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Living the Questions 

Living the Questions 

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I originally began writing this edition of of Living the Questions on Proposition 8. Relevant and timely, it was going to be a reflective piece on how the recent decision in California would affect HIV awareness and prevention. But it was becoming too obvious, too expected. I figure if someone does not understand why gay men and women should have equal rights, I am certainly not going to change their mind. And if Advocate readers can't see how blatant acts of homophobia like Prop. 8 only lead to an environment void of productive dialogue around HIV and other issues, this one article is not going to suddenly be the lightbulb that changes perspective. So my focus shifted back to my personal journey with HIV.

It's a topic I never intended to write about each time. I imagine there will be situations where advertising, life, or other relevant topics are as compelling and perhaps take the forefront. But staying true to the perspective I am so passionate about sharing and reaching a significant milestone in my personal journey, I find myself back on the topic that seems to have an endless perspective worth sharing. As I moved past three years being positive, I can't help but think of the person from whom I contracted this disease. A person who I have talked little about. Relevant today, because for the first time I am finally ready to answer a question I have been struggling to articulate for nearly three years.

People always ask "Who gave you HIV?" and just as often "How did you get it?" From strangers and friends alike. I have received a gamut of speculation from drug-crazed sex parties to an ex-boyfriend who cheated to a one-night stand clouded by alcohol. These varying explanations on how people think I might have contracted this virus, ultimately stemming from their burning desire to know who gave it to me.

From day one, I purposefully have declined to answer the question. It really is not relevant; my status will not change, and discussing his name and who he is would only fuel unproductive conversations -- so I thought. My focus has been primarily on being honest about how I contracted HIV, not from whom. As I mentioned December 1 and, to my mother's chagrin, broadcast to the world, I contracted HIV by having unprotected sex. Plain and simple. Some of you are thinking that is a no-brainer. But the honesty in this statement is critical to the continued fight against HIV and AIDS. I am still astonished at those who are so ashamed they are find themselves making up a story of blood transfusions or bizarre needle mishaps to avoid what is a common reality. What remains a common mistake.

I was tested, like many gay men, as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Every six months with a physical I would have an HIV test. For nearly eight years I had this done. My first boyfriend, T.W., who taught me all I know about living with integrity, suggested we do it together while in college. And so at age 19, in Athens, Ga., at the university health clinic, we did. From that day forward I would be tested regularly, but despite a good education and a good head on my shoulders, I would not regularly practice safe sex. For one reason or another, circumstance and rationale unimportant, this decision, despite an otherwise responsible lifestyle, would change my life forever.

In 2007, after I had long since left T.W., been in and out of another long-term relationship, had a handful dates and a few one-night stands, my regular HIV test turned out not so regular. Having had a limited number of partners, I was quickly able to determine who he was.

Who was he?

He was someone I cared about. He was someone I knew quite well. We did discuss our status; he said he was negative. He was responsible; we had practiced safe sex. There were times it could have been safer. He was a kind and caring person. I knew his friends. He was by all accounts honest. And I have to believe, in my heart of hearts, he did not knowingly lie. What I won't tell you is his name. It's a promise I made not to him, but to me. Ultimately, his journey doesn't need to bear the burden of a decision that was as much mine as his. His name is the least important description. It's how similar he might be to someone in your life that is perhaps more relevant. A boyfriend, a new date, someone you have seen off and on for years. Someone you have never had that conversation with, because you thought there was no reason to.

When I told him my news some three years ago, he would ask me a question that challenged me every day since: "Do you forgive me?" For three years I have worked to find peace with what was ultimately a poor judgment call. I have struggled not to blame someone else for a decision that was mine. I have at times hated him. I have more often hated myself. I have many days wished I had never met him. I have every morning and every night wanted to take that moment back. It was not worth it; it never will be. I have regretted the decision and I have despised the person. To forgive this ultimate betrayal of trust seemed unachievable. For three years I have struggled in every waking hour, searching in the deepest part of my soul to find forgiveness for him and ultimately for myself.

It wasn't until I wrote this, on this hot August morning in New York City, that I finally am able to truthfully answer the question he asked three years ago, a question that has brought tears to my eyes each day. "Do you forgive me?" And today I can finally say "Yes, I do." Because in time you realize blame, anger, and regret will not cure this disease. And in more time you understand only conversation, honesty, and integrity will work to prevent it. This is a question I hope fewer people have to learn to answer.
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