Getting HIV stories has proven out to be more difficult than I expected. I will keep publishing them as they arrive in my inbox. From what I can see, there are people out there with a will to talk but we don’t make them feel safe.
The next stories came to us anonymously through a form. Do you have a story to share? Do it today.
I have been HIV+ for four years. I have always been an ambassador of safe sex, I never had unprotected sex and being very honest with myself, I was very ignorant with my lack of knowledge of PrEP.
I had relocated to Spain just eight months before and the change of scene from Dublin to Barcelona was beyond what I had expected. In Dublin, I lived a very sheltered life, very naive and innocent and didn’t get myself involved in the gay scene. It just didn’t interest me.
When I moved here, I wanted to experience the famous scene – visit the matinee parties and hit all the clubs. I also quickly realised that a hook up wasn’t a hook up without being asked to fuck bare. I decided to get off the apps and focus on making friends here instead, I wasn’t prepared for Barcelona.
My story is not a happy one. It’s painful and terrifying and I experienced it all alone.
I made a new circle of friends here and we would go out every weekend to dance and get drunk. It became a weekly tradition and it was a great way to get to meet people and make more friends – we always had so much fun!
One night we were at our usual club and I was getting tired, I said bye to my friends and went to the toilet to take a piss before leaving the club. You couldn’t take your drink into the toilet so I left it outside the door and collected it when I was done.
I was no longer than a minute in there but that minute would change my life forever. Maybe I was too drunk or I had no idea of the hidden dangers but I downed the end of my G&T and made my way to collect my jacket. I remember thinking my drink tasted strange and as I stood in the queue I started to feel stranger and stranger. I cannot remember getting my jacket and the rest of the night was a massive blur…
I have flashbacks being in a taxi and being with a guy whose face I cannot remember. I have some flashbacks of slipping in my bathroom and being carried to my room and that’s about it.
But, what I can remember is the next morning. I woke up in my bed, my clothes were on the ground and I was in so much pain. As I got out of the bed I realised my sheets were covered in blood which was coming from my ass, it stung so much. There was a ripped condom on my bedside cabinet, it was also covered in dried up blood. My neck and shoulders were bruised too. It was at that moment I realised that I was raped.
I don’t know if it was shame or denial but I kept it to myself, the condom on the floor reassured myself that I was okay. I spent some hours thinking about it and decided to call the police. Perhaps because I wasn’t a local or because I was gay, they didn’t care. They rushed me on as they took a normal statement and told me to go home. I had no idea what to do next, if I knew about PEP I would have gone to a hospital. But I had no idea it existed!
A few weeks later I noticed some changes, I had a flu, then some of my hair follicles started to get infected. My neck was swollen and I was tired. I went to the hospital and they ran blood tests, I explained what had happened six weeks before and they called more doctors. At one stage I had eight doctors tending to me taking tests and asking questions. The next morning I went in for my results and that’s when I learned I was HIV+ positive.
The first few months were difficult but I was lucky; after just four weeks on ART I was undetectable and had CD4 count of 850. Living with HIV has only been a burden mentally, I had to be strong and accept that this was my life now.
It’s been four years since and now I only remember I have it when I read an article and see HIV mentioned. Taking my medication every morning is a habit, just like having a coffee when I wake up. I get tested every three months, I’m always on top of my health and I live a much healthier lifestyle with clean eating and workouts.
The biggest challenge for me was to accept that I am not disgusting and that I am not dirty. I have always been honest about my status with partners, I have never been discriminated. People in Spain are very open-minded and to a certain extent, more educated about HIV than people in Ireland. I have gained a lot of muscle which boosts my confidence and lost a lot of fat – keeping my workout routine and eating well has been crucial.
I’d like our community to have a stronger voice. During pride events we should have more HIV awareness, to fight this horrible stigma and show that people living with HIV have very normal lives.
My HIV story started in 2014 when I got accepted as in the cabin crew of the emirates airlines; which was one of my dreams… I was preparing to get my visa to move to Dubai and got advised to do some tests in my home country before moving over.
One of these tests was HIV. I tested positive and since you are not allowed to live in Dubai if you test positive I withdrew my application silently. I was also so scared because back then I didn’t know anything about it.
In a country like Lebanon, being gay is not known since you have to hide it… We have some gay clubs but they are undercover and you can’t even kiss there. So you can imagine how living with HIV is. The great thing is that I can get treated and the doctor is wise enough to help and be there for me.
What is good about HIV is something I will always say: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. For me now all other problems are minor. And in the end, I’m alive and this thing I have is just a pill per day. As long as I am staying healthy everything is good.
One of the challenges is the stigma here. My status should be top-secret. I will be heavily discriminated if people find out I am positive; my parents, my dates and maybe my friends as well. Whenever I go on a date and things start getting serious, it is the hardest time for me as I should confess about my case. Something that is always hard and ALWAYS ends badly with break up. No one here accepts the fact of dating a positive guy. So I’ve been single the past 3 years and I’m not willing to date again in my country.
Another thing, I am/was a manager in a gym for 7 branches… Working there for years. I forgot a medicament bottle in my office. My colleague went to get a paper while I was having lunch so I let them in… They saw the bottle and knew what it was (I don’t know how)… The next day I was terminated from the job. They said it will be confidential and I hope it will… I was treated like I stole something. And now I am unemployed.
I wish people in the Middle East and Gulf area are more aware of what HIV really is. I wish they start treating us like normal people. What’s happening here is so unfair.
Message from QuestionMark: Joseph hasn’t been able to find a job since and right now is planning to move to Europe where he aims to seek asylum. Do you know anyone with legal expertise that could advise him on the issue? If yes, please send an email to email@example.com