Gay Times – HIV During a pandemic

Gay Times – HIV During a pandemic

Everyone can agree sustaining connections during the coronavirus pandemic has become harder.

But I’ve particularly enjoyed participating in Positively UK’s Gay Men’s Group – a support group for gay and bi men living with HIV.

I spoke to two of the group’s members. Their very different but complimentary stories highlight a whole range of issues for people living with HIV.

Chris O’Hanlon is the co-ordinator of the Gay Men’s Group. He is 43 and was diagnosed with HIV in 2016.

Thomas (a pseudonym to protect his identity) is 75 and was diagnosed with HIV in 1996.

I began by asking how they experienced their initial HIV diagnoses?

Chris: “I remember my hearing seemed to go and the room became almost tunnel like. I later realised that in that moment I went into shock. I was devastated. I was already watching my father die but now my own mortality was questioned. The coming weeks and months I became suicidal, suffered massive social anxiety.”

Thomas: “I was married, and my wife and soulmate was fully aware of me being gay, and supported me along my HIV journey until I lost her to cancer a few years ago. My diagnosis was not really a surprise. But the prognosis (we both asked for it with no punches pulled) was devastating. ‘You are most unlikely to see in the new millennium.’”

I then asked Thomas about ageing and HIV?

“Coping in later life is very different – things like social and sex life become a bit less urgent and imperative, but on the other hand, the onset of the normal ageing medical conditions can be more difficult. And friendship and affection remains just as important all the way through.”

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Date: Monday 20 Nov 2017 10:12 pm

‘I’m often asked on dating apps if I’m clean. I reply “yes I shower daily”’. 

Chris O’Hanlon can talk about his HIV status with good humour now – knowing that effective treatment means he can’t pass on the virus.  The main challenge he’s now facing is outdated attitudes from other people.

‘There is still so much stigma out there that needs confronting, especially in the gay community,’ he said.  I’ve been told to get lost and die when I’ve told people I am HIV positive, because they think I’m spreading HIV.  Some people also say they don’t date or sleep with people ‘like me’, to which my response is ‘that you know of’,’ the clinical hypnotherapist and personal trainer from Luton said.  The truth is they may have slept with people who have HIV and don’t know it or even guys who know their status but haven’t said for fear of rejection, because there are a lot of gay men who remain undiagnosed.  It’s common that you get blocked or people stop talking to you because you tell them you have HIV, Some of this is ignorance and fear.’