“I was diagnosed as an elite controller.”
I got infected because of a one-night stand where I didn’t use protection with this guy.
I happened because I had just broken up with my boyfriend. There had been a lot of history with us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—for 12 years. There were a lot of ups and downs and uncertainty on my part about whether or not I could keep the relationship going, so I broke up with him in the summer, but I went back to him by Thanksgiving. The one-night stand happened in between, but I didn’t know that I had contracted HIV.
The symptoms didn’t appear until for a few years, and I was diagnosed as an elite controller. My body was keeping the viral load undetectable on its own accord. My physician told me that my levels would change and I wouldn’t remain an elite controller, so now I’m on medication. But at the time, when I went back to that monogamous relationship, I didn’t really put two and two together to realize that my partner could have contracted HIV from me. The only saving grace was that I was undetectable all those years. That’s the only reason that he didn’t get it, because I had been secretly undetectable.
–Joshua, African American Man
“I had no clue what was going on.”
I had an HIV scare before, and it was the strangest thing. I was just in my kitchen one day, and someone randomly called me. They wanted me to come down to the healthcare department, but they wouldn’t tell me anything about it.
I had no clue what was going on, but I went to the department, and I found out from a woman that my name had been given to her. Apparently, I had come in contact with someone who possibly had HIV. I asked who it was, but they said that was private information. I had to get tested three times, but I ended up not having it.
It was extremely scary. It felt like I was left in the dark about what was going on, especially in the moments leading up to finding out why I was even called in the first place. I was confused because for someone to easily give my phone number to the Department of Health like that so they can call me without any prior warning didn’t make sense to me. It could have been possible that the person didn’t even have sexual relations with me recently!
Because of that experience, PrEP is definitely something I want to go. Just in case. I don’t want to be in a situation where someone I’m with has HIV and doesn’t say anything or doesn’t know.
–Ben, Hispanic/African American Man
“I was in the dark about sex health.”
I actually wasn’t sexually active until I went abroad. That’s when I started exploring my sexuality and living out my truth. I got tested for the first time, the STI screenings and everything, when I came back to the states. I actually did the tests with my now ex-boyfriend just for the heck of it, because I was pretty much in the dark about sex health. Growing up in a Christian household will do that to you.
I got a phone call from my doctor’s nurse when I was on campus during the school year, and they said, “Oh, we got your results back.” I scheduled an appointment for Monday, and that’s when they told me I was HIV-positive, borderline AIDS. My ex-boyfriend was there to support me the day I found out. I spent the whole day with him just sulking and mourning. In hindsight, it was weird. I had been getting sick, so immediately the symptoms had hit me. I even had a rash that came up, but the thought of HIV wasn’t even on my radar.
Finding out I had the virus definitely made me more aware of people around me, how I deal with my health, and my own well-being. It’s also made me more selective of who I do have sex with. When I was diagnosed the fear was, “Oh my gosh, no one’s gonna love me and want to be with someone who is positive.” But now I’m fine being open to a partner asking questions. I’m feeling empowered to inform others who are part of the gay community, who are in the shadow and don’t know what HIV really is, what it does, how it can be contracted, or how it can be prevented. I use this platform now to inform others.
–Michael, African American Man
“My sister was panicking.”
One time my sister called me, and she was freaking out. Her ex-boyfriend forgot his phone with her, and on it she saw photos of him having sex with, in her words, “a transvestite prostitute.” She was panicking. “What do I do?” she asked me. “Am I going to get AIDS?” She had no clue what to do, so she visited some websites that guided her to a gay community center where she got tested and got some information. A lot of information geared towards men could be just as relevant for women as well.
–Kyle, Latino Man
“It had been years since I thought about HIV.”
Trigger warning: This story includes references to rape and abuse.
I had no information whatsoever about HIV. I’d heard about it, and I had friends who had died from it, but I had lived a life believing that I was not really infected with HIV.
I come from a background where I was raped by my partner. I always tried to escape from him, and when he saw me trying to escape from the back door, he raped me and disclosed himself as HIV-positive. For me, that was very scary. It was everything—a rape situation and HIV. I had nowhere to go, but I thought I could go to any clinic just to see what he said was true. The very next day I went to a small clinic. At that time, we didn’t have what we have now, so it was a long wait. I started hopping from place to place to get tested, and it wasn’t until I visited a clinic dedicated to gays that somebody noticed me there for the second time and said, “Can we have a conversation? What’s going on?” That was the first time that I was approached in one of these clinics, but I didn’t want to talk about it. I would have to explain to the person that I’d been raped, and I was embarrassed. I just felt awful.
It wasn’t until I went to the clinic with a friend that I got tested. My friend had just gone to a sex party, and somebody at the party had syphilis. He didn’t want to get tested alone, so I went with him. When we were in the waiting room, somebody came out and said, “By the way, we are also testing for HIV,” and my heart jumped. It had been years since I thought about HIV, but I still got tested. When I came back for my results two weeks later, the doctor just sat back, and said, “So, you have HIV. How do you feel?” And honestly, I felt good. I told him I was okay because I really didn’t feel sick. The doctor said, “Well, then you take good care of yourself young man” and that was it!
So I left and I thought, okay, this has to be a lie because I don’t feel bad. Two of my friends had died from full-blown AIDS, and I didn’t really connect HIV to AIDS. I just continued going to work as usual, and it wasn’t until 2011 that I really got sick and really got diagnosed. I think if that doctor had said, “Let’s do some more exams” or “Let’s talk about this” or “We have a counselor” or “We have somebody to talk to you;” especially if I had known somebody who had been living with HIV to tell me “Hey, you know what, I have also been living with HIV, and look at me,” that would have been helpful.
–David, Hispanic/African American Man