Coming Out Of The HIV Closet

Dish readers are some of the best storytellers:

Like you, I have been both openly gay and HIV+ positive for decades.  I have never concealed my orientation, but I had told only a very close circle of gay friends about my HIV status.  I’m not sure why I was so reticent with straight friends, but I think mostly it was fear of being shunned and treated differently (having to wear a bell).

Then, I fell in love … with the newborn son of a coworker and close friend. He brought the week-old baby into our office, and proudly slipped him into my arms.  While his father worked for an hour, I fed Henry a bottle, rocked him in my arms, and held him against my chest while he took a long nap.  And I was hooked – the feel of his fingers holding mine, the smell of his scalp, his soft snoring as he napped.  I visited the young family as often as I could, and both parents seemed comfortable with me handling Henry. I soon fell into the role of babysitter/gay uncle, and the feel and smell of carrying a spit-up blanket on my shoulder quickly became normal.  I was flattered by their level of trust in me; it was something my parent’s generation could never imagine.

Several weeks after Henry started day care, his dad asked me if I would come to the day-care center to sign up as an emergency contact and surrogate caretaker. I was happy to sign the forms, but it also made me realize that they were formally entrusting me with their greatest treasure, and I decided that I needed to be fully honest with them about my HIV status. Some day they would find out that I was positive, and I didn’t want them to feel that I was deceiving them.

I told the father first. I’m not good at reading emotions, but he was obviously uncomfortable and shocked. I assured him that my viral load was undetectable, and that I would never do anything that would endanger his son. He was very quiet, and said that he would have to tell his wife, and that they would discuss it that evening.  That night, I slept only a few hours.

They invited me over the next evening. Walking up to their front door, I steeled myself for a long, difficult conversation. When the door opened, Dad handed Henry to me and said “Henry needs somebody to play with while I fix dinner … come on in.”

Thank you for giving me the confidence to come out fully to them; I have never felt more trusted and loved. And best wishes for your new venture; I’ve signed up, and am encouraging friends to do so.