Lincoln's Personal Story: HIV/AIDS
“As with any young guy, I was inexperienced in many things. In 1988, at the age of 22, I was experiencing my first relationship with a man (then 30). This was a big step for me as it took a long time for me to come out as gay. He was the first for me in regards to love, life experiences and penetrative sex.
It was a total relationship of intellect, emotion and for me, of physical experiences. Out of ignorance I believed that HIV did not relate to people in love and in relationships. I had met the right person and I felt safe as we were not involved in what I saw as the mainstream gay lifestyle e.g. gay pubs, clubs and saunas.
A mixture of my youth, my first relationship and my attitude towards my social placement only doubled my sense of security as news articles relating to HIV were homophobic and selectively showed parts of gay culture that I had no understanding of. Although I was gay, what I saw was not my lifestyle therefore less risk of infection. We were monogamous.
In 1988, my then partner heard that his previous boyfriend was in hospital ill with AIDS. My partner was diagnosed with HIV and I was diagnosed with HIV shortly after. My partner’s ex died a few years later. I never knew him.
Diagnosis for my partner meant settling down. He had traveled the world extensively, was going well in his career and was a good guy full of love and respect. While he cared for me and wanted to settle down I could not breathe. We separated several months after diagnosis. The pain of realizing my mortality at 22 was too much and the hurt around us was incredible. We have stayed close friends and forgiveness enabled me to find a personal peace between us. No-one is to blame.
Out of fear, confusion and social rejection I decided I would never be sexual again. I could never pass this pain on to another person. When most boys of 22 were experiencing growth, I shut down sexually, emotionally. I stopped being a person and scrubbed myself with soap every time I showered.
A little under a year later I left to travel the world and learn about life and have adventures before my death. I succeeded in all my aims and was able to continue building a promising career that up until then would have allowed me to work globally. If I had died then, I would have been fulfilled.
I wanted to curl up and not exist when far away from my country. I could not bear to see the pain in my family’s eyes if I was to get sick and die. During my time abroad I met an American reporter who was a very humane and noble guy and I thank him for reaching out when I felt less than filth. He showed me it was OK to have HIV and still be intimate; he restored my self-esteem.
I returned home and, sadly, the lesson my reporter taught me was ignored and I thought no-one would want a relationship with someone who was HIV+. I embarked on a disastrous eight-year relationship with an incredibly unfaithful guy and received no sympathy from anyone because it was believed my status gave him reason to treat me as he did. I was beginning to see the ugliness of HIV and it was not from within.
As pills were becoming more and more effective, the reality of a longer life began to emerge. I began to make little steps at planning my life further than one year.
In 1997 I was in a bad way after being diagnosed with Large-Celled Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I had not lived my life to the full yet. I went into hospital and was placed in a ward with other HIV ill people that seemed far worse than I was. It horrified me and I cried in the toilet or in the shower over those people. I was also receiving far too many gifts/flowers from family and friends so I began placing them next to the very ill people that had received nothing, not even visitors or a phone call. I wanted them to think someone remembered them and had sent them a gift. This plagued my very sense of being and still upsets me today. I couldn’t comprehend any of it.
I do not know what happened to my diagnosis. I was resisting chemotherapy and got an unknown infection under my armpit. I underwent aggressive radiation treatment for many months. I was definitely not giving up. I made my mind up. I would not die unfulfilled and lonely. I got my driving license when suffering side effects from radiation therapy and after my nine month treatment went through Sydney University to complete a graduate diploma and a master’s degree before I was equipped enough to leave my loveless relationship and step out on my own. In my last year at university I was employed by an organization that I wanted to work for.
Luckily Australia's health system is good and I was able to have access to HIV drugs and plenty of drug trials. The week before I began work I signed up for a new drug trial. The following week I sat on the train in my suit going to work and pretending to be like any other guy in a suit. Inside I was in pain, having thrown up in the morning and feeling bad from my pills and from my recent separation.
My pain really began from this point on. During my long relationship the world had changed. The Internet was now a big thing, everyone was on it. I was faced with a world as alien as the one outside my relationship when I was 22. This current world seemed based on casual and anonymous sexual meetings, with internet chat rooms full of profiles stating “real man, straight acting, STD-free, HIV/AIDS-free, clean, healthy” - or any other description that fed a stigma that already made it impossible for people like me to live a life without lying or repressing my existence.
To my horror and disgust, while I was being rejected for honesty, some specific websites were full of straight, married, bi-curious and gay guys wanting bare-backed sex (without a condom). I could not cope with this insanity and closed off completely. From being a strict atheist I found solace in nature. Out of loss, desperation and loneliness I found a kind of religion and comfort in nature. We have many great beaches and national parks here in Australia where I absorb myself. It gives me a sense of creation and time out to think and generate hope. No matter what people say, we all need to believe in something that nurtures our soul.
For me the main issues in relation to having HIV is that my sex life and personal life suffered the most and I am sad it is all I have known during my adult sexual life. I have known nothing else other than that. The irony is that HIV is not the major reason for my suffering. I am healthy in that I am not dying from HIV. My pills are working well; I am well rounded in my mind and definitely capable of love and respect for another person. What does exist is the attitude and stigma of others that force me to repress my own feelings and to retard my full capability to live a better life. Even HIV negative people suffer loneliness and repression; they just may not have HIV, they may just be the wrong type of race or height. For me HIV status is just another extension of this attitude. Out of my whole 18 years experience of having HIV, all I wanted and all I want still is to be free to experience love, travel and friendship – to live a life not shaped by other people’s fear and phobias. This is increasingly difficult as my sense of adventure and travel, or even a reality to live in another country with someone I love, has been dampened or made illegal by laws and attitudes in various other countries. Sometimes I risk becoming immune to my pills by taking short, drug-free trips – the adventure is worth the risk because it’s far better than any medical treatment.
HIV may be an illness that is treatable as far as prolonging what once was an inevitable death. I see the illness as people and the attitudes and homophobic stigma that they create. I see the illness as people’s lost sense of what they see as life and living. In their judgment I am imprisoned in their world rather than being able to fulfill what I set out to do when I first began experiencing life. If anything, weakening to unjust attitudes and repressing myself is an illness.”
Anyone interested can contact Lincoln via the contact page.