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Black Voices: Three Years of Knowing My Positive HIV Status

Patrick IngramThis December 1st, it will be three years since I learned about my positive HIV status. Since then, the journey hasn’t always been easy. I have experienced successes and challenges—but I am always learning. During my days of being newly diagnosed, dealing with mental illness, contemplating suicide, and, letting others stand in the way of my true happiness, kept me from being comfortable in my own skin. After countless visits with my therapist and having better support from those around me, I decided to start the process of disclosing my status through storytelling online. Despite my own difficulties, I have chosen to be open about my status and by using new media and public speaking, I believe I am helping to fight stigma. By showing people what it looks like to live with HIV, I am using my journey to amplify the voices of others like me. (This process may not work or be appropriate for everyone.)

Disclosure

While many people choose to keep their status private, my positive HIV status is something that I openly share. Telling people that I’m HIV-positive is not the hard part–I can simply send them a text or direct them to my blog Exit Disclaimer or YouTube channel Exit Disclaimer. The most difficult part for me is waiting for their response, because that’s the time I start second guessing if I should have revealed myself in the first place. But by speaking out, I have found who Patrick Ingram is. I am proud of him and I am proud of his journey.

The journey is not easy at all because having to deal with rejection and absurd reactions from others come with the territory. I face many uphill battles of having to explain what it is like living with HIV in today’s technological age to sexual partners, friends, colleagues, family members, and other loved ones. Disclosure for me is always tricky because there is never a perfect way of doing it. The easiest way for me is to share my blog or just pose a question like, “I am HIV-positive, is that an issue with you?”

The waiting game for a written, facial, or verbal response is always the most anxious part of the entire process for me. Some have questions and some block me on social media and never speak to me again. What I have learned that if someone is not comfortable being around me because of my HIV status, then they were not mature or worthy enough to really get a chance to know who Patrick is. My newly found confidence, love for myself, and growth as an individual has helped for me to continue to live openly.

The Power of Friendship

Having friends who love and support me has been an important part of my experience of living with HIV. My relationships have renewed my faith in the power of vulnerability; because I know those relationships would not have blossomed if I were not open and honest. Once I shared my fears, it was life changing to be able to place my trust in friends who did not change the way they interacted with me. In fact, having my best friend, Davia, say she loved me and that she would be my biggest cheerleader helped me get my life back on track. It’s wonderful to be able to be who you are. My friends remind me that I am not alone. With them, I can speak freely and feel a sense of normalcy–and I know they are on my side.

A Guiding Hand

Experience has taught me that having a guiding hand is valuable not only for my own journey, but also for addressing the challenges that the Black LGBTQ community faces. I am fortunate to have many inspirational mentors in my life–from a very good friend who helps me to reflect on my experiences, to an elder letting me cry on his shoulder and vent my frustrations. Prior to becoming HIV positive, I had one mentor, Calvin who constantly checked on me and empowered me to be the best person I can be. He was one of the first people to know my positive status on December 1st (World AIDS Day) and continues to keep in touch with me to ensure that I am taking care to ensure I take the necessary steps to keep the virus in check. Calvin and my other awesome mentors in my life are amazing in ensuring the journey is less of a struggle than a hardship.

I have also recognized that the work of organizations such as the Young Black Gay Leadership InitiativeAIDS.gov, the National Minority AIDS Council’s Exit Disclaimer Youth Initiative to End HIV/ AIDS in America, National Youth HIV&AIDS Awareness Day Exit Disclaimer, and individuals in communities have provided a lot of support to gender and sexual minorities of color. For example, the Elite Project in Birmingham, Alabama Exit Disclaimer is a safe drop-in center for the LGBTQ community in an otherwise conservative southern city. This center provides prevention services, entertainment, intellectual conversations, professional and personal development, and–most important–a place to be one’s true self. Centers such as the Elite Project are needed in every community across our nation to provide the same support, friendship, and mentorship that has helped me get through.

Taking the time to reflect on my journey since learning of my status is an important part of my experience living with HIV. Over the last three years, I have learned a great deal about myself and about living with HIV. Disclosing my HIV status has been difficult at times, but the support of friends, family, and the community has been very valuable in my journey.

I hope my reflections and story can inspire others to support people they know who are living with HIV and, for those with HIV to remember that they are not alone. For now, my goals are to: continue my daily work to educate others; break down the stigma by speaking out; serve as a resource for people who are newly diagnosed; educate myself more on issues that affect the Black community; and continue to seek self-improvement.