I still remember the day that I found out like it was yesterday—July 13th 2015. One week before I turned 27. A time where I would normally be joyous and celebrating another year of life amongst friends and family, but I was not. I was sitting in a cold and dark doctors waiting room waiting to get the results of my Syphilis scare.
Sitting in the waiting room in rural Mint Hill, North Carolina was its own circle of hell. There was the sea of constant stares from people in the waiting room, as if they knew why this faggot was there. People in rural southern towns know everyone and chances are they never leave. In fact, the doctor whom I was seeing had been my family physician since I was ten.
Finally, the nurse calls me back and tells me to take a seat and wait for the doctor. When he finally enters the room, his normally happy and joyous demeanor has been replaced with obvious trepidation. We start to small talk about our families and life, then the room goes quiet.
“Roby, you tested positive for HIV”.
My world went cold and dark, just like waiting room I had been sitting in for the last fifteen minutes. The doctor continues to talk—I know he does, because I see his mouth moving, but I can’t hear any words. In that moment, I thought my life was over.
Over the next month I slowly start to disintegrate from the person I was, and become a quiet loner. The over-the-top, silly, and joyous human being all my friends and family knew and loved had disappeared. For the first time in my life, I hated myself.
Since I was a little queer boy in Charlotte, North Carolina, I knew I was different. I knew I was Gay and kids struggled to handle that. Growing up Gay in the south is one of the hardest things that a person can go through. I was called names, shoved into lockers, pushed down stairs, and had my fair share of bruises as a result of hits from bullies. Through all of this though, I NEVER hated myself. I hated them, not me.
August 2015 came and went in the blink of an eye. I spent the month away from people. Away from the bars where I loved to be, away from events and parties, and away from those closest to me. It ripped me apart. I didn’t want to be away from all of the things that I love and cherish so much, but I just couldn’t stand to see the sight of other people being happy, when I was dying on the inside. I knew what I had to do. I had to tell my friends and family what was wrong and let them help me the way that I have helped them so many times before.
The biggest question that kept popping up in my head was why? Why do I all of sudden have all of this hatred for myself? Where is this coming from?
It was because of the stigma that has been so programed into our heads as gay males. In the 1980’s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the majority of the heterosexual population shamed Gay males to no end. The hysteria drawn from the AIDS epidemic trickled its way to schools, where parents, students, and even teachers were spewing their hatred and disgust to children who had contracted the virus. The most famous one that comes to mind is Ryan White, if you don’t know who that is, brush up on your herstory and use that Google.
Fast-forward to twelve years later and the curriculum to “teach” students about HIV/AIDS is pretty just much preventative measures. You don’t learn about HIV or AIDS as the virus—you learn that its awful, it’s a death sentence, and absolutely don’t get it! After you leave that Sex Ed class on HIV/AIDS, you know that you never want it and anyone that has it is somehow less of a human being.
You would think that the LGBTQ community would be more understanding, and more accepting towards those that are infected with the virus, but sadly they aren’t. In gay world, if you aren’t white, male, masculine, in shape, cute, and negative, then you are somehow second class. You become the lowest of low, a second rate citizen in a community that is already full of social outcasts.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard catty gays at a bar saying things like “look out for that one he’s Poz” or “don’t make out with him you might catch it”. I was shocked to hear the ignorance coming out of the mouths of people whom I had had drinks with, people who I held in high respect for what they have done for the community, and most shocking were some of my peers.
I want to tell my friends why I am acting the way I am, but what if they start saying those things about me? What if I become the new “trashy gay” that everyone in Charlotte “slut shames” out of town?
I knew then that I had to have a second coming out. I had to come out as HIV positive and let my friends and family help me.
After many tear soaked dinners, coffee dates, and of course tacos, I finally made my way to everyone most important to me. I told each one of them that I was HIV positive and that I was in a dark place, that I needed their help and support…. And you know what? Every single one of them had my back and helped me out of this dark corner of my mind that I was in. Relationships can come and go, but friends are there for all of it—to help you pick up the pieces when it all comes crashing down or the ones on the front row when you finally land the man of your dreams.
I never really saw the need or desire to spread news of my diagnoses all over social media, or tell people I barely knew. I had and ALWAYS have an open dialogue between sexual partners and would be partners as well. I knew word would spread in Charlotte on its own. One of the Messy Jessies were bound to spill the beans on a Sunday Funday. When I moved to Atlanta, I met a boy on Scruff who would change my silence on social media….
After talking off and on for a few months, I decided to tell him that I was HIV positive. He instantly told me “I don’t do poz guys”. There was no recalling the last few months of getting to know me or the dinners and laughs we had shared together, just a quick and abrasive block. My world went cold again. Here was this crippling wall again, but this time I saw what the wall really was…..Stigma
When I finally posted my coming out story on Facebook, I was shocked to see the amount of my friends who messaged me to thank me for coming out, because they were too scared to do so. Over the past year, I have started to tell my story to more and more people so that they see me as a visible person. A person that is HIV positive and fighting with those that are not infected to erase the stigma that surrounds us every day.
I encourage everyone to keep talking about it, get tested, know your status, and educate not only yourself but those closest to you. And I beg you, if you hear ignorance come out of your friend’s mouths, fix it! Talk to them and educate them. As I’m typing this, there currently isn’t a cure, but one IS coming and our generation will be alive to see it.
It’s up to us to end the stigma that our parents’ generation left for us!