'Cause the night is warm and all full of stars
There's a wise woman, she's moved right into my heart
She says: Look for the signs, you won't have to look far
Lead with your spirit
And follow, follow, follow your scar
You're only as sick as your secrets.
Today is my 42nd birthday -- as good a time as any to publicly reveal what many people in my life already know:
I have been living with HIV since 2004.
Let's get the basics out of the way: I am completely and utterly healthy. For the last eight years, I've taken one tablet of Atripla every night. Every six months, I go to the doctor and get my blood tested to make sure that the drug is still doing what it's supposed to do, which is to keep my viral load undetectable and my T-cells in normal range. So far so good. I suffer no side effects of any kind (except for some wild dreams in the first few months), and my doctor tells me I can expect to live as long as anyone else I know.
My immediately family knows -- and has known since the beginning -- about my status, as do my closest friends. The guys I've dated know, my boss knows and a few people in the comedy world know. And they've all been wonderfully supportive, by the way.
So why tell the whole world now? Because it's time. It's long past-due, actually. I'm not ashamed of being positive, so there's no reason to live as though I am. If I had diabetes or lupus or any other chronic, manageable illness, I'd have shared it with the world by now. What's kept me from doing so is fear; fear that I'd shame my family in some way; fear that I'd suffer discrimination; fear that people would fear me.
And then it occurred to me: Those were the exact same reasons I didn't want to come out as a gay man 22 years ago. But I did it anyway. Because it was the truth, and I didn't want to live in the closet anymore.
HIV can be another kind of closet. Even within the gay community, poz guys are often shunned. I cannot tell you how many times I've had a guy ask me whether I was "clean." That word is used to mean "negative," but I'm always tempted to answer, "Yes, I showered today. I'm very clean."
If you ever want to gauge the level of hysteria among gay men over this all-too-common medical condition, read the comments on the Queerty blog below any story about a person with HIV. Actual sample comment: "I know you can’t get infected through kissing and hugging. I just don’t care to hug such people. I don’t really care to be within 10 feet of those people. I like my secluded island just fine, thanks."
And these are GAY commenters!
Rest assured, there are also countless negative gay men I've met (and dated) for whom HIV is not even an issue. You tell them, they thank you for your honesty, and the date continues. Regardless, it's always scary to bring it up the first time.
As for straight people, in my experience, they are actually more compassionate toward people who are HIV positive, probably because they're not afraid they're going to catch it from us via sex. But they also tend to regard us as terribly ill... as if they need to start saying their goodbyes now.
I don't mean to be flip. The AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s was a holocaust that brought untold suffering and death upon countless gay men (and not a few straight people, too). HIV is a serious, chronic, potentially life-threatening condition. And people still get AIDS, and they still die, especially in parts of the developing world.
But the reality is, most HIV-positive people fortunate enough to have access to modern meds are living full, healthy lives. We're not sick, we're not dying, and we're not going away anytime soon. (Don't believe me? Read this.) And you'd never know we were poz if we didn't tell you.
So again: Why tell you? Because again: It's the truth. And in my experience, truth is power. I owe that to myself.
Also, as a quasi-public figure, I owe it to others, especially those struggling with their own HIV status. I have been inspired over the years by the incredible bravery of Andy Bell, Jack Mackenroth, Andrew Sullivan, Dan Horrigan, Mondo Guerra and anyone else in the public eye who has come forward and told the truth about living with HIV. These are our healthy HIV pioneers -- like the Stonewall drag queens who stood up and declared that they would no longer suffer shame and stigma. I've wanted to show that kind of courage for the past nine years. But I couldn't. I was too afraid.
That ends today. As of today, everybody knows. Some people may be shocked. Some may worry about me. Some may even fear me. I can't manage other people's reactions, nor do I want to. All I can do is tell you the truth: That I am a happy, healthy, 42-year-old man living with HIV.
Not having to keep that a secret anymore is the greatest gift I could give myself.
Happy birthday to me.