Q: When you were first diagnosed with AIDS, what was your reaction?
A: Shock. Nausea. Terribly upset. It was sort of the culmination of waiting to hear the news because I'd had such extreme anxiety for so many months. Am I sick? Am I not sick? On one hand it was sort of a relief to at least know what I was dealing with. Of course I wasn't pleased with the diagnosis, but after the diagnosis you can get on with readjusting yourself and learning to cope, which I would say took me almost a full year.
Q: Were there different stages you went through after you were diagnosed?
A: Of course. It's like a roller coaster. One day you're up, the next day you're down. One day you think, I'm going to fight this, I'm going to beat this, I'm going to be well, theyre going to find a cure. Then the next day you think there's no hope, I'm doomed. At first the roller coaster is very erratic but it levels out. You still have days which are up or down but you come to grips with what you're dealing with.
Q: Did you withdraw at any point, not want to see your friends?
A: I probably went through all the classic stages. I never totally isolated myself, but there was a point where I just didn't want to be around people. I find it upsetting when I go out and I see people actively walking down the street or going out and having a good time. For example, yesterday, just sitting on the Metro, just watching people going to and from work and knowing that I'm really not part of that world anymore. Knowing that I can't physically be like a regular person anymore, or enjoy myself to my fullest, that I'm so limited in my capacities to do things, is upsetting. To a degree, I'm envious of people that are well.
Q: How has your family reacted to your having the disease?
A: (They're) very upset, but they've also been extremely supportive. Their main concern is my health and hopefully improving it.
Q: Did they know you were gay before this happened?
A: Some of my family did but that was really never an issue. It just wasn't important, really. I think my father more or less knew but it was just something that we didn't discuss. We touched on it, but that's really not his major concern. His major concern is that I have an illness.
Q: What about your friends?
A: On the whole, my friends have been extremely supportive. As with anybody that experiences what's considered a terminal illness, you're going to have people that just can't deal with it. I've lost friends over the past year and a half and I've had people who've shown me that they'd stick by me.
Q: Can you generalize about the type of people you lost when you got ill? Are they straight? Gay?
A: A little bit of both. If I were to put it into percentages, the people who I really lost as friends would be more my gay friends. They're the people who this hits closest to and they're the most frightened of it. They just sort of floated out of the picture, became less and less available and around. They're concerned for themselves. Anybody that's been even remotely sexually active over the past five years is thinking that the bomb could drop on them at any second. They don't really want to have to confront their fears. And I represent what their fears are.
Many people just don't know how to deal with people that are sick. It's not just the fact of the disease itself, but anybody that's terminally ill. People who have AIDS are the people who are at the stage of their lives when they need support the most. You don't want to be a pariah.
Q: When did you come out?
A: There's no official date that marks the anniversary but I think when I really started admitting to myself was after I'd moved to Washington and I became more involved in what I saw. People pretty much know their sexuality at a young age. I went through the regular routine of dating girls and things like that and, well, I always knew that I had different desires.
Q: Why did you date girls?
A: Probably because I knew that homosexuality was not that acceptable in society and for peer purposes. It took a couple of years to really come to terms with myself and decide this is who I am and this is the way I want to live and I don't want to live a lie. Once I made that decision I was a lot more comfortable with myself and had a lot more confidence.
Q: Could you describe the lifestyle that you got involved in?
A: Basically acquiring other friends who are gay, going to bars or discos which were frequented by other gay people, making that more of my social world because at that point the majority of my friends were straight and I just never felt like I quite fit in there. I was experimenting with myself, too. I was learning about myself and who I was and (about) relationships with people. I can't say it's really much different than any other single lifestyle.
Q: Do you think that the gay lifestyle is a different lifestyle than the heterosexual world is used to?
A: Back in the late '70s, it afforded a lot more promiscuity. When you have people that aren't bound by marriage licenses or children, theyre going to be able to live a freer lifestyle. Obviously there are heterosexuals who are married and have children who also sneak out on the side but they just can't do it with the frequency that a single man could.
Q: Why is it that so many gay men seem to be more promiscuous than the straights? Or is that a misconception?
A: I wouldn't say that they are any more promiscuous than straight people. I think people are just much more aware of it. It's easy to lay blame and say, oh, those gay people, all they do is go out and have anonymous sex and therefore they're going to pick up diseases and they deserve what they get. And that's not true. As with any culture, you're going to have all different types and there is a segment of the homosexual culture which is highly sexually active and highly visible. You also have people that are totally monogamous.
There are plenty of heterosexual men that go out and pick up a different girl three nights a week. Theyre considered a stud or a hero. If the gay person does it they're considered to be promiscuous or trash. There's a big double standard. I'd be pretty hard pressed to find even a strictly heterosexual married man that hasn't fooled around at least once or twice on his wife.
Q: How sexually promiscuous were you?
