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HIV Diagnosis: Uncomfortably Numb


In the fall of 2012, one of my sexual partners came forward to share he had been diagnosed HIV-positive.  A much younger man, for whom English is his second language, it broke my heart.  Having worked in the HIV field, I knew exactly what to do.  I made sure he was connected to care immediately. And I encouraged him to talk about his feelings and get support for what he was going through.  And I got tested -- as a reflex. Not because I thought I had anything to worry about.  I never dreamed that my test would come back positive. For 30 years, HIV was something that happened to other people. After all, I'd dodged the bullet for this long, I'm sure I would get through this.  

I had been working as a non-profit consultant, and ironically, was engaged in fundraising work for an AIDS service organization. It was then late November 2012.  I had a voice-mail message from my doc asking me to call him.  I went into a private office and called him back.  He was very straightforward.  "I'm sorry to tell you this, Charlie, but your HIV test came back positive."

I paused for a moment, then countered very quickly with "Well, doc, this isn't the first false-positive result I've had...test me again, I'm sure I'm fine..."  He informed me they had sent the sample twice and confirmed that I was indeed HIV-positive.  I went numb.  And fell silent. I couldn't make sense of this.  It was uncomfortable even thinking about it. 

So I decided to go to the gym.  Cliche?  Yes.  Stereotypical?  I guess, but as a gay man, the gym was a comforting place. It was a place I could go to feel powerful, when situations like this made me feel powerless. It was part of my routine.  It was just another day, right?  It was a day like any other.  I was in denial, of course, but it didn't last long.  I could not pretend this wasn't happening. I needed to act quickly.  I made a same-day appointment to see my therapist, and shared the news immediately.with her and one or two close friends. 

Thanksgiving and the holidays loomed before me.  My doc called me at home on Thanksgiving day to check in.  Can you believe that?  That was hard for me to even comprehend.  To have a doctor who is so truly concerned about my physical, mental and spiritual health.  I am so grateful.  I feel fortunate. I set about making a list of things for which I was thankful (in some 12-step anonymous circles, this is referred to as a "gratitude list").  I knew that I could not afford even a moment of self-pity. 

I next talked to my sexual partner to share my diagnosis. It was an incredibly difficult conversation.  He blamed himself for giving it to me.  I was pretty certain I gave it to him.  We went back and forth trying to determine the origin of our infections.  It was an absolutely gut-wrenching and painful conversation to have.  Thankfully, we soon realized that we both just needed to stop this interrogation and the accompanying self-flagellating, and move on to take care of ourselves. Which we did. 

In the coming days, I went to get my blood levels done (T-cells and viral load) and the results suggested a course of medication would be necessary.  I did a lot of research and with my doctor's input, I decided upon a one-pill-a-day treatment regimen. This course of action worked extremely well.  Within a month or two, my viral load was undetectable. My partner is also on the same regimen, and it's working for him, too.  We are now both romantically and sexually exclusive.  We are moving through this together, and are grateful for our health. 

Due to a connection in the field, and my decision to be "out" about my status, I was invited to participate in video series for POZ Magazine's website, featuring newly-diagnosed people sharing their thoughts.  It was difficult to even think about doing this or what I could possibly say that could help anyone, but I committed to the taping date in early March 2013, which was about 14 weeks after my initial diagnosis. And I started getting nervous about it ... 


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Comments on Charlie Finlay's blog entry "HIV Diagnosis: Uncomfortably Numb"

Charlie, as a woman living with HIV for thirteen years, I can empathize with you.
Yet, as a woman married to a Korean ex-patriot, I find the opening of your blog incredibly offensive.
"In the fall of 2012, one of my sexual partners came forward to share he had been diagnosed HIV-positive. A much younger man, for whom English is his second language, it broke my heart."
What does having English as a second language have to do with anyone's HIV status? What are you implying by mentioning that? Is a person automatically less informed or aware of safer sex issues because of their language or country of birth? Is there a statistic out there that I am unaware of that states that immigrants and ex-patriots have a higher incidence of HIV infection?
I am a heterosexual, woman of mixed race, living with HIV, married to a bi-sexual, HIV positive, Korean ex-patriot; my husband and I do not have the same privileges as you Charlie, a gay, white male, with HIV. You have privilege and a community. Your statement regarding language exemplifies why people such as my husband and I are marginalized and feel we have no safe place within the HIV or homosexual communities.

Dear Conejita --

First and foremost, i wanted to thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate your candor. But I want to assure you I was not implying anything about my partner, except that because of a language barrier, connection to care proved to be a bit of a challenge for him (one that we continue to navigate). Further, I am not implying anything about you or your partner. Yet, as I re-read it now, I see how it may seem insensitive. Please accept my apologies for this, but please also accept my gratitude for teaching me something.

I'm not sure what kind of privilege i have being a gay white male with HIV. This is my story, and i cannot and will not apologize for who i am. I hope you understand that.

I think we are all, in some way, marginalized. I am hoping we can focus on what we have in common here rather than our differences. I assure you I do not feel separate from you -- but quite the opposite: we are moving through the same thing. We are both part of the HIV community -- And I admire the obvious wisdom you have gained from living with HIV for 13 years. For me, it's been just six months, so I ask for your patience and understanding.

Thanks again for sharing your feelings about this. It means a lot to me, and truly inspires me. I have many lessons to learn.

Charlie Finlay


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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Finlay published on June 11, 2013 8:52 PM.

To blog or not to blog: the journey begins was the previous entry in this blog.

HIV Disclosure: Finding Courage is the next entry in this blog.

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