Richard is an HIV positive gay man, who visits my on-campus class every semester. My students on campus learn a lot from his visits. And I hope you will find this conversation with him useful, also. He is very clear and open about his romantic and sex lives as well, as the various struggles he has lived through. In this segment of our conversation, he talks about learning about his HIV infection. He talks about his relationship with his partner at the time, David. And he describes the process of informing previous sex partners about his infection. And he talks about a period of denial, and then about deciding to move forward. Richard also talks about his early life, and the process of accepting his sexual nature, which in his case is part of a journey of spiritual discovery. Here is the first part of my conversation with Richard. Richard, le, let's begin with the, your HIV test. >> Oh, yeah I was living in Dayton, Ohio at the time, September 7th, 2005. [LAUGH] It's funny I still remember that day. I had a boyfriend the name of David, we'd been living together for a time. We decided to get tested together. Just as kind of a, sort of a, commitment to each other. because I had been quite promiscuous in the past, and so has he. [LAUGH] Sluts want to do I suppose. Decided to get tested, I thought I was clean. He th, I assumed he was. So I, I went to go test, we tested separately, because that's how it is. And this woman who I had never met before, [INAUDIBLE], was going to invokely change my life, she told me that I had HIV and it just, just floored me. >> Did she tell you, did you have to come back for your result or did you- >> Well she said that they had to go send it off to get, I guess extra checked, I supposed? >> Oh. >> There was like a 5% possibility that you're false positive. >> I see. >> So, I had to wait, she said for a week. So I had to wait a week to know for certain about something that pretty much felt like a certainty at that point. >> Tell us what that week was like. >> Well that week was spent trying to get a hold everyone I slept with over the course of the years preceding my last two HIV tests. Which, that had been two year span between, when, when I first got, when I first got a boyfriend. It was our, it was our plan that when I, when I first, when I finally got with David. And so I had two years of people to contact. And that's pretty much what I did. I, I was given the option. The lady, the lady who gave me my diagnosis gave me the option to contact people through email or phone calls anonymously to inform them that they had been with someone that, that they were at risk perhaps. It was tempting to be honest, but I, these were people, who had trusted me, who I'd been with. Who I cared about, some were friends, some were lovers, friends of lovers, lovers of friends. And I felt that if anyone was going to tell them that, it should come from me. That I had, even though I had no idea, I felt some sort of, accountability involved in what I did. So I spent that week basically, contacting quite a few people. To, to, to because I didn't know, who I got it from at that point, I didn't know David's results. So I didn't know, who or where. So I was in that process of trying to let people know, and also trying to find out who may I have gotten it from. >> And what was that like and did, did any of them turn up HIV positive? >> That's how I found out, it was David because thank God no one did. Period. Anyone I slept with from the, the two years and the space between that, no one. It was a relief. And it turns out that I didn't, I didn't inadvertently give someone a deadly disease. Which also meant that David was the only person, who could have infected me since he also had tested positive, in fact. >> So then what happened? >> Well, [NOISE] it was just hard, at first. Li, like when I first found out, I, I just kind of cried, and I'm not a man who sheds tears. I try to have a strong resolve about things, but when I realized all the people I could've given it to as far as my boyfriend, it, it, just, it, that broke me I guess. For a short of time. Eventually a schism between me, and David formed. It wasn't really because of the HIV is, because actually he was kind of a bitch dick to me, [LAUGH] quite honest. And I, I just couldn't, we could only be together. And his total lack of, of remorse, or concern for what had transpired, didn't really help me in my decision. For the most part I, I kept besides telling those, who I felt had to know, like people I'd been with, I kind of kept it to myself. I didn't really, I guess in terms of like externally, like how it affected those people around me I was very mindful of, I guess. But in terms of like, internally like how I processed having it, I was very removed from it. I didn't really, didn't do what I should have done. I didn't immediately, try to go seek you know, medical help and try to get on some kind of insurance. Because the insurance, my job wouldn't have covered it, because that was back when preexisting clauses existed. So, I didn't do anything to actually try to make myself better, I just, it was always like a small part of me that thought, if I just let it be it would just drift off into twilight, where I don't have to worry about it anymore. And, and but so most of my concerns with HIV were all external. I didn't do anything about my health, I didn't go see a doctor, and so not, not some of my proudest couple of months. >> And did you get sick? >> Yeah. I did actually. I got noticeably sick. And it lasted, it actually lasted for a better part of a year. kind of got my medication later on, and fixed that. But for a better part of a year, there was some affliction that I was dealing with. Whe, whether it be, you know, a cold, or cold, or sto, stomach upset. I know some of it was because of the HIV. But looking back on it now, and, and knowing other people who had it. I think some of my health concerns were more psychosomatic. I have HIV, I'm sick therefore, I, I'm sick. And maybe it, it might have been my own neglect of my, of, of dealing with the HIV, itself, and emotionally that may have because me not to be more healthy, or prepared for it, I guess. >> Mm-hm. And were you aware of the fact, that there was a good medical treatment available