A: I'd say by homosexual or heterosexual standards, not very. I leaned more toward monogamy when I could have it. I was involved in a few relationships but if you're talking about numbers in hundreds or thousands I wasn't even close to that. Anybody in this day and age that is sexually promiscuous is playing Russian roulette and there's more than one bullet in the chamber at this point.
Q: Did you have any idea of the risks you were getting into?
A: The irony of the whole thing is that I was never very promiscuous to begin with and I was even more careful after I knew that there was something going on out there, and yet I became a victim. I know other people who have been fairly promiscuous and who are still walking around and they're fine today. Just a bad twist of fate. Something I have no control over.
Q: Do you blame yourself at all?
A: It would be ridiculous to blame anybody. It's just an an event that happened that I have no control over at this point. Had I known five years ago what was in store, I may have altered my lifestyle quite a bit more, but you have a disease which has an incubation period of anywhere from nine months to as long as five years. You can see how something like that can really spread like wildfire and start showing up in a couple years.
Q: Are you bitter?
A: I can't really say that I'm bitter. I'm upset. Being bitter would serve me no purpose at this point. I feel like I'm being robbed or cheated of the rest of my life. I'm 27 years old and just when life should be beginning for me and starting I know that it could potentially end soon. The odds are not in my favor.
Q: Do you think that this disease would have been treated more seriously if it did not originate in the gay community?
A: More money would have been poured in for research and they would have taken a little more action initially if it had been spread in a more acceptable segment of society, shall we say.
Q: What are you asking yourself now about the way you've lived your life?
A: Obviously I wish I could have done something to avoid this disease, but as far as my lifestyle and the people that I've known and the way I've lived my life, I have really no regrets. I have nothing to regret or hide or be ashamed of. I feel that I've done nothing wrong, morally, socially -- I've never done anything against anybody or to hurt anybody. I've always been a basically good person. I'm the victim of a horrendous disease.
Q: Do you feel that you're somehow unfairly selected, that you've traveled an unfair road?
A: Life has a strange course of twists and turns and you never know which way it's going to go. I'm the unfortunate victim of a horrible disease. The best I can do is learn to live with that and keep hoping that something will come along and maybe one day there'll be a treatment or a cure and I'll be around to see it.
Q: Do you think about dying?
A: Of course. It's inevitable. I'm dealing with a disease that has almost 100 percent mortality rate over a four-or five-year period.
Q: Why is there such a wild fear of the disease?
A: Because you're dealing with a disease that there's no cure for. It's pretty obvious that you can't get it casually. There would be a hell of a lot more cases now if there were. There's been hospital workers and health care workers and families and roommates and people living with people that have had AIDS or have AIDS for the past four or five years and none of those people has ever shown signs of even exposure to the virus. Anybody who has fears of being around somebody who has AIDS just is not educated to the proper facts. How can you educate anybody that doesn't want to know? You can't force it down their throat. Fortunately I've never really encountered any blatant discrimination from anybody. Most of my friends, or especially my heterosexual friends, have been extremely supportive. They have infants and I walk in the door and they put their babies in my arms. They have no fear of me at all. They know the facts.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: Spend time with friends or family. Go out to dinner, go out to movies. I purchased a motor scooter about three months ago, so when I'm feeling well I go out and ride that around. I've noticed such a big change in myself and my physical abilities even over the past year. How much more limited I am. I was previously a very physically active person. I would walk sometimes a couple of miles a day, bike, go to the gym. I had a lot of energy. Now, for me to do maybe do one or two small things a day requires just about all the energy that I can muster up. That's disturbing, not to be able to do things or enjoy yourself and be confined to your apartment.
Q: Do you have any realistic expectation that you'll get better?
A: There's always the hope. The statistics are not in my favor at this point. It's very depressing -- I know several people who have already died who a year ago who were in about the same condition I am now.
Q: Are there things that you would want that you're not going to be able to do?
A: There would have been a point in my life where I would have probably liked to maybe get married and have children. I think I'm missing out on a big part of life there.
Q: But that hasn't been compatible with the life?
A: I never said I was exclusively homosexual.
Q: Were you?
A: For a couple of years, but that doesn't rule out the fact that I still would have maybe liked a family.
Q: Do you think you could have juggled being a homosexual and having a wife and children?
A: I never really gave that much thought. That wasn't the issue. (The issue) was a feeling of missing out on having a family. I think a lot of gay people realize that they're giving that up when they choose to be gay. But I also know many gay people who either are married and have children or have previously been married and divorced and have children.
Q: Do you ever go through a day and forget that you have a disease?
A: Never. Never. It's impossible because my physical condition is a constant reminder.
Q: Do you think that gays will be looked at the same way in the future as they have been before the disease by the heterosexual world?
A: They've never been totally looked at favorably by the heterosexual world to begin with. This just gives the heterosexual world one more reason to look at them unfavorably. The important thing is to separate the disease from a person's sexual orientation and realize that the main problem is that there is a disease, not what a person does with his private life in a bedroom.