By Tom Hayes @positivelad | Photo © www.flickr.com/kevinshine


It seems almost every time I read an American paper, or read online news, another gay teenager in the US has committed suicide. I sit there and read the article talking about how they were a ‘promising student’ or a ‘loving son’, I see the photo of their young face and every time my heart breaks a little more. If only I could have spoken to them, held their hand and told them it’ll be all right and given them a hug. I feel so completely and utterly powerless to help.

All of this comes from a culture that is so heavily led by the conservative and religious right, a culture that promotes the ‘nuclear family’ of a heterosexual couple and two children as the ‘normal’ way to be. Anything else is considered ‘alternative’ (and in some cases immoral) and either marginalised, ignored or actively discriminated against. So is it any wonder these kids feel like outcasts?

So with all this going on you’d think the gay community would be a supportive environment, where no person should feel alone. Sadly you’d be wrong. In society generally, but especially in the gay community, there’s a huge amount of stigma attached to being HIV-positive. So much so that I almost took my own life.

I’d only known that I was HIV-positive for about five months at this point and had only disclosed it to a couple of close friends. I was still dealing with things. I was having a meal out with friends one evening, and my phone started buzzing. It buzzed again, and again and again. I normally ignore my phone when I’m out but something was up. I checked. Someone had posted my HIV status on Twitter for all to see. They were claiming I was infecting people without telling them. I felt sick, no – wait I was going to be sick.

I watched in horror over the next couple of hours, not saying a word as people debated openly on Twitter how ‘sick’ and ‘twisted’ I was for going around ‘infecting people’ – this all from one malicious tweet. Not a scrap of evidence to back it up. Then began the hateful emails, Facebook messages, text messages. People telling me that they couldn’t be friends with me any more, how they hoped that ‘AIDS kills you’. My life was unravelling in front of me on a 3.5 inch screen.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I did that night. I was shaking with a mixture of fear and anger the entire time. That’s when I decided to end my life. I knew exactly how to do it. I’d jump from the bridge in the city centre into the fast-moving dual-carriageway: certain death. Quick and easy.

I was getting dressed, getting ready to go and do it, when my friend Ben came in and asked what was wrong. Somehow through the tears and the shaking I managed to convey what was going on, and he sat me down and talked to me. He told me that I didn’t need friends like that. He told me that it would get better and that I was being foolish. Ben made me go back to bed. Ben saved my life that night and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Looking back on that day I feel so foolish. Foolish for having almost ended my life at 25 based solely on other people’s prejudices. It’s not been an easy journey but it’s a worthwhile one. I get emails every day saying how my blog is helping people accept their new HIV status, and if I’d jumped from that bridge I wouldn’t have been able to help them. That’s reason enough to stick around on its own.  


Tom Hayes is an HIV activist and the editor of Beyond Positive - a site which aims to empower and support HIV-positive people. For more info, visit www.beyondpositive.org.


THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM ISSUE #149. 
FS 149: GAY MEN AND THE BATTLE TO BE HAPPY
 

INTERACTIVE: