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For my Uncle

I have read some of the stories and feel so inadequate in comparison to all the brave people whose stories I have read about here, but for my uncle, here is my story:

My uncle is HIV Positive. It was January the 9th 2003 and was the end of the Christmas holidays.
I knew for years that I was gay but it was only at this point that I had decided to come out to my family.
I was a 20 year old in my 2nd year of University. I had come out to my friends about 8 or 9 months before and was totally out of the closet in my little University town where I studied. Everyone knew and I hadn‚t had any problems (apart from a couple of useless exe‚s who really hurt me!).

I didn't want to live a double life, especially when mum and dad were constantly asking, have you got a girlfriend? on a weekly basis.

I guess the real reason that I decided to come out was because I felt like I was the only one out of all my gay friends who hadn't come out. I felt a bit silly, like a coward. Foolish of me to think like that, really.

I left my job at uni so that I could come home for the holidays. It was the time that I assigned myself to come out to the family.
3 weeks before telling the parents, I had told my sister and to this day, I still feel that this is the biggest step I have ever made in my life (doesn‚t sound like much but it really was to me).

Telling my other sister a couple of weeks later was easier but in the end it was my sister who told my mum for me, who in turn, told my dad on my behalf. Telling my parents myself would have been more difficult than telling my sister in the first place, but in my heart I know I would have told them myself eventually.

I don‚t care if I am a coward or not. That‚s not the issue (although it did get rather annoying when friends were like,
"oh you are so brave!‚". They were being nice but I just didn't feel brave.

Anyway, my sister popped downstairs to tell my mum. I was waiting in her room. I smoked at the time and although my sister would never recommend this, she said I should have a cigarette, but I was so nervous I couldn't even smoke. I don't know why (I don‚t smoke any more by the way).

After 5 or 10 minutes, I heard my mum‚s voice through the landing saying, "It‚s ok Paul, I know, I know, I've always known‚.
She was totally supportive and to be fair I couldn't have asked for more.

Then, my mum told me something I was totally unprepared for.
After telling me to be very very careful, she told me that my uncle (who is also gay) is HIV Positive, just as a warning.
Like most young gay people (or straight people for that matter), I have a massive fear of getting HIV/AIDS. Even if I use protection, I find sex a really scary thing because it‚s almost like taking a gamble on your life. This was a massive fear of mine even before finding out about my uncle, for example, If I had a sore throat after being with someone I would panic, thinking it was an HIV symptom! So imagine how I felt after hearing about my poor uncle!!
I wasn't a virgin when my mum told me and although I had always used protection, I had recently been with someone who is a little untrustworthy and extremely selfish. He was a bit unsafe and promiscuous. Also, I found out later that he‚d had unprotected sex in the past. I just hoped that I had done enough to protect myself then. I was beating myself up so much!
I‚m never going to forget the way I felt when I first heard my mum say those words. All I could say was what? No! How? When? What stage is he at? Is he ok? But most of all I just felt shock, the biggest shock of my life.
I felt so shocked because I had never known anyone who had HIV before (who was open about it). I certainly didn‚t expect the first person I meet with the condition to be in my own family!! It was just too close to home. The fact that I had come out to my family didn‚t even seem important anymore.

Over the next few weeks, I just thought about it every day, the shock not really going away. I found it very difficult to concentrate on my exams that month, and I felt a mixture of emotions, firstly I was angry that my mum never told me before (she found out in July when I was the only one living away from home and the rest of my immediate family already knew), also, I was angry at my most recent ex from uni, and I felt fear about whether or not I could have it too (just imagining the heartbreak that would cause my mum, having a son and brother who were both HIV positive).
On top of all this, I felt guilty. My sisters and I were very close to this particular uncle. He took us swimming every Friday and took us to the park when we were kids, but after everything that he did for us, when I found out he was gay, I stopped being nice to him, I avoided him because I felt threatened that he would pick up on the fact that I was confused at that point. I was about 14. For years it was obvious to everyone that I felt uncomfortable around him.
That was just me though. I‚m far from perfect. I was an idiot for ever feeling this resentment towards him.
These days I don‚t feel resentment towards him, but I feel uncomfortable simply because I was a bit ignorant towards him all those years before finding out.

I think my mum has told my uncle about me being gay. Its just in the way he talks to me, in a gay to gay kind of way.
Each time I see my uncle things are better between us. I realise that he is happy in his life. He has accepted his condition and is living his life to the full. He is very cautious about his health, always eating food that boosts your immune system, and he is currently studying an NVQ with his job, and is top of his class.
These days I don't feel the same shock that I used to. I mostly admire my uncle for everything that he is although there is still a way to go before I can feel good about the relationship we have.
As far as I know, he is unaware that I know about his condition so I can't talk to him about it. We haven't even talked about being gay!!

I want my uncle to know how much I admire him and also how sorry I am for how I was towards him during my teen years.
If he died tomorrow, I would have many regrets about having not said enough to my uncle, so I need to stop being a coward, and I WILL!!

About 8 months after finding out about my uncle, I fell in love with a guy called Richard. We are still together and I love him to bits! We had a sexual relationship almost from the start and I told him that we should go to the GUM clinic for tests to make sure we were both clear of any hidden nasties. I said it because it's the sensible thing to do although it was something that I really feared. I just kept wondering if either of us were going to be positive.
We were supposed to leave a 3 month window period before getting tested but because of me being a total chicken, it ended up being over 4 months.

Going to the GUM clinic was really scary and I'm sure I heard a grown man somewhere in there crying hysterically about something, and everyone in the waiting room looked terrified! I was just constantly red with fear. This is because I really don't believe that I am strong enough to deal with a positive result.
After a long wait we were called in together for our tests. We did about 11 tests and I only expected to do the tests for the incurables.

The staff were fantastic (special thanks to the amazing team at the Jefferiss wing of Queen Mary‚s in Paddington!).
I had to wait two weeks for the results and actually felt relieved for having done it, knowing that in a matter of time, I would have a definite answer whether or not I was in the clear.
I was clear in all my tests and it felt like acing all my GCSE‚s! Ric was also clear so we were both relieved.
Now, I don‚t have the same fear of HIV that I used to. I trust my boyfriend and feel comfortable in the physical aspect of our relationship.

I also want to do something to help with the AIDS issue. I like to think that this report will give comfort to those who can relate to issues here.

I am considering helping in the fight against AIDS. Taking part in the walk for life, wearing the red ribbon at the Mardi Gras, little things that make a difference if we all follow suit.Paul x x
P.S. Just wanna say, I love u Uncle Alan


Sent via email May 24,2004, from London, UK.

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