It’s that day again, and I can’t believe how unprepared I have been to mark it.
On this day in 1997, I got my diagnosis of AIDS, and not having been tested for HIV before that, I went from zero to AIDS in the space of a few minutes. I think we all know, or can deduce from the timeline, that the AIDS diagnosis doesn’t mean much anymore. It’s an important snapshot of a state in time, but it is not the one-way trip it was in the decade and a half before I was diagnosed, which ought to be clear from my presence here and now, 23 years later.
My title is a bit of a cheeky reference to one of those services that charges people to help the company build a giant database of genetic material (they should be the ones paying!), and this because of my relationship with my HIV. It’s in me, it’s a part of me, and it’s a big part of who I have become. It’s was a turning point for taking stock of my solid support network and the advantages that gives me, but it was also a moment for me to make the decision to be kinder and more forgiving to myself.
In the HIV movement, we often hear people say — and this might be language dynamics at play — “I’m HIV”. Some get angry at this, based on their own assessment of the role HIV plays in their lives and their many other identities. I have many identities, too, but I do tend to think, especially at this time of year, that HIV is too central a part of my identity to be separated or set aside.
It’s a funny thing that I count my HIV story from 1997, when my diagnosis tells me — tells us all, really — that the story started much earlier. I’ve done some exploring on this blog about when that start might have been, but I have always been reticent to seem like I’m finger-pointing or putting energy into blaming a person or a situation, energy that would be better spent taking care of myself. I still have one or two stories to tell about my theories and past experiences, but those will have to wait a bit longer for me to be ready to tell them.
I have kind of settled on the story of the time in 1981, right about the same time of year, when I went to the emergency with a problem in my throat. The doctor on duty had seen me before and drew his own conclusions based on that experience, which made things more difficult for me at this particular time of year. The follow-up showed he was wrong, and the fallback position was that I probably had mononucleosis, which in retrospect all looks a lot like the symptoms of an acute HIV infection. We didn’t know about that then, and neither, notably, did the man from whom I likely acquired it.
If I whip out my calculator and push a few buttons, the recalculation comes out to almost 2/3 of my life with HIV, but still only 23 years that I have known.
Besides, “39 and Me” isn’t as cheeky.