Why I Walk

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

In two weeks I will be walking around Fairmount Park to support and remember those who are infected or affected by the HIV virus. I have certainly been affected by the epidemic. I took my first HIV test when I was seventeen. I remember feeling so nervous and thought that my life would be over if the test came back positive. Granted, I was a very dramatic gay teenager (and sometimes a bit of a dramatic adult). But nonetheless, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around living with HIV. How would I tell my parents? Would I tell my friends? What about boyfriends? I’d have to tell them, right? Initially I thought maybe I can get away with living with HIV as a secret. Although by this time in my life I hated secrets.

I came out as gay when I was fifteen. Friends and family weren’t really shocked by the news. I really was quite a dramatic teenager. They were however surprised by me saying something. After all, I was only fifteen. At first, some thought it could have been a phase or too much or too little love from my mother. Maybe it could have been too much exposure to MTV and pop culture. I guess in people’s minds it could have been a million things other than what it really was. I was gay. I had a sexual and emotional attraction toward other men.

I acted on these feelings without much hesitation. Since I didn’t grow up particularly religious, I didn’t have feelings of guilt or believe God would punish me. My attitude was to bring on the guys. I was a horny teenager and wanted to get laid. Unfortunately I didn’t get laid all that often. A couple friends and I would get together and fool around, but we rarely saw each other and we never used condoms. Why would we? AIDS didn’t cross my mind. I was just coming to accept that I liked other boys.

I didn’t have a romantic link to any of my high school pals and as we started applying for college and looking forward to life after the twelfth grade, the sex stopped. So I started seeking elsewhere. Bookstores, public restrooms, wherever I could find it I would seek it. In these cases I didn’t use a condom either.

The day I was tested I felt that I should’ve known better. Since the age of fifteen, I volunteered for the AIDS Coalition of Southern New Jersey. I worked the phone line and answered questions about AIDS. I knew that condoms were, to say the least, important. Why was I now finding myself in this predicament? The test came back negative. My reaction was relief because I would not have to tell people and face their judgments.

As years passed I realized that I missed the point. It is really not about judgments. Why should I care what strangers think about me? That is no way to live. It’s a complete waste of time. And I expect my friends and family to love me unconditionally. I found my fear of AIDS was not about society. It’s about me. If I should have known better at seventeen that unprotected sex can give me HIV, then I certainly should have know at 26. Yet this summer I was getting an HIV test with the same unease as nine years earlier. How did I get myself in this predicament yet again?

There have been times I trusted a boyfriend and practiced unsafe sex. No matter how much I loved him, he could’ve been lying and fooling around with a bunch of other guys. There were times I was so insanely horny that I swallowed a load in the heat of the moment. Then there were the times I was so drunk or high that I have no idea what happened. That was scary. I know I made a choice in everyone of these scenarios, but should I punish myself or be concerned with what other people think of those choices? Life is a journey one must take alone. Although I can hope to learn from the past, I have to be a realist. The desire for sex is strong.

This summer the test came back negative. I am truly grateful and have promised myself to play safe. But I made that promise before. Even if I take all precautions, I may not be so lucky in the future. So I walk every year because I know that I, and every other person with a sex drive, am acceptable to the HIV virus. I also walk every year because I know that the resources I have available to me where not there twenty five years ago.

If I was 26 in 1985, there is a much greater chance that I would be HIV positive. We had a president who did not acknowledge the epidemic, a country full of hate and suspicion, and a community grappling with the loss of friends, lovers and family. I hear about the history of Philadelphia during that time from my friends in their forties, fifties, and sixties. At first no one knew what was going on and slowly the HIV virus got its name, the public learned the facts, and the politicians recognized HIV as an issue of public health. Now, after years of fighting, funding is getting cut, new cases are on the rise and it is clear that HIV is still a threat.

Eleven years ago I understood the history and devastation HIV caused our community. What I didn’t understand was how could there be new cases. As I met more people and experienced more of life, I fully understand how there can be new cases.

I made a pact with myself a decade ago that I would walk until there is a cure. There is no cure and HIV continues to affect our community. On Sunday October 17, I am walking for those who died, those who are infected, and for all of us who are affected. I hope to see you there.

Sun, October 17, 2010
7:30am – 1:00pm
Philadelphia Museum of Art
[2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA]

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