as we prepare for the next SIN newsletter, i am once again smitten with the heart of scott mcglothlen, who has the ferocious honesty of few others in his first year of hiv.
i thought i'd share this article he's written, and hope you will play the posted soundtrack from pride and prejudice as you read. hopefully it will make for a savory sunday morning. he titled this piece "irony in motion"
As I look back over my history of safe sex beliefs,
one conversation continues to come to mind. It
occurred to me when I met an old friend over
coffee to catch up. He proceeded to tell me that
he and his new boyfriend of six months were no
longer using condoms. They were in love and
would never lie to one another. If I recall correctly,
about a week later, one of them had accidental,
extra marital, drunken sex.
"If anyone of us is certain to not get HIV, it is you,"
he said while I proudly sipped at my mochafrappa-
whatever. I had just finished explaining to
him that I wouldn't even perform oral sex if I had a
canker sore in my mouth. One could only imagine
the halo above my head, glowing so brightly. According
to him, and several others, I was the
poster boy for safe sex. No doubt I wanted it to
look that way, too. I had a secret sense of moral
superiority when it came to having sex responsibly.
One year later and an unseasonably strange flu
put my "safe sex ego" in check. All it took was a
broken condom and my passive fear of interrupting
the moment to say, "Hey, stop fucking me real
I no longer needed to sympathize for those with
HIV. I had become one of them. I don't know what
impacted me more during that time; the fear of
death or the sting of a rightly broken ego. And like
all people who claim moral superiority, our soap
boxes are eventually kicked out from underneath
The bittersweet irony of it all did not end with my
diagnosis. Within a weeks’ time, I got a phone call
from a very nice man at Denver Health Hospital.
His name was Raul and he could, perhaps, have
been a guardian angel—but only if heaven functioned
like the Department of Motor Vehicles. He
sounded tired, annoyed, and desperately willing
to link me to services for treatment. When I told
him that I did not want his help, he insisted, saying
that he was a case manager and I was now on
"Caseload?" I had been working as case manager
for years. I was not supposed to be on anyone's
caseload. I was only supposed to have caseloads.
So I did the most mature thing I could think of and
I hung up on him, refusing to answer any of his
phone calls. Funny enough, this only led to a later
embarrassing moment of answering the door in
my underwear, where I came face to face with a
young woman from the Department of Health.
It felt like pulling teeth trying to convince these
people that I could link myself to treatment on my
own. And indeed I did. I got one of the best doctors
around and joined multiple social groups. I
almost did a complete one-eighty and became the
poster boy for the newly diagnosed. Except that
this time I did not want to be the poster boy for
anything. I still wallowed around in my own pathetic
sense of irony, convincing myself that I did
not deserve any of this.
Of course, the truth is that none of us actually
deserve HIV. And none of us are really void of this
ironic kick-off to the whole journey. There are the
critics out there who point out the guys who they
think "have it coming to them." Perhaps it is the
twinkie boy who wants to impress his older suitor,
or the overweight man who just wants his physical
form to be validated. And we simply cannot forget
the avid drug user. It is easier to point fingers at
him than ever try to understand where his addiction
comes from. The reality is that not many
positive guys set out to get the disease, especially
in order to hate themselves for it.
So the journey of coping with HIV begins with the
sardonic twist of ever having received the disease
in the first place. Yet by the end of all this coping,
there is a new sense of irony; one that is more
uplifting and empowering. Among the men I have
met, most of them claimed that HIV actually became
one of the best things that ever happened
to them. The common theme being that the disease
gave them a new outlook on and a new
appreciation for life. I understand this. And while I
don't know if I could ever make the statement
that HIV is the best thing ever, I could certainly
see how it has become a catalyst for a lot of
amazing things. Even though I am not fully done
with my journey to acceptance, the storm clouds
have cleared up somewhat and I can see a lot of
the things that I am lucky to have that would not
have been there otherwise. In other words, this is
our reward for coming to terms with such traumatic
disease. We, like others facing some level
of mortality, are given a chance to truly understand
the fact that some of the most painful
things in life are also the same things that make
life most beautiful. That is pretty amazing.
"So now what?" you, as a reader, might ask. Well,
after some guys are done coping, they may ignore
this new, profound knowledge and continue on a
path of self destruction (which may actually never
really be coping). But hopefully many will make
the choice to really take this irony and put it into
motion. One option is to take this little wisdom
and trot off into our own forests and build a better
life for ourselves. No doubt those who are liberated
by these facts can put them to good use in
their own lives. People who have gone through
trauma and made it to the other side are often
additionally equipped to handle more of life's
For some guys, it is possible to take this irony, put
it into motion, and take it even further than this.
Once we know how it can benefit our own lives,
we can use this knowledge and apply it to the
lives of others. For instance, people who are at
the beginning of their diagnosis do not yet have
the pleasure to have journeyed through the storm
of coping. They are still wallowing in the initial
bittersweet emotions, feeling like the irony leads
only to a road of despair. Those who have pushed
on through to the other side are the ones
equipped to help others travel through that storm.
In a way, this almost sounds obvious. But it is the
obvious things in life that are often the most overlooked.
Helping others by using your own history of coping
goes beyond simply donating money, or joining
the AIDS walk. These things are absolutely beneficial
to the HIV community, but you do not need to
have actually suffered from HIV in order to do
them. Interestingly enough, putting your irony in
motion may not even require this much work. One
could simply show up to local HIV social functions.
The more faces that are present, the more people
can easily brush off feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Also, the bigger variety of guys that show up,
the more others will have somebody to relate to.
Then there is the option to directly mentor the
new guys, just to show them that life can be a
success with or without HIV could have an amazing
And for some, the concept can be taken even
beyond all of that. There are a lucky few who will
be able to use their history to help others outside
of the HIV community, whether it is in their job, or
as a volunteer. Certainly grief does not only come
in the form of HIV. People all over suffer from
some kind of loss in their life and depend on
others in order to make them feel human again.
I personally may not be through the storm quite
yet, but I was lucky enough to have had an opportunity
to help others in my field of work. Recently,
a client of mine was diagnosed with diabetes.
After completing the required job tasks at hand, I
sat and talked with her about all the ways she
might be feeling and the various things she could
do in order to manage better. I never revealed any
information about my HIV. I did not need to. It only
took about an extra five minutes of my time and
by the end of it, she declared that I was by far the
wisest twenty-six year old she had ever met. She
probably did not know I was secretly bonding with
her at the time. And yet bonding with a mentally ill
woman twice my age managed to help me in my
own bizarre way.
We have all heard the cliché that whatever doesn’t
kill us can make us stronger, if not physically,
then perhaps emotionally. This strength helps us
each better our own lives. But in a unique way, it
can also help us better the lives of others. Not all
of us may have the ability to do this, but steps of
any size can make an impact on those around us,
whether it is showing up to a gathering, or taking
your experience directly to the community.
I may not be at the end of my storm. But after a
year of being HIV positive, I can feel the irony shift
from hopelessness to inspiration. I have taken
little steps here and there to do my part and the
results have been worth my time. I can only imagine
what it will be like once I am able to put the
puzzle pieces of my life back together again.
Because in life, the only thing more beautiful than
the irony of disease is getting the opportunity to
really put that irony in motion.