What would you do the day before your life would change forever? For me, that day was November 30, 2012, the day before World AIDS Day.
The answer was to go to the movies in sweats and a T-shirt and make myself sick on candy and soda. I had been pouring my heart out into an op-ed and blindly submitted it to The Advocate. I told myself that if it wasn’t picked up, it was total crap and I would chalk it up as a good therapy session. In less than 24 hours, I received a response from an editor saying that she enjoyed the piece and wanted to run it on December 1. It felt as if my fate was sealed, and in reality, it was. So I went to the movies and took advantage of my last chance to truly be anonymous because the next day my biggest secret would be trending.
I had been wrestling with a decision that had been plaguing me for months. By living in fear of people’s judgment, I could feel myself losing my confidence and strength, bit by bit. I was 28 years old and hiding in plain sight. This newfound closet I found myself in was suffocating my spirit, and it was time to come out once again.
On World AIDS Day. 2012, The Advocate released my HIV coming-out story, “Confessions of a Newly HIV-Positive 20-Something.”
And there it was, my entire heart laid out online for everyone to see. Up until that point, I had dithered. You can never fully understand the positive impact that coming out with your truth can bring until you take the leap. But five years later, I can say that the first day of living openly with HIV was the best day of my life.
I didn’t know that coming out would give me the most incredible platform to help others. I only knew that telling the truth would somehow help me finally move beyond my own personal crisis. But since my first essay, every word I have written has been inspired by the stories and experiences that so many others have shared. Sometimes, the best way to help yourself is to push past your own perspective and learn how you can help others. That is the opportunity that revealing my positive status gave me, and I am forever grateful because my life is forever better because of it.
The path to finding yourself begins with who you are at this very moment. There are no shortcuts because every time you avoid the scariest, messiest part of your life, you end up right back where you started. You begin to change for the better by accepting the whole of who you are today and, more importantly, by allowing those around you to accept and love you as well.
Today, on this World AIDS Day, life certainly isn’t as exciting as it was five years ago. What was once a dramatic tsunami of emotional highs is now a placid sea of community involvement and steady growth. In the beginning, I was anxious and overly excited when giving advice to others who were struggling with their own HIV-positive status. Now it’s second nature to take them to coffee, throw my arm over their shoulders, and begin from square one. At this point, as a not-so-newly HIV-positive 30-something, I know that there are bigger obstacles to face in the future. But when you aren’t wasting your energy trying to hide the pieces of you that you can’t change, it’s that much easier to take on whatever life has in store. And that, right there, is all the advice I have to give.
Everyone has their one style of doing things and their own interpretation of what being open means to them. Personally, I have never been one for subtlety, as you can tell. But if I had one wish for this World AIDS Day, it would be for anyone who is still hiding their status to come out of the closet and live in the light. Don’t just tell your truth — live it, breathe it, and sink all the way into it until you no longer recognize the person you were before.
I’ll see you on the other side.
TYLER CURRY is a contributing editor to The Advocate and editor at large of Plus, and author of A Peacock Among Pigeons.