for HIV infections? >> Oh, yes, yes. Well, when I came back positive, the lady informed me, this is what you can do, there's medications, there's doctors, you know, da da. She gave me the harks number. She gave me a list of resources that I chose not to endeavor into at first, and so I was aware that I could get help, I was aware that help was available, it, it was not, it wasn't ignorance, it was just lack of motivation or desire in some regard. Because then if I actually, went to go seek treatment I'd have to really face, really face it, and deal with the repercussion inside myself, and not just the external ones I was trying to deal with. >> Well, in the years that I've known you you've been pretty healthy, generally, and you've also been very functional. You've worked, you've had good relationships, and so forth. How did that change occur? >> I don't remember the exact moment, but I remember like, the exact feeling. I knew the feeling of having that moment to where I decided it was time to do something. I, I want to say, two or three months into it, and by that time I had gotten into a rhythm of, just dealing with it, and I'm not sure what really occurred. Just something snapped in my mind pri, perhaps some last residual sense of survival, and I've been through a lot. I've survived a lot. Things that would have probably killed or broken a lesser individual. And I felt that given all I had endured and saw the things I, I saw others go through and survive and endure. That if I let something, as insignificant, as a fucking virus take me out without any kind of fight, any kind of struggle. It seemed to be an insult to all I had seen, and an insult to people I know, who struggled through those things. That I couldn't let a virus determine my fate in terms of me, I had, I had to fight, I had to not give up, had not to just, like, not veer, not dodge blows but actually swing back, attack it, defeat it, or it was eventually going to kill me, and I would have no one to blame but myself. So I realized that I, I had to, for myself, for the history I had, I had involving my life, and even for people who cared about me, I had to, I had to kick HIV's ass. And so that, when I finally realized that I, I, I wha, that this shouldn't be the end of me, and doesn't have to be the end of me, that's when I started actually, decided to do something about it. >> Let's go back in time a little bit because you've said you went through a lot. Tell us where you're from, and what your early life was like prior to what you've just told us about the HIV. >> I grew up in the South. In Tennessee. I spent, that's the first 26 years of my life was spent in Tennessee, in Knoxville, in Clinton, in surrounding areas. [COUGH] My father passed away at the age, when I was nine due to multiple sclerosis. I, I spent there, much of my childhood watching the disease take him from walking, and healthy, and virile, and slowly bring him to a hospital bed to where the nursing staff took care of most of even his sometimes basic needs. Fo, for a child that young, it was kind of hard. My mother wasn't a good mother. [LAUGH] how typically gay of me, bad mother problems. She was, she just wasn't a good mom. Verbally, and physically abusive, most of which I had deliberately forgotten of. Until a few years ago, when some of those memories came back. Our, my blood family wasn't a very tight-knit family. Besides my little brother, who who was nine years my junior, and my mother, I really didn't see much of my blood family. I have, I have one memory of seeing my uncles, two, two times of seeing my grandparents before my father passed away. And the intermittent cousin here and there, but there really was no, there was no sense of family. My father was kind of the only like, pillar of blood that I really had, and then when he passed away I kind of, I didn't really feel like I had much of a family after that. Mo, most of my family involves me trying to take care of my little brother because my mom sometimes proved inadequate. >> And, how did your sexual orientation play out in family and school? >> Well, [LAUGH] you know, how I grew up in the South? Anys, anything about homosexuality, in, in general, especially, like in the late 80s or in 90s in that nature, or even now, it's kind of sad. Gays were seen, as eh, either an abomination to God, so I basically I spit in the eye to creation itself. Or they were seen, as some sort of, subhuman. Later my, my best friend Timothy who, who, who age, and being involved in married [INAUDIBLE] made him much wiser individual, once in middle school said that gays were subhuman. So any, my first like sa, first, inkling that I knew I, I like the others, the same sex was around seven or eight. But due to the way society viewed homosexuality, and the way that the few friends I actually had viewed it, I kind of got brainwashed into thinking it was something disgusting, something to be ashamed of, something to, to be cured of, or be ridden of, like some scourage. And so any of those thoughts that I ever had, and those feelings, no matter how minuscule, or how large they were, I sort of, buried. Eh, and I started piling all this guilt, and disgust on top of it, so any time it tried to come up, it would pull those emotions with it. So even, just a simple thought of it would bring those feelings back. Basically, it was brainwashed into feeling that way. >> So there was a good bit of self-hatred? >> From age eight to age 23. And, and, and, and, I mean, the, as I got older and, and, and, and the brainwashing became more and, and, and the, what I was forced to believe became more of what I just believed, which is what happens when you're force fed knowledge without understanding. You just believe it because it's all you know. You don't try to question, there' no understanding if you just believe it on the offset. So, I, I figured if being gay was, was a choice, that, that was another argument that I heard, as I got older I began to try to understand the mechanizations behind what people thought was so badly it's internally in my mind. Perhaps I was blind to it. That being straight was a choice, one would see in the be like, would signify the other, in a logical standpoint. And so I tried that for a bit. >> You dated girls? >> yes, not, not