Originally seen on TALKHILLCREST – contributing author Internationally known male model and HIV awareness activist C.L. Frederick
I used to think that gay men who acquired HIV got exactly what they deserved; that was until I myself tested positive. I knew very few openly positive gay men. Those that I was aware of were the social outcasts, the topic of gay gossip and innuendo, and the guys you were encouraged to stay away from in order to keep your social standing. To me, the few positive men I knew of didn’t seem like happy people. They seemed defeated, used up, and simply put – miserable. How could anyone possibly be happy and living with HIV? I was acutely aware that HIV positive men faced many stigmas socially, dating wise, in being sexually viable, and amongst their own families acceptance. Complete misery in my book of books. I did not want that life and I believed it would never be something I would ever have to deal with. In all honesty, I pitied positive men. My preconceived notions of the type of man living with HIV/Aids was rooted in social ignorance and was completely off base. After my diagnosis, I didn’t think I would ever be happy again or that I deserved happiness. I found myself at a great precipice and I did not know if I’d catch myself from falling.
Initially I felt a tremendous amount of shame. I had always told myself if I ever ended up positive that was it, I’d end this life. No way was I going to live with THAT stigma let alone a lifetime dealing with Human Immunodeficiency Virus. I assumed that the rest of my life would be marred with rejection, fear, and that I would never again have another man take an interest in me. Before I had never equated living well with being HIV positive, whether due to societal stereotypes or having a sparse group of positive men in my life. I had very few guys to relate to. I had found my rock bottom and it was the darkest reality I had ever faced.
The dark places my mind took me to during that time were frightening. There is something to be said about that kind of fear. The numbness in your brain and soul makes you feel like a zombie; alive, but not living in the present. It’s a feeling that takes root into your very being and is a bitch to shake. I had had a time similar to this after having gone through a rough patch a few years prior. I had the perfect storm of being someone in a small gay community that was discussed often, had been in and ended a hurricane of a relationship with a man who I cared about, but couldn’t let my guard down for, and the growing disdain in my being for the course my life was on. Realizing that I was not the marrying kind, but was the ‘fuckable’ kind was ever present in my mind. Monotony, harsh reality, and boredom had invaded my psyche. I had lost myself. I thought making it through that point in my life was to be the hardest encounter I would have in my life. It took every ounce of will within me to make it through and I never wanted to return to that feeling which owned me. But, here that feeling was again after diagnosis. This time an infinitely stronger feeling. I understood there was no cure, no pill or shot that would rid my body of this stigma riddled virus. This was a forever and ever reality; straight up no chaser. I didn’t have a soul to talk to about it or someone I could identify with to show me that I could live a blessed and relatively normal life being positive. I had no scaffold in place to show me that happiness in my life could still exist. I started to focus my thoughts on bringing myself out of the depression. I had no other choice, I didn’t want to give this life up. A saving grace was my mother. Without her I would be six feet under, having taken a cowards way out. My mom had a rough childhood. She came from a rough upbringing and turned into an incredible woman and mother as an adult. She still had struggles, residual emotional conflict as an adult stemming from her childhood. The reason I am still alive is because I could not be the one to destroy her. My love for her, my understanding of her kept me from wanting to find out if there was indeed an afterlife. I wanted to live and get stronger in order to save her from more hurt and pain. Even though I knew things would be rough I was not willing to return to the dark. I was going to fight, give a big fuck you to stigma, and use my experience to show others especially LGBTQ youth what a life living with HIV could be.
It’s been a year since finding out my positive status and I still struggle. I am beginning to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I changed my priorities and surrounded myself with family and good friends, not the mean girl gay acquaintances, but true and genuine friends who see past the peripheral and look directly into the core of the friends they love. The friends who support you no matter what a mess you might be on the inside. Soul-mate type friends. I try to focus on what is important in life and have gotten pretty good at weeding out the unnecessary or meaningless. I have hit several bumps along the road, but I continue to look forward. My endgame now involves my health, loving my family, having friends that only add to the quality of my life, my work, and centering my life around the things that make me happy. I learned that setbacks and rough patches are inevitable and normal. Happiness in any situation; whether it be because of a positive diagnosis, depression in general, or whatever setback you come across is possible. If I could give any advice that I hope would be heard is that help is available. Counseling, support groups and services are all available. The best place to look is with your local LGBTQ centers or free health clinics that cater to the LGBTQ communities. I feel counseling and support groups would have been a great help to me and this journey I have been on with regards to my status. Being emotionally and mentally healthy is the key to successfully dealing with HIV and the resources are out there. You don’t have to feel alone because you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of gay American men are living with HIV and we all deserve to be happy.