The (Continuing) Terror of HIV ~ Outside the Margins with Brandon Witt

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Brandon Witt Outside the Margins

This first part of this topic was last month’s blog, which can be found here:

Let me get this disclaimer out of the way. I know that HIV and AIDS isn’t a gay disease. I know straight people have it, men have it, women have it, children have it, every race has it. It’s not a gay disease. I’m aware of that. However, TO ME, it is a gay disease. Lord, I hope I don’t get raked over the coals for that, but we all get raked over the coals for everything so, whatever. I know many gay men who feel like it is a gay disease. Not that gay people caused it or deserve it or polluted humanity. It just feels personal.

It’s my disease. Whether right or wrong. Whether fact or fiction. Whether genuine to my psyche or due to hearing that gays gets AIDS and die for my ENTIRE childhood. (Yes, I know it’s that last one. Again, I say, whatever.)

And therefore, this blog post is about my relationship with HIV and AIDS. I’m not trying to talk for the entire gay population. These are my experiences. There are many who have same. There are many who won’t relate to a word. Both are okay.

The first case, if I have my history correct, of HIV in the US was in 1981. I was three. I literally don’t remember a time before HIV. I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was gay, or at least that I liked boys. I’m one of those strange ones who, despite not accepting my homosexuality until age 26, knew I liked boys from the time I had actual consciousness. I knew it before I had a word for it. I have very clear memories of kindergarten and having a crush on other boys and being attracted to shirtless men jogging outside the van as my family drove to the city. (And no, I wasn’t molested. Yes, that’s a question that often follows that admission.) I say all this to drive the point home that I’ve always known I was gay. I don’t remember a time without HIV. And, I was raise in the Bible Belt, by a uber-conservative, evangelical family, who was at church a minimum of three times a week and I went to Christian school. I was taught, as were many of my generation (Christian and non) that gays were an abomination who God had cursed with AIDS. And they deserved it. Pretty much.

If I accepted my homosexuality, two things were true. One, I was damned. (And all that goes along with that.) Two, I was going to get HIV. It wasn’t a matter of if or maybe. Just when.

Hell, it didn’t matter if I never had sex. I would still get HIV. (I don’t say that to be funny.)

I sat down with my little brother (there are just the two of us, and he is 10 ½ years younger), when I was twenty-two and told him I was gay, and that I was in therapy to be straight, and that I would overcome. That God would heal me. That I would be strong. I just wanted him to hear it all from me, because I knew people would talk. Years later, I believe when he was in high school, maybe middle school, I realized that he thought I had HIV. I had to convince him I didn’t. Like me, to him, when he heard me say I was gay, he also interpreted that to mean I had HIV.

My biggest fear in life was getting HIV. My entire family dies of cancer, if we live long enough. I’ve seen more than my share of what cancer and chemo do to the body. I would have taken a cancer stronger than any strain in the world if only I wouldn’t have HIV.

Because HIV meant you were dirty. You were damned. You are wrong. You are gross. You brought it on yourself. You got what you deserved.

Now, at thirty-seven, I have many friends with HIV. I have had sex with people with HIV. I am not as afraid of HIV as I was, most of the time. Partly because we’re living longer with it and things seem better. Equally, because I’ve thrown away nearly every ounce of what I used to believe. . . about everything. . . so there.

Maybe that fear has saved my life, or at least kept me from getting HIV. It’s made me a stickler for safe sex, at least outside of a relationship. It’s made me where I get tested religiously every three months. It’s also made it where I’ve (in the past) have spent sleepless nights sobbing in terror because of a kiss, blowjob, handjob, and I just KNEW I had it.


Then this little blue pill showed up several months ago. Well, the blue pill has been around for a while, Truvada. But, now, used as daily prevention, it’s called PrEP. When I wrote last month’s column, there had still been no reports of anyone contracting HIV while on PrEP. Between that blog and this one, someone has. I wasn’t surprise or crushed. I had a spike of pain hearing about it, but, to me, it was expected. One, because I have that personality. Two, because the doctors warned me when I got on it that there was a strain out there that wouldn’t be covered by the pill. And three, because I knew of so many men who get on PrEP and will only bareback now, and like I said, I have THAT personality. (I’m not saying that’s how the man contracted HIV while on PrEP.) I see the disaster before it happens. It’s annoying to me and everyone else, but it saves me a lot of heartache. (Another disclaimer: I’m not slut shamming the men who make that choice. I know many, many straight people who never use condoms as long as the woman is on birth control. It seems that it’s much more culturally acceptable for straight people to have sex without protection than gay men. I’m not saying it’s a good or smart choice, but neither am I saying they deserve what they get. They don’t. And, you’re not going to find a much more sexually liberal guy than myself. I would be the last person to slut shame. There’s your TMI for the day.)

