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A boy and his pet called HIV: one man’s story

Leonard*: “Today I’m open about my orientation but I forever struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth.”

Leonard*: “Today I’m open about my orientation but I forever struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth.”

Growing up, Leonard* was weighed down under shame and sadness as he struggled to come out. He yearned for acceptance and love, but he contracted more than he had bargained for.

"At first I didn’t want to write to you, not because of the fear of being exposed but because I didn’t want you to turn me, or my story, into a piece of news. Just another over-glamorised, sensational piece of media.

I will tell you my story, although this will not explain everything, some things you live and cannot explain with words.

I am now a 30-year-old man, but my story starts way back.

I remember the first few years of my life – it was carefree. I cannot remember a dull moment. Although we never had much, there was always happiness in the little we had.

But then came shame. Being made aware of how you behave, act, talk, and being told to water it down. I am gay, and don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t. But I remember the years I suppressed it, which was for most of my life.

While my peers spent their time worrying about their games, their little flirtations, and growing up, I was engulfed in shame and sadness. How can someone walk properly as an adult when as a child their legs are broken and made to mend alone?

Today I’m open about my orientation but I forever struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth.

My teenage years were lived in the dark and in shame. You grow and learn, but stolen years are forever lost and you never get over them.

In my late 20s I decided to start meeting people. The only place I knew where to go was online. It’s a frequent stop for gay people to meet but it’s definitely not the place for a young, inexperienced person.

I threw myself in a meat market of ‘touch and go’, disposable sex, and a shopping list of requirements.

I was drawn to older men. Maybe it was the search for paternal acceptance; who knows?

I never felt attractive and never told I was – maybe because I’m not – so I was very eager to please whoever welcomed me.

I had a few encounters, each time I thought he was the one that would love me unconditionally. But it always turned out to be just sex.

I never slept with many people. In my late 20s I decided to go on a quest for something stable. All my friends and acquaintances were either getting married or in stable relationships and I wanted one too.

At this point I was still seeking love online, as I hadn’t come out. There, I met a beautiful French guy. He was stunning and said yes to my dinner date. I was euphoric and full of expectations.

A courtship began where I transformed myself into the best, most giving person around. Within a month it all seemed to be going OK; I wouldn’t say well, simply OK, as in the back of my mind there was always a seed of doubt. But I still gave it my all.

All I ever wanted was to love and be loved; I think it’s a pretty reasonable request

Looking back I think, why did I give so much of myself? How could I have been so blind?

But I don’t blame myself for anything. All I ever wanted was to love and be loved; I think it’s a pretty reasonable request. At least to know what it feels like, even if just for a moment.

About eight months after I started seeing this guy, I could sense something was wrong. He was very secretive about what he did in his free time and he kept telling me to focus more on myself.

Anyway, before I could end it – by then I was getting really tired of him – I fell ill. I had a fever that would never go down and which got worse with time. My kidneys started to malfunction, leading to what is called nephrotic syndrome.

That was when I was tested and told I was HIV-positive.

My life collapsed before my very own eyes. I was 28 and I had just been told, what I thought at the time, was the worst disease in the world. I couldn’t believe it was game over and it was all my doing. I may not have killed myself, but it killed my soul.

After I was discharged from hospital I approached my partner, thinking he didn’t know he had it and I would have to break the news. But the way he acted and the way he spoke made it very clear he knew he was HIV-positive, but never told me. It destroyed me even more.

The aftermath of what happened between him and I is a story on its own and I didn’t want to talk about at this point.

But my personal journey took me to places and pushed me to meet people I cannot really describe. It was a journey of self-discovery; not just personal but of the world and the people in it.

From then on I started to pick up the pieces of a shattered life.

The feeling is indescribable. I cannot say I’m worse off now than I was then. I came out of the closet and started following my dreams, although with a great struggle.

I started taking meds immediately and within six months the virus became undetectable. My condition has stabilised and I’m getting better. I feel physically great but emotionally hollow.

This is me in a nutshell. Although it doesn’t even scratch the glass dome. Together with the bad and the ugly there is the good and beautiful, you cannot have one without the other – they’re one and the same.

When you feature the article please remember there is a much greater battle than the disease, which one has to fight and it’s not a great siege or a world war but a lifetime war.

Make people realise that HIV is no longer a death sentence. But although it is controllable it is important for everyone to protect themselves – it all boils down to loving yourself.

With society’s ‘pornificiation’ it is easy to believe that sex is the goal. You come across youngsters these days who at 30 have already lost interest in sex because they’ve already done it all.

We forget that it is the emotion that feeds us and not the physical; that it’s about meeting someone and building that relationship, discovering the physical together.

People need to stop dreaming and start living. In every sense, even career-wise. We don’t want to work because were too busy dreaming. We’ve forgotten about the beauty of living.

The picture is about the being and being diagnosed with HIV is just one fibre in a piece of tapestry we call life.

Good luck and make this something special."

See also - The concealed faces of HIV http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151005/local/the-concealed-faces-of-hiv.586816

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