I have stacks of incomplete diaries, stemming back to as early as my senior year in high school. I came in and out of times when journaling was helpful, giving me shattered glimpses into periods of my life. There is more of a lifetime left off the page as on, but reading my journals from time to time gives me insight into who I am today.
During this most recent round of re-reading, I was reminded of some friends who were in my life when I was an exchange student to Luxemburg, in between my senior year in high school and heading off to university. This was my gap year, as the Brits say. It was the time in my life when I was coming out of the closet for the first time. In my diary, I was keeping count of how many people knew “my secret.” At one point, the count was at 7.
To think, there was a time in my life when being gay was a dark shadowy secret. As I read from the pages of this 17-year old version of myself, that time of my life was filled with unrequited love and passive-aggressive teasing with 17 year old male friends on whom I held deep crushes and over-attachments. Ah, youth and young love. Cue “Dancing on My Own” – Calum Scott’s cover version!
Reconnecting with my past
In my diaries, I kept lists of names of other exchange students who crossed my path that year. As I recall, there were 12 of us living that year in Luxemburg with AFS: 5 from the US and 7 from other countries. It would have been 1985-1986. One of the names I was reminded of was Eric J, a fellow American AFSer who was living I believe in Esch-sur-Alzette. I recall the specific city, correctly so at least in my own mind’s eye, because I had a small crush on Eric. He was one of many from that time. I was 17.
In reading my diary entries, the crush wasn’t just based on the physical beauty I saw. His personality touched me. I remember him being so well spoken & outgoing. I admired him. And most importantly, we were part of a cohort – a small group of humans going through a similar experience. For me, there has always been a special bond between each o f us and among all of us, even if said connections have withered on the dying branches of life.
I decided to look him up on Facebook. How 2020. Unlike other friends from a former time, I actually found an “Eric J” from the same hometown that I had in my notes. I do actually have is full name, including his middle name. I’m pretty sure it’s him, even though both our profile photos reflect a version of our current selves that didn’t immediately connect with the image of Eric I have in my head.
Of course, I friended him. Also very 2020. As of yet, I haven’t heard back from him, but I’m curious to reconnect. Reading his profile, it seems he is living in Paris. I am both excited and scared to re-engage with part of my past. I’m jealous and feeling vulnerable.
As I’ve been sitting with this experience over a couple days, my thoughts drifted to my Facebook profile, especially my cover photo. This is how I introduce myself to the world, so to speak.
I wear my HIV status on my sleeve, at least during this part of my life. At 52, I’ve been living with HIV for shy of 9 years, and have been undetectable for 8 years this month. I denied my status for many of those years. As with other periods of quiet or shadows during my life, those early years of being silently HIV+ are followed with boldness and courage as my emotional pendulum swings. For a time, my life centers around a part of my identity. Gay. Ex-Gay. Christian. Ex-Ex-Gay. Queer. Non-Christian. HIV+. Until the next swing.
At 52, I’m ok with those swings. I’ve grown to accept them as part of life.
Stigma is alive & well!
As I thought about my #CelebrateUU profile photo, I became aware of lingering shame and stigma of being HIV+.
“Is this really the first thing I want Eric to see about me?”
“Does this define me?”
“Am I too ‘out,’ too ‘vocal?'”
I self-psychoanalyze the part of my personality that feels a need to broadcast this part of my truth. And, I realize, that for now, Yes – No – Who gives a fuck!, are the answers to my own questions. Yes, I’m ok with it because I share a lot about lots of things, not just tan out bering HIv+.. No, it doesn’t define me – but I also don’t dismiss it. And, Who gives a fuck? I’m queer, I’m here – ALL of me! – deal with it.
Should I be ashamed of my status? No.
Am I ashamed of my status? On some level, yes.
I’m not trying to fix or change this, but simply sit with it for awhile.
This is my mud. I’m ok that the water has yet to settle.
I haven’t changed my profile photo. Yet.
In reviewing this, I realize that I go in for my routine blood draw this coming week. I’ll get the results 10 days later at the clinic as part of a routine in my life. It’s part of living with HIV and part of being in treatment – “in care” as we say in our circles. It’s part of living with a manageable, chronic disease.
I expect to again get a lab result of having an undetectable level of HIV in my body because I’m on regular anti-retroviral treatment – on ART as we also say in our circles With the upcoming lab results, I will celebrate #UU8 years of being undetectable, of having an undetectable viral load. As part of #CelebrateUU, I am celebrating #UequalsU as a message of sexual health, of HIV wellness & prevention. In doing so, I will take & post a selfie as I reach my #UU8 milestone.
Keep Telling the Story…