Getting on PrEP takes a lot of work. And unless you have the right insurance or the right circumstance, EVEN with assistance, can cost nearly 2K a month. It took me months to get things arranged so that I could make it happen. I’ll spare you those details, as, wow, boring! However, it was the one time that I didn’t loose my temper or get angry through the hours or waiting, phone calls, and math. Even if I never planned on having sex again, I was determined to get those pills. Though I wasn’t as afraid of HIV as I used to be–I don’t think I will ever not be afraid, it’s too ingrained. And to have a pill that is even partially effective, let alone as astoundingly effective as it seems to be, is truly a miracle. It’s made me believe that we will have a cure or the equivalent in the next decade. The hope that all the people I love who have HIV currently might be free of it, because even though its better, they go through a lot to stay healthy (talk about putting it mildly). . . that hope is amazing.

So why the posts about PrEP?

Mainly, I’m excited.

However, like I mentioned before, there’s a lot of slut shaming on our gay culture—just as offshoot of the shame around sex of the mainstream culture as far as I can tell. There’s a lot of slut shaming of the people who choose to take PrEP. Enough that it’s easy to believe there are some out there who won’t take this potentially life-altering pill because of shame. I wanted to be one more voice of someone who not only takes it, isn’t the slightest bit ashamed of it, and is crazy thankful for it!

Again, I really love living in this day and age. I love that I get to experience both sides of the coin.  The days of homosexuality being the darkest of evils and now having marriage equality. The dark days of HIV and the days of dawning hope. To have been on the other side really allows you to revel in the brightness of the beauty of it all. I’m so very grateful.

~Brandon Witt

About Brandon Witt

Brandon Witt resides in Denver, Colorado. When not snuggled on the couch with his two Corgis, Dunkyn and Dolan, he is more than likely in front of his computer, nose inches from the screen, fingers pounding they keys. When he manages to tear himself away from his writing addiction, he passionately takes on the role of a special education teacher during the daylight hours.

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Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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11 thoughts on “The (Continuing) Terror of HIV ~ Outside the Margins with Brandon Witt

  1. You are so very true.. Growing up I was pretty wild but not as sexual as one would think. Then I had children and have tried to tell the kids to use protection, but children do not really listen to well. When I was growing up I had never met a gay man or woman until I started working at the hospital and became friends with Brian. He told me the ups and downs with being gay and the abuse he lived through. He also told me he was HIV positive and his family pretty much abandoned him. It had opened my eyes to what is going on around me. I am glad to know someone who is willing to talk about it all. Sorry if I got off board.. Thanks for the story..

  2. Thank you Brandon. I’m excited for you, for the lifting of a burden.

    HIV/AIDS has been a shadow stretching across my life since the early 80’s, even as a straight female – I was in my teens in the Bay Area and watched the horror unfold next to me. Losing a friend I loved was a horrible jolt of reality. And we were all left with the question of how to defend ourselves and walk that line between safety and sex… it never goes away.

    I wish you only joy and love… LE

  3. Thank you for putting yourself out there. For all of us, LGBT or straight.

    I’m currently reading ‘The Making of Matt’ by Nicola Haken. I appreciate the informed way she writes about how being HIV positive is not a death sentence. She includes the sad facts about the stigma attached to it, along with the hope brought by Truvada. and PrEP. All young people need to be confident enough they can deal with the topic openly with a future partner(s).

  4. Growing up in the Bay Area CA many of my parents and older cousins friends being gay or lesbian I was raised in a circle of gay was just another person but it was also the late 80s early 90s so the awareness and fear was out there. Every time my mom’s best friend meet another guy the “but he’s negative right?” question was thrown out. So much that when my female cousin brought her new boyfriend my 6 yay old brother made sure to ask in front of everyone “but he’s negative right?”. It makes me happy to see the strides made since then but I still remember the worry and tears for those who fought and those we lost.

  5. Thanks for another informative post. While it’s sad that there’s now a case of infection while using PrEP, perhaps it’s because the person wasn’t being safe & not because of drug failure. Maybe this is TMI, dunno. Just like birth control pills, no drug can be 100% effective. I would certainly caution my son to practice safe sex even using PrEP until he’s in a long-term committed relationship. But since he’s the one who first told me about PrEP, I’m sure he’s smart enough to know that. 😉

  6. Brandon, what a gorgeous post. I, too, am a child of the 80’s who grew up in that age of sheer terror. Some day, we can share our stories about waiting TWO WEEKS for HIV test results, the sheer numbing terror of possibly getting this (then) death sentence. I get it, brother. I thank you for your honesty in sharing this cautious and joyful (and slut-shaming-free) perspective. Beautiful.

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