Hello. My name is Patrick Italo Johan Ettenes,
I was born in Barbados, of mixed heritage. My father is Dutch with Swiss decent, and my mother is Trinidadian of East Indian and Chinese origin. I am a bit of a melting pot but I like to think I am a pretty charismatic guy, fun loving, happy go lucky, full of life and energy although at times I can be a bit foolish. My vanity helps to keep me in check, alongside my quest to make a difference in this world.
That’s my background - but how did I get here?
As I am writing it’s approaching the 10th anniversary of the day I found out that I was HIV-positive. I was 21 when I found out from a partner who decided to tell me six months after the event. To my horror the day after he told me I woke up to find his side of the bed empty. It became clear to me then that this would be a path I would have to take alone.
Ten years on, I have now been given the opportunity to introduce myself to a whole new audience, so allow me tell you my story.
After being diagnosed with HIV I became a bit of a recluse. I left England where I had been living since I was 17 and returned to the island where I was born. Doing so I wrapped myself up in family and friends and went on my own personal search to understand what HIV is and how I was going to live with it. Could I live with it?
During this time I managed to travel around the world and see other cultures but I returned to England and moved to Manchester. Now this might not be the happiest place for me, but it has given me the opportunity to talk to you in this way.
I was ‘discovered’ online by my former editor who was doing a survey and asked me what I thought about gay men’s attitudes towards HIV. Being the outspoken person that I am, I had to let rip and share my views. I gave enough for them to offer me a two page article in a magazine aimed at the LGBT community in North West England.
But that was not enough for me. I realized that I had a voice, and my voice was something a lot of people seemed to find refreshing. My views seemed to strike a chord with people, even making sense which seemed strange as I had been trying to make sense of my situation for a long time. (II come from a psychological background and got a scholarship for psychology at the age of 15. I do tend to analyze things rather a lot.)
Within a month of writing my first article for Outnorthwest magazine I was asked to contribute a regular column to share my views on HIV and gay men’s health. I am not a writer but I have kept diaries and journals since I was five years old, quite an achievement for a dyslexic kid. Who knew that my thoughts would travel so far?
People tell me that I have an expressive way of writing. I guess this comes from pouring my heart out in my diaries and I treat my columns in the same way. I educated myself with seminars and lectures, I admitted to the NHS in England that I thought I was the only person to use their own sexual experiences with men to gather information, something that a regular academic survey would not. I ask a lot of questions. My knowledge is based on facts, observations, feedback from people I meet and my own feelings.
No-one wants to be told how to live their life with HIV. All we really want to know is that we are not alone and that the crazy thoughts that fill our heads aren’t really that crazy at all.
Hopefully, if I can keep your interest, you will learn that I have been through a lot and like many of us I am still going through a lot, but this keeps me alive. I have the ability to express myself, so even though you might not do the same things as me, you might relate to some of the things that I am going through.
It’s hard being gay, being HIV positive and growing up in your twenties with both those issues filling your mind but we can make life even harder for ourselves. What is the point of going through so many things in life and not sharing them with others?
One thing that HIV has done for me is that it has given me a voice. It made me realize that I had a passion, and a feeling that I have a responsibility to share my views so that other people don’t have to go through what I’ve gone through. You don’t have to go down a similar path to the one I took for a while which was one of self-destruction. You might not be able to change your HIV status but you can change your attitude to how you view yourself, and what you are going to do with the rest of your life.
I will never forget one young man who walked up to me in the street; he must have recognized me from my picture next to an article. This guy was really handsome so I was thrown for a while but he looked me straight in the eye and said “I don’t fancy you, but your article saved my life a month ago. I was diagnosed with HIV and I sat in the clinic and was plotting how to kill myself and your article was right there in front of me in the waiting room so I read it. So thank you." And then he walked off, I never saw him again.
Now you can’t get much better validation than that, can you? This is why I am so pleased to be writing for you. Now you know a little more about me, I would really like to get to know you too.
Some people call me a mixed race Carrie Bradshaw and I have heard this so often I’ve adopted the term.