Have you ever surprised yourself at the words that come out of your mouth? It’s all well and good if you were talking to yourself but if you have an audience listening, you either back up what you are saying or let the words fall into the room and let others shade you in their perception. Perceptions carry a strong influence in the mind of the listener.
There are many lenses people wear when looking in on someone. If it’s a family member, that usually comes with the familiar; expectations they may have of you based on belief, gender, political alliance and generational pull. You carry the genes… so represent!
I was caught up in keeping status quo as a kid. I knew that all of my thoughts and feelings around my sexual identity would be devastating to my family as it went against their core religious beliefs. It was surreal, and a little unreal, to work so hard to keep things under wrap.
At the time, I thought it was worth the effort because I loved my Mom and Dad and did not want to hurt them. When I look back, my silence meant I was caught up in what I’m not in order to keep the family boat afloat. In spite of my clever navigational skills, it became all too apparent that to avoid my own personal shipwreck, I had to bring it all out in the open and deal with the potential fallout However, that brave declaration silenced me in other ways.
My daughter once asked me, “Dad, why doesn’t anyone ask about Dave (my partner at the time) at the dinner table when we go to your Aunt’s house?” Don’t get me wrong, there were times I spoke loud and clear but dinners seemed to digest better when I didn’t stir things up.
My friends over the years have observed the details and intricacies around my personal choices, one at a time in concurrent succession, knowing the outcome would have positive or negative impact on me, and possibly those closest to me. There were hours of coffee chat working out the crap that life can fling or finding the support needed to carry on. If my family couldn’t acknowledge the whole picture, it was a welcome relief to let down my guard and spill the beans to a friend. I somehow allowed a little more transparency with my trusted pals.
Then there are my peers; those like-minded emotional or intellectual equals travelling a similar path. It’s within this group that misunderstandings and false perceptions run rampant and often amuck. Assumptions carry a lot of weight. Expectations are high and alliances are formed, sometimes far too quickly. It all stems from a need to belong to a greater population, a community, a family you never had, a place to be accepted and applauded.
When I contracted HIV, my family were there for me as well as my friends but I craved to meet someone HIV-positive. In my circle of friends, there was no one like that…anyone I knew like me. So I surrounded myself with the same, and came to the realization that often the only similarity between many of us was the virus itself, and not much else. And that’s okay.
"The realization that you are more than the virus is a powerful tool to add to your HIV resiliency kit."
I have spoken to other poz folk who changed their world by telling their story, volunteering at an ASO, joining a committee, etc. A lot of positive rewards came from such experiences. However, it is possible to wake up one day and realize you are lost or hidden behind the veneer of political alliance, the pursuit of status within the HIV community (that seems such an odd statement as I write but true none the less), or the identity stolen as HIV takes center stage.
What I “am” is not HIV positive. That would mean, to me, a sole identity. I have HIV, a pesky virus, but I am not the virus. Seems like an exercise in semantics, doesn’t it? Hear me out. No one possessing a cancer cell introduces themselves to others saying “I am cancer”. It would be questioned. What I am has nothing to do with HIV. My social introduction may spill out of my mouth in these chosen words, “Hi, I am Don. I have HIV”. A simple greeting but carefully crafted so others don’t get caught up in what I’m not. I have “it” but “it” doesn’t have me.
The realization that you are more than the virus is a powerful tool to add to your HIV resiliency kit. It’s one of those “aha” moments that cannot be forced or dated on your calendar ahead of time. It happens when it happens.
Don’t get me wrong. I have learned much since my diagnosis. It has challenged me to the core and rewired most of my relationships. It has impacted my health, my income, and my beliefs but has also centered me, forcing me to look into my interior. My cohabitant deserves some credit for that. When seroconversion began during the winter months of 2005, my body alerted me that all was not well and the days and years that followed, were focused on managing my health crisis.
Today, ten years later, as life keeps me in transit, it’s been good to reflect over my experience and observe that guy who was all caught up in what he was not. Even now, I need to be reminded that I can be that guy at any time, like a default button that resets. It’s not where I want to go or intend to go.
Today, I am caught up in so much more.