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Coming Out Again
by Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr.
I think of Michael all the time. I forgave him long ago for lying to me about his HIV status. I was at least as responsible as he was for what happened. I now understand intimately his fear of rejection. It’s happened to me too many times.
I had no long-term relationships in the following two years, mostly because others feared my HIV. “It’s not you, it’s the virus,” they said. Even today, those words still sting.
Only two years after recovering from my major clinical depression, I found myself slipping into another one. Apparently, the root causes of what was bothering me had not been addressed. This time, my parents noticed I was becoming emotionally distant.
I finally realized that not being out to my family was contributing to my depression. So, with three simple words—“Yo soy homosexual” (“I am gay”)—I came out to my parents in 1996. I spoke with them in Spanish as a sign of respect. It took me a few visits before I found the right moment. It was even more difficult than I expected. Tears were plentiful—on both sides.
My sister had moved far away a few years before with her husband and my nephews. I didn’t want to wait to tell her in person because I wanted my parents to be able to talk with her about it. I mailed her a letter telling her that I am gay and followed up with a phone call.
It took years for my parents and my sister to grow accustomed to the idea of my being gay. It took me years to adjust to them knowing that I was gay. It was a delicate dance for us all.
I made a conscious decision not to disclose my HIV status at the same time that I told my family about my being gay. I believed that the news that I am gay would be difficult enough. Although I postponed sharing my HIV status with them mostly for that reason, I also believed that there was no point in telling them. I was pretty sure I would be dead in a few years anyway.
As the years passed and I continued to be well, I began to accept that I was going to live. I started a career in publishing. I got a master’s degree. I had two long-term relationships. I got Bailey, a toy fox terrier that wins over everyone she meets. I traveled, including a visit to the Libyan desert in 2006 with my ex-partner to witness a full eclipse of the sun. I’ve now raised my expectations of survival to the point of believing that I’ll die an old man.
In the last two years, my personal growth has continued into a new long-term relationship and new professional opportunities. To sustain it (i.e., preserve my sanity), I realized that finally it was time to come out again.
“Yo soy VIH positivo.” With those words (“I’m HIV positive”), I came out to my parents again in 2008. For this second act of disclosure, I decided to speak with them in Spanish, as I had when sharing the news that I’m gay. It again took me a few visits before I found the right moment.
I didn’t anticipate that telling my parents would be so anticlimactic. I expected a repeat of the emotional encounter of my first coming out, but instead serenity ruled. My parents and I handled it with grace. Perhaps it was prudent not to tell them early on, but I clearly didn’t have to wait as long as I did.
Like before, I didn’t want to wait to tell my sister in person, but this time I skipped the letter and just called her. I didn’t anticipate how difficult the conversation would be without the ability to share a smile or a hug, but we got through it.
I am sure it will take years for my family to adjust to the news that I am HIV positive, but already there are signs that this time it will be easier for them. It already is for me.
Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different if I had come out sooner about being gay or being HIV positive. What if I had come out about both at the same time? Whether it would have been better is something that I’ll never know.
Knowing what I know now, however, I believe I would have been happier if I’d shared all my news sooner with my loved ones. While I can’t change the past, I can learn from it. Coming out—about any truth at any time—can improve your life. The truth indeed can set you free.
Editor's Note: Gutierrez is currently editor-in-chief of POZ. Visit his blog at blogs.poz.com/oriol for more on his life. (Clic aquí para leer este artículo en español.)
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