I received your email early this morning when I woke up, here, in Manhattan. I am not sure the time difference between Manhattan and Malaysia though I know that the two places are a Hell of a long way away from each other. In fact, right now, I am sure it is tomorrow in your part of the world, and the sun is just setting here, on the eastern edge of the United States.
First, I want to thank you for reaching out. Testing positive for HIV was the single loneliest and scariest moment of my life. I know what you mean when you say that there is all kinds of support in your area but you still feel alone, lonely, and as if you can't trust the folks providing support. I know that story very well. In fact, when I tested positive, for three years exactly three people in the entire world, besides my doctor and my boyfriend, knew about my HIV status: Jennifer, Russell, and Lonnie. In fact, my inability to deal with my HIV status led me to a dark place inside of myself. I stopped thinking of myself as worthy of being loved. I stopped believing that I deserved to be held and valued and supported. I no longer felt that I had the right to companionship, a relationship, or that I was good. I shut myself off from myself. I closed my spirit down and hid it away. I turned to drugs and sex and sex with drugs in order to feel, even for a moment, that I was indeed worthy, loved, desired. For a while it worked. For a while it kept me from myself and from the feelings that I had towards myself: the shame, the loathing, the disappointment, and the fear. It worked, until it stopped working.
And when it stopped working my life fell apart. The emptiness that I'd been holding inside had slowly and surely been growing, enlarging, and engulfing me quietly. It was hidden behind the drugs and behind the sex. And in one moment, in the Minneapolis Airport, when my guilt around my drug use and sex use had reached a point that it overwhelmed me, I called everyone in my cell phone and told them about my HIV status and the drugs. And then my mind broke just a little bit and I ran away inside of myself.
Despite the manner in which I told the people that love me about what I was going through, the fact that I told them saved my life. My shame and disappointment in myself had kept me away from the medecine that matters as much as any HAART treatment: the love of friends and family.
And they loved me through the times when I couldn't love myself. They held me accountable to the person that I wanted to be, and they stood in front of the mirror to keep the mirror from telling me lies about myself, lies that I had believed for too long. I made agreements with them that let me stay human but accountable. I could make mistakes. I could be less than perfect, but I had to be honest as best I could and when I couldn't be, I had to at least be honest about that. And, it worked. It worked. It hasn't always been easy, and there have been times I haven't been honest. Over a year ago, because of the situation and fear, I wasn't honest with someone when asked about my status, and it was heartbreaking to have to look at myself closely again and it was even harder work not taking on responsibility for his choices around sex while taking responsibility for mine. But, my friends loved me through that as well. And I wrote about it and talked about it openly and frankly in my blog and with the people I care about. And more healing came from that.
I know that I will continue to make mistakes and continue to be afraid from time to time, but the person that I am now is nothing like the person I was in 2005. What I know now is that sex is amazing (and I love having sex) but sex can be dangerous if it is used to try and fill a hole that can only be filled by learning to love yourself the right way. I learned that fear is terrifying but not facing my fears can lead me to places that can and will, eventually, take me out of this world. I learned that there will be times when people will reject me for my HIV status but that people who really love me never will. I learned that I deserve love and affection. I deserve to be desired. I deserve to have mind blowing sex. I derseve to live free from fear.
And guess what? So do you, my far far away brother.
I am not going to pretend that being queer and being positive is the same in New York as it is in Malaysia. I know next to nothing about what it means to be either of those things outside the borders of the United States. But I do know that even if you can start by telling one friend, if you can cry and start to let out the shame and fear, if you can step into one of those support group meetings even once, if you can turn the mirror around and refuse to listen to the lies it is ready to tell you, if you can be just a little bit brave, just for a little while, over time, you will find yourself full of joy. But you have to make that choice. Even if right now you don't believe the day will come when everything will be alright, you have to CHOOSE to fight and walk forward until that day is here. I promise you. I PROMISE YOU that it will come. You have to faith...in yourself...and, if you are a believer, in your God, but mostly you have to faith that you are loved and let those that love you help you through this time. Be smart. Be safe. Be brave. You have all the strength you need.
Brandon in Manhattan