks (the first sign of HIV) my mother and father were right beside me in the ER and at home taking care of me. Maybe they already know.

I want to add that that I am eternally grateful for my parents teaching me what responsibility is. I have been working since I was ten, paid for everything from my first car to college all on my own and learning what it takes to be an adult. When the sun sets I know they will appreciate that I told them this news. This may make us a closer family when push comes to shove. I am not na├»ve. I am aware that many of you will disagree and feel that your family should not know about your HIV status. Many of you are living without family and I wish that wasn’t the case. All I can say is that you are neither right nor wrong in your decision. Everyone’s family history is different and for some it may not be the right time to tell them. For my family it is important that they know that I am here, I’m alive, and will be around for a long, long time.

Tune in to next week’s blog and I will let you know how it turned out!

PRIDE: DOES IT HOLD NEW MEANING?

The year was 1969- a year that’s forever frozen in LGBT history worldwide. The location was Greenwich Village, New York City. It was a hot summer night in June when we came out of the “closets” and stood against the corruption of the police and said we were not going to hide anymore. Windows were smashed, trash cans were burned, people were beaten and arrested, but that didn’t stop the now called “pioneers” of our community from getting their voices heard. These radical days mark a time period when anger and frustration lead us one step closer to our freedom- the freedom to be who we are today.


It’s a shame that I was not around at that time, but I am fortunate enough to know some of the gentlemen who were front and center of the Stonewall Riots. To hear them speak so passionately of their eye witness accounts today is such a treasure for me because I know if I was there I would be right beside them. It’s been forty years since the first Gay PRIDE Parade was held and I had wondered if my generation has become complacent and forgotten what so many of our brothers and sisters before us had to go through to allow us to parade around city streets in flashy rainbow colors and Speedos? Even more so, with my generation practicing riskier behaviors and taking HIV less seriously because of their “treatable-with-one-pill-a-day” attitudes, have we lost all context of the word PRIDE?

I’ll admit when I was in my early twenties I used PRIDE as an excuse to party all day and to socialize. Back then, I was still getting comfortable with the idea that I was a gay male. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to hold a guy’s hand in public without hesitation. Then, as PRIDE’s have come and gone my own personal attitude of the holiday became stale to say the least- until this year’s PRIDE. This year was the first time I was going to celebrate the events being HIV positive. I worried for days prior as to whether I can truly have a good time or was my focus was going to be on my HIV status? Can I remember that I am still a gay man who would one day hope to see a world where we are treated as equals?

There was only one way to find out. That Sunday afternoon I got my PRIDE outfit together, which consisted of nothing more than a white beater, suspenders, and cut up denim shorts, and headed downtown to the Village to meet up with friends and watch Manhattan’s 2010 PRIDE parade. For those not familiar, this particular parade lasts for several hours. I took many pictures of various floats and spoke with many individuals all of which share different ideas of PRIDE. Many of the marchers held political signs explaining current corruptions of government’s treatment of the LGBT community. However, I couldn’t help but notice that there were just as many signs that pertained to the HIV and AIDS community. These leaders were creating awareness to all on the importance of issues regarding healthcare, prevention, HIV and Congress, etcetera. A couple of cocktails and introductions later it dawned on me that I was having a great time! I quickly realized that my definition of PRIDE has not changed because I have HIV. If anything, it has enhanced its’ validity and I felt welcomed again in my own world- a world that is no longer suitable for 1969, but for the present day LGBT community.

I am still new to the HIV community, relatively speaking, but PRIDE has reminded me of my passion for wanting to make a difference in both equality as well as the treatment of this chronic illness. I want the world to know that I am an openly gay male who is NOT a second class citizen. I want the world to know that I have HIV and there is no reason to fear me. I want the world to know that Washington’s plan to cut healthcare budgets for government programs (such as ADAP) is unacceptable and I refuse to have my voice go unheard. I want to the world to know that I plan to educate the generations to come how to take care of themselves and live healthy lives. But most of all, I want the world to know that I’m here.

The Stonewall Riots is a reminder that even though we celebrate forty years of being openly gay that there are still battles to be fought in 2010. With the help of my generation it is time for me to give back what was privileged to us back in 1969- the freedom to be ourselves no matter who we are.