“No one will ever have sex with me again”: Why I stayed in the closet about my HIV

I was a proud gay man, but I hid a terrible shame. I came out slowly until I could do the unthinkable: Tell my dad

Published June 21, 2015 12:00AM (EDT)

    (<a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/Montreal_Photos#145b5ac2'>Montreal_Photos</a> via <a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/'>iStock</a>/Salon)
(Montreal_Photos via iStock/Salon)

The first person I told about my HIV status was a complete stranger. Despite that initial confession, I spent the next years mostly in the HIV closet, like a bird in a cuckoo clock that only comes out every third hour.

I met the stranger at the bar in New York, where I live. It was a scant 30 minutes after my doctor had delivered my test results over the phone: “The good news is you don’t have gonorrhea. The bad news is you’re HIV positive. But these days it’s a manageable condition.” That was 2002 and I was 34. I came of age sexually in the mid-1980s, when AIDS was a deadly epidemic and safe sex was protocol for gay men. I had a domineering and fiercely protective mother, Mama Jean, who warned me that “a moment’s pleasure isn’t worth a lifetime of regret.”

Feeling as if I’d been hit by a two-by-four, I did what I did best in times of crisis: I headed to a bar near my apartment in New York. I felt someone watching me as I downed my second martini. My face must have looked like a Picasso, all the features in a tortured jumble. The stranger asked me what was the matter, and I told him. Through sobs that would put Lucille Ball to shame, I melodramatically cried, “And the worst part: No one will ever have sex...

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By Jamie Brickhouse

Jamie Brickhouse is the author of the memoir “Dangerous When Wet,” recently published by St. Martin’s Press.

MORE FROM Jamie Brickhouse

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