It was January 2008 when I went to boot camp at Parris Island, SC. to join the United States Marine Corps. I went in knowing I was gay and was proud of it.
On February 23, 2010 I was diagnosed with HIV. It was a life changer for me. I didn’t know where to turn or who to go to. This is the story of what happened to me when being a gay Marine, I was diagnosed with HIV.
I was on pre-deployment leave for a total of two days when my LtCol called me personally on my cell phone. To say the least I was a bit surprised because here I am an LCpl (E-3) getting a phone call from my Co. (commanding officer). I was told he was flying me back to San Diego the very next day due to “legal” matters.
I kind of had an idea at the time but I was not willing to admit it to myself. I never thought that something like this could happen to me. I was scared that this was going to be the last time I saw my family before my first deployment and I only had the chance to spend two days with them.
I arrived in San Diego on February 23, 2010 and was picked up by the DNCO (duty noncommissioned officer) at the airport. I was taken directly to the Squadron where I meet with my Co. I was then informed that during my pre-deployment blood screening my results came back to show that I had contracted HIV.
I was mortified and no words can explain what I was feeling at the time. I wanted to ask God what I had done to deserve this and “why me”. I had always told myself since I realized I was gay at the age of 14 that nothing like this would ever happen to me and if it did then I would end it. At the time I was so confused and hurt that I really wanted to end it, I wanted to take my life and put this all in God’s hands.
To make matters worse, when I was told I was taken directly to the hospital to see an Infectious Disease Doctor even before the news had time to sink in. That was all fine and well once I talked to my new doctor, but then I was taken back to base. I was left in my barracks room for a solid week alone, no one to talk to, no support group, and not knowing where to turn.
I was alone in life for the first time I could ever remember. I was scared to tell my parents what was really going on because I didn’t want them to hate me or more yet be scared of me. I shut myself off from the world. I started to drink every night to try and numb the pain that I was feeling inside.
For a week I was my only company, just me and my thoughts to help pass the time. I had nowhere to turn and nowhere to run. On top of it all I was beating myself up because here I was a gay man at the age of 24 trying to live in a straight man’s world and act like I was no different than anyone else who joined the Marine Corps. I have learned now I am not different than anyone else, I am serving my country and doing what I feel like I need to do to better my life and that of my fellow countrymen.
After my first week I started what they call Initial Evaluations at NMCSD (Naval Medical Center San Diego). It was a two week process where I went through classes with other Marines and Sailors who were in the same situation as I was.
These classes were the world to me because they showed me that I am not alone. I was not the only gay man in the military to get HIV. I learned so much through these classes and made a lot of good friends who are even there for me today. I learned everything from living with HIV to the different medication. I learned that this was not the end and that I could live a full life with having HIV. So here I am a gay Marine with HIV.
After my two weeks were up at the hospital I was put on two weeks of convalescence leave to give me time to adjust to my new diagnosis. I spent those two weeks with a guy in the Navy I had met during my second week of classes. He was there for his yearly evaluations. He and I started dating and sooner than expected I was living with him. Things moved way too fast and I think back and I believe part of it had to do with I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I was still scared.
After my two weeks of leave were up I did not return to work. I told the hospital that I had and I told work I was still at the hospital. I was scared. I didn’t want to go back. I was scared people were going to find out and judge me. It is hard enough being gay in the Marines but having HIV made it even harder to keep my personal life my own.
I went UA (unauthorized absence) for two months. It is not something I am proud of but I just couldn’t bring myself to face the people that I had worked with. Like I said I was scared.
I finally went back to work and confessed what I had done. It was another hard time for me and one I am not proud of. I was a total mess and didn’t know again what to do. That day that I went back to work and told them of what I had done they took me back NMCSD and I was placed in the psychiatric ward. In all I was in the ward for three months because I was scared to face the world and scared to face the fact that I was gay and had HIV.
I finally got discharged when I was ready and have been picking my life up ever since. I have done things I am not proud of but I truly believe that I am a better person due to the things I have learned.
I was medically retired from the Marines in 2011 and have moved back to North Carolina, where I am currently enrolled in school and pursuing a degree in Information Security Technology.
I started writing a blog about my situation soon after I was diagnosed and have been doing updates on it regularly in hopes to not only tell my story but to show others they are not alone.
This article was previously published in Brian’s own blog AMarineandHIV.com here.
Follow Brian on twitter at @USMCDevll here.
Read Brian’s TheBody.com blog here.