In one year, 24-year-old Timothy (not his real name) went from party animal to Aids volunteer. He changed when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in September last year. A routine health screening just before he finished full-time National Service turned up a positive HIV test result. It was the first time the gay man had tested positive in eight years of anonymous HIV testing.
Thin, with fine features, he recalled: “Everything collapsed. I really didn’t know what to expect.” Timothy said he became sexually active at the age of 16. He frequented pubs and clubs along Tanjong Pagar and would visit Zouk about once or twice a week. He often had casual sex with men he never saw again, behaviour that he knew put him at risk of HIV. This is why he made sure he got tested every year.
Timothy still does not know who infected him. He said, regretfully: “It was no use pointing fingers. I realised that I could have passed it on to someone else unknowingly and this weighed heavily on me. “There’s no book to tell you what to do.” He turned to Action for Aids (AFA). Volunteers there offered to break the news to his family but he declined, fearing it would destroy them. But then word got out. He does not know how but some friends found out about his HIV status and posted unkind comments on the social networking site Facebook.
He recalled: “I didn’t have a choice then not to tell. These friends judged me and I lost friends as a result. “Since they had taken this right of telling others about my HIV status away from me, I felt that the least I could do was to inform my family myself.” The news nearly tore his family apart.His parents, both in their 50s, took the news about their youngest child and only son harder than he did. He said: “They stopped talking to me for a month or two. I knew I had broken their hearts.” As for his three elder sisters, aged 26 to 30, they went berserk, he said, and lashed out at him, believing he had been dealt a death sentence.
But with time and some help from AFA volunteers, who visited and counseled them, his family eventually rallied around him. He said with a wistful smile: “They saw that I am still their brother and son – nothing changed with the diagnosis.” His HIV status became a litmus test for his relationship with others, said Timothy. “Some don’t view you in the same way anymore; they put up a fence against you,” he said. “To me, it’s not the virus that kills, it’s the mindset.”
Now that he was experiencing the stigma of HIV firsthand, Timothy became a volunteer with AFA to dispel the myths and fears surrounding the disease. He works in the health-care sector and says his employers are aware of his health condition. Some colleagues have shunned him, while others who were initially uncomfortable slowly overcame their own prejudices and now readily interact and have meals with him. While he has lost some friends, he has gained a lot more by becoming closer to his family, said Timothy. They are aware that he will begin anti-retroviral therapy soon at the Communicable Disease Centre.
He said: “I no longer go clubbing or do dangerous things which worry my family members and make them think I’m not taking care of myself.” The avid cyclist took part in AFA’s fund-raising spinning challenge at Velocity last Saturday, one of the activities organised for World Aids Day yesterday to dispel misconceptions about HIV and Aids.
Said Timothy: “Fear of HIV is the one thing that prevents people from knowing more about it. Some think it’s infectious just by breathing the same air that you breathe, which is ridiculous. “HIV-positive people are human and they still enjoy the same things that others do.”