that many due to my family's lack of nurturing, and my own inability to truly accept my true inner feelings. My relationships were I didn't get my first girlfriend until I was like, yeah, I was a ju, junior in high school, almost a senior before I actually got my first romantic involvement with a female, who actually expressed the same, returned my affection. That didn't end well, but I kept trying. >> And how did you'd come to leave home, when you, and leave your home community? >> That was interesting. Once I got into college, got out of high school, and got to college Uni of Tennessee is a very large, a very large college, it's a big ten school, it's, it's a football town, so there this, this, a wash of different individuals you could encounter, this was amazing. And so I first got involved wi, with a Christian organiza, with a Christian group there, the baptist group there, and I felt for the first time that I had acceptance. And that led me to start pursuing spiritual curiosities. Not just for intellectual pursuits, but for actual, maybe this shit has some genuine truth to it, at least inner truth. And I've, listen, I, I'm, I'm compressing a lot because some things are very personal, and I don't, as of right now, I don't feel comfortable. >> Yeah. >> But I, I can at least give you the, gist of it. I start out, I, I, I guess this kind of agnostic God hater. Since God made everything, I feel it was God's fault. Children try to, children try to place blame either on themselves, I blamed myself for most of my childhood. My father dying, my sisters disappearing, my mother's abuse, I blamed a lot of it on myself, and then I started blaming God because taking the blame on yourself gives you sense of control. It's my fault, so eh, even though you have no control over the chaos in your life. Creating fault gives you a sense of control. Even it it's, even if it's false. It gives you a focal point. So I eventually, came to believe what they had to say as truth. I got, I got saved. It was a very real experience for me. It's not an experience I, I under. I got baptized and I was actually was going to become a youth minister. And so I started studying about religions, the Christianity, where it came from, the, the cultural part of life, the society and culture that built the Bible. because always fascinated is how religion is often times, but now I know, is often times influenced by the society, and the culture. And those, who lead that society often dictate their religious push. In terms of the, the, the mass group of people that may have, that led to a lot of questions. My homosexuality started coming back into play again, I started thinking about that more, and I started having dreams about wolves, so I started questioning my religious beliefs. Questioning were, where God was and eventually, that led me to group of individuals, who practice Shamanism, and Wicca and there were even Christians there, there was even Atheists there. There was this collection of a bunch of religious minded people, who had this affinity toward nature, and animals in general. Which is where my belief system was starting to lean toward. And basically I realized that Christian was no longer my path. I kind of, Wicca kind of became that, I didn't abandon my Christian roots, there was just some things, they probably, they probably do still have some relevance in my life. I haven't forgotten the good I got from that and that was kind of like my, my stepping stone. So I haven't neglected that but I've become very much a pagan, and I got to be around people, who accepted gay, who treated gay people like they were normal. No one looked at two girls holding hands, or two guys kissing. They treat homosexuality, as a normal way of life and hadn't seen that before. And it started to break away, all that brainwashing. Eventually, I started to accept that my being bisexual wasn't a bad thing. That to let me to making friends, and eventually those friends invited me to move down to Alabama, a little small farming community called Silverhill which is kind of between Pensacola, Florida and New Orleans, and so still learning about myself, still trying to accept who I was. And trying to figure out wa, the why of me, and, and the why of everything prompt me to, and all the bad horrible memories that Knoxville had permeated from me, prompt me to leave. >> You've never told me this part of the story- >> Aah. >> And it's quite fascinating. In other words your path towards coming out as a gay man was part of a spiritual quest. >> Yeah. because once I got saved, I started opening up everything that I had buried. Everything. >> Mm-hm. >> I thought it was just, my, my Christian friends say, it was a cleansing of the sin. And, and, and their Ideology I, I can't, you know, blame them for that thought. But it was more of I felt, and as I see now, not to get too off topic, I felt that Jesus was my door, that he, that he opened other doors in my mind, and said go forth, be, learn and be, and that's pretty much what I spent two years doing, which prompted my move. >> Mm-hm. >> And to kind of get away. >> So you went to Alabama, and then you came up to Michigan, is that right? >> Well, actually, I went from Alabama to Ohio. >> Ohio,- >> Yeah. >> Dayton is where- >> Yeah, Dayton. >> Our sto, story started. >> Yes, yes and that, that's, because I- >> Yeah. >> I left Alabama after a couple years there with some really great people, and I moved. And I got, I because I still was restless spiritually, so I kind of became this nomad. I, I liked the thought of being in a place two or three years, you know, and, and of course at that time I worked at Walmart. The evil. And so, I could transfer from my job pretty much any fucking where. So, I made moving to a new place with friends convenient. Hey, I have a job. I can pay rent, so I, I wasn't a couch surfer, I actually was coming to a new place with a job, so I can maybe start to help the people, who were kind of inviting me to live in their homes. And David eventually, I met David in Knoxville, when I lived there. When I moved to Alabama, he followed me for a time, and then we kind of split up, and then when I went to Ohio I found out how much I cared about him, and then he eventually moved out to live with me.