“I honestly wish that I had had a program like Healthy Relationships to kick-start the whole process.”
I didn’t finish coming out until my freshmen year in college, when I finally told my mom that I am gay. She was the last person I told, but by no means the last to know. At that point I’d already come out to almost all of my other friends and family, each one being slightly easier than the previous. I lost a few friends (acquaintances really) over it, but for the most part the people I cared about showed their love.
So, I had lots of practice before finally talking to my mother. That made it easier, but it was by no means easy. I was raised in a fairly conservative household, so it wasn’t a big surprise that she didn’t approve. To her credit, she was a lot more supportive than I expected, except she would say that she was worried for about my health and she was worried for my soul. What she really meant was, “I’m worried you’ll get AIDS, and I’m worried you’ll go to Hell.” I wrote it off as a mother needlessly fretting about her youngest boy and reassured her there was nothing to fear.
After that, telling people I am gay became routine. If my mother didn’t disown me then I didn’t really care what anyone else thought. I could do anything. I could go to gay bars. I could meet other gay people. I could talk about some guy I was dating or thinking about dating. I could gallivant around campus as an out, gay young man. Most importantly, I could be more honest with my mother, and we began to grow even closer than before. It was amazing.
That was, until the end of my senior year. That’s when I tested HIV positive. I knew that one of the first people I needed to tell was my mom, but I didn’t know how. All those fears and hesitations from years past came flooding back, but they were a thousand times worse. I had to tell my mother that one of her biggest fears had come true, and I knew that would cement in her mind that I was damned.
Nevertheless, I thought she’d still love me like she had when I came out, so I told her. It took a few hours of tears and sobbing, but it happened. And just like before, she didn’t disown me. She certainly wasn’t happy, but she never stopped supporting me. It was hard at first for us to talk about certain things, but she was always there. She learned about all the medical terms with me; she helped me with insurance issues and doctor’s appointments; she talked with me about whom I should and shouldn’t tell and a million other things. But through that all we stopped talking about my soul.
After years of being completely honest with everyone about everything, I now faced the same dilemma – how to tell people one of the most private and personal details of my life. That familiar, easy routine of “coming out” had suddenly become incredibly difficult. It was like I was a teenager all over again, trying to figure out who I could trust; who my real friends were.
Over the next two years, I figured out my own rules for who I should disclose to. Like coming out, however, it came at the cost of some friendships and heartache. Lots of rejection, prejudice, and frustration led me to be very choosy about who I trusted. Slowly I met other positive guys, and that helped give me someone to commiserate with, but I honestly wish that I had had a program like Healthy Relationships to kick-start the whole process. To get me thinking about how to be proactive about my choices of disclosure. To help me identify the qualities of the people I can trust and reach out to. To show me how to alleviate some of the stress in my life. And, most importantly, to help me develop relationships with other guys in my situation, so I could learn from them and their experiences.
That’s why I became a part of this team, and that’s what I hope to provide to the guys that participate in this program.