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Revolving Door

Aug29

HIV is an apt teacher

Monday, 29 August 2016 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // Social Media, African, Caribbean and Black, Gay Men, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Revolving Door, Guest Authors

From Toronto, guest author Colin Johnson on some of the life lessons his HIV journey has taught him

HIV is an apt teacher

It was on April 20th 1984, at 3:24 pm in Toronto, Ontario at my regular check up that my family doctor (a friend of my father’s) informed me that I had tested positive for HIV and that he could no longer be my physician. 

I was aware of the horror stories in the media emanating from the US: pictures of young men wasting away from unpronounceable cancers, skin disorders, brain diseases and dying, many alone, having been disowned by their families. Many families were finding out for the first time that their sons were gay.

What made matters worse for me was that I was Black, homosexual and Jamaican. I knew that I would receive no support from the African, Caribbean and Black community. In fact the only statement by our community leaders and pastors was that AIDS was God’s punishment for our homosexual acts.

I cursed, not in any specific order, the Gods, fate and the person who infected me for placing me in this predicament. According to the medical “experts” I had at most three years to live so like so many diagnosed in the early eighties I quit my job and cashed in my pension.

My aim? To live the rest of my life to the fullest.

Some weeks later in a bar in downtown Toronto I blubbered to a friend what I’d discovered. He too was poz. There were no medications, no AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs). We became each others' support; self-care became our motto. Eating right, taking vitamins, cod liver oil, partying less, sleeping but self-medicating, coke being my drug of choice.

"I knew that I would receive no support from the African, Caribbean and Black community. In fact, the only statement by our community leaders and pastors was that AIDS was God’s punishment for our homosexual acts."

I finally informed my father about my condition. To my shock, his being old-school Jamaican, his only question was “How can we help?” I’m not going to lie, I broke down and cried.

Hearing of AZT in the US my parents arranged for me to get it. I was lucky in that unlike many others I didn’t have to wear layers of clothing to cover up weight loss or make up for skin conditions. But I’m sure I put the Colgate kids through university with all the toothpaste I was using, my attempt to delay “thrush”.

With friends and acquaintances dying all around me I became an activist, fighting for access to HIV drugs. I guess it was my “screw you” to the universe when I turned to crime. I got caught and spent time as a guest of Her Majesty the Queen.

New medications came along and then a new doctor started volunteering with ASO’s. That brings me to present day. I’m not saying life’s perfect, far from it. I have good days and bad and I have to see the “vampires” every 3 months. Unlike many, instead of taking fewer pills I take more but I’m ALIVE thirty-three years later. Something I never thought would happen.

I’ve come to understand that depression and erectile dysfunction are part of my life but that keeping a positive attitude is the golden rule.

Lessons learned: I have a new community, making friends is still difficult having lost all my posse over the years. Take my meds and if possible keep at least one month’s supply in reserve because you never know what will happen. Keep aware of innovations with medication and research. Be honest with your medical providers but remember it’s your body, your life. If you’re not comfortable with a medication/suggestion, ask for a second opinion. It’s your right.

HIV is part of my life, I’ve been poz longer than I wasn’t but it doesn’t define me. Try not to be judgmental, HIV doesn’t discriminate. Share your lived experience but don’t preach. HIV has become my frenemy but it’s made me understand myself better, my priorities are better defined. Most importantly I‘ve learned that you should seek assistance when needed because we’re not alone. My greatest support comes from my sister to whom I’m eternally grateful.

About the author: Born in Jamaica in 1958. Emigrated to Canada in 1972.  Advocate for gay rights from 70’s. Has held various positions with provincial, municipal and federal governments in Canada. Diagnosed HIV+ in 1984, recommitted to battling HIV discrimination and stigma.

Has volunteered with various AIDS Service Oranizationss in Toronto; presently attached to Fife House as facilitator for volunteer training and Peer KTE officer. Also facilitates at the OHSUTP (Ontario HIV and Substance Use Program). 

He continues to advocate for human rights especially where it impacts Black and gay issues. He sits on the GIPA/MIPA committees of BlackCAP and Fife House as well as the OAN (Ontario AIDS Network) Board of Directors. 

Bibliophile and lover of TV, movies and film especially action and Sci-fi.

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