- HIV/AIDS is a treatable chronic disease in many respects, but is a death sentence just the same. To combat the virus, we must take highly toxic drugs which have side effects that can interfere with the quality of life. To date, I am fortunate that most of my complaints center on depression and lack of energy and a very unstable appetite. I can also say that my libido is as unpredictable as my temperament at times.
- The adherence to all safe sex practices is essential. When I hear younger guys infer that they are being "deprived" of sexual pleasure and "freedom" I realize that they have probably never stood at the bedside of a dying friend, nor had to live their lives in constant reliance on doctors and pharmacists and drug companies... not to mention the phlebotomists who draw blood in vampire-like fashion at times.
- On the plus side, HIV has given me a whole new perspective on my life. I long ago overcame the stigma of being gay. I am proud to be gay, and I am an activist in most of the ways I can. True friends have stood by me; the rest were not really friends in the first place. My family is stressed by my situation, but their love never wavers. My husband is the same dude he always was, but I feel incredibly closer to him now. I also see a side of the gay community which is not extremely pleasant. Some of our wealthier gay brothers and sisters are extremely intolerant and unsympathetic now because they are no longer losing their friends on a weekly basis as in the past. They also seem to assume that HIV is only contracted by derelicts and IV drug abusers or stupid and irresponsible gay people. They don't support AIDS-related charities as they once did, nor do they ever seem to acknowledge that it is still taking a toll in our own community.
- While I disagree totally with the abstinence only policies of the President, I also find it ironic that "barebacking" videos and promiscuous sex propaganda are so rampant today. I am also acutely aware that I probably will need some public assistance in the future to afford the cost of the drugs I am now taking. The average cost of HIV medications is over $35,000 a year!
- It is my hope that you will save this article and read it when you are tempted to practice unsafe sex. I also hope that you will realize that accidents do occur and that transmission, as in my case, can occur unconsciously and accidentally. Putting the stigma on other gay people with HIV is probably one of the worst ways we allow our damaged self-esteem and our insecure attitudes to destroy the lives of the people we should love and respect the most... others who are gay and fighting for our lives on all fronts!
Now, after two years, my t-cells are not the greatest but my viral load is undetectable. I have a regimen of medications to take, and I have only recently been told that I was indeed at death's door when I first came to the hospital.
RJ Kowalik is an openly-gay journalist and gay rights activist. Contact RJ Kowalik for permissions or other publishing opportunities.