Lester is 21 years old, and a student at a local university. He lives in an HDB flat with his parents and sister, and is HIV-positive.
I must have been around 18 years old when I got infected with HIV. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that there was a link between HIV and sex between men. As far as I knew, the media had only portrayed the link between HIV and heterosexual sex, the kind of sex men have with women. I didn’t know I could get HIV through gay sex.
I decided to go for an anonymous HIV test when someone suggested it to me while chatting online. He went with me, and it was an absolutely terrifying experience. I was afraid of being there, and hated the intense atmosphere. I also remember how everyone and everything there was very quiet. When I went back into the room for the counsellor to give me the result, he casually said that it was bad news – that I was HIV -positive. I understood what he said, but I thought he was just kidding. So I waited for him to tell me that it was a joke. He didn’t.
That’s when I started to feel really lost and confused, and very alone. It took me another half a year before I decided to go for a follow-up test at a hospital. What took me so long? I don’t know. Perhaps I was just avoiding the issue, and hoping it would go away. But it stayed somewhere at the back of my mind while I went on living my normal life.
Suicide crossed my mind again when I was 19 years old, and feeling lost and hopeless after losing a boyfriend. I wanted him to want me, so I threatened to end my life. I thought that perhaps it would trigger him to want me back, but it didn’t work. By then I had already decided that I wanted to escape from reality and from my less than perfect life.
I never wanted things to turn out like it did. I didn’t want my parents to know. I didn’t want to be HIV -positive, and I certainly didn’t want the life that I was leading.
* * *
Yes, I felt very hurt and betrayed by the guy who infected me with HIV. He decided to cut me out of his life when I called to inform him that I was positive. But I also decided I wasn’t angry with him at all. Someone else I met suggested a doctor whom I could see at the Communicable Disease Centre for a follow-up appointment to my HIV -test. I went alone, and was so afraid that I would be judged by the staff there. Thankfully the nurses were friendly, and the doctor was helpful. Because I was under 21 years old, I also had to get the medical social worker’s help with my bill, and they allowed me to continue as a subsidised patient. And so my life continued with school and routine check-ups.
* * *
I recall having sessions with my social worker, where she would insist that I had to tell my mum. I agreed with her that my mum was indeed very worried, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy thing for me to do, to tell my own mother that I was HIV-positive. I felt I needed time to tell her only when we were both ready.
I had to tell her eventually of course. We had been out one day, and were on our way home when I decided to tell her. I thought she handled it pretty well; she didn’t even cry in front of me. I felt really horrible about having to do that. I really love my mother, and didn’t want to hurt her. But I knew that having to tell her I am gay and HIV-positive really hurt her a lot. Both times it felt like I had no choice. Between the two, coming out as gay was easier. Coming out as HIV-positive was a lot harder. I knew it was going to hurt her even more, and I was right. It did.
It’s just as hard telling my friends that I’m positive, because although some of them know I’m gay, none of them knows anyone else who is HIV-positive. When someone doesn’t know anyone who is HIV -positive, they are less likely to have adequate information about HIV / AIDS. So I found myself having to educate them, explaining that it’s safe to hang out with me, that HIV can’t be transmitted through saliva or mosquitoes, and answering all the other strange questions they had. I’ve only told two of my close friends so far, and had to explain things twice, which wasn’t that bad.
I am slowly beginning to deal with my life as it is now. The difficult thing about being HIV-positive is the problems I face with relationships and sex. I feel this deep sense of responsibility about having to tell all my dates and partners about my HIV-status. Whenever I meet someone I really like, I would worry about how I am supposed to tell him, and hope that he would still stay with me and accept me for who I am, and let the relationship develop from that.
I also worry about medication, when to start, and how much it will cost me in the future. The regular check-ups at the CDC can also be tiring, mainly because of the travelling and waiting time. Being in a support group has helped me in some way, as it has given me a chance to meet other HIV-positive people, and learn about certain medications and ways they have coped with this illness. My hopes include having a male partner and getting a house together after I graduate from university. Perhaps we would like to get married, have children and be by each other’s side. Above that, my dream is also to be successful in my professional career, to be able to support my family and give my parents the quality of life they should have.
* * *
It may sound like another dream of mine, but maybe our world would be much better if everyone was accepted regardless of our sexual orientation or HIV-status. I’d like to see the stigma against HIV-positive people removed. It’s really not wrong to be gay or HIV-positive.
* * *
The above are excerpts from Lester’s full story, which can be read in the book.