Almost 25 years, still in the closet about HIV

January 2010

 By Lita Page

Most of my circle of friends, colleagues or business acquaintances would be pretty shocked to find out that I have been infected by HIV for almost 25 years and that five years ago I had full blown AIDS . As would my (HIV negative) teenage son’s school mates, friends or teachers in our upper middle class suburb, if they found out that his parents had AIDS. That’s why we stay in the closet.  My late husband, a bank executive, was diagnosed with full blows AIDS in the early 1990’s and went into the closet first. He was so ashamed and horrified that not only he was facing death but he may have infected me and our then 18-month-old son. There was no effective anti-retro viral cocktail and he died a few days before my son’s third birthday.

Then we went into the closet for fear of prejudice and concocted stories about my husband’s death. We varied our stories. I usually stuck to leukemia but my son varied from heart attack to cancer and sometimes to telemarketers he would say, “my Dad died on 9/11” or “he’s being held at Guantanamo.”    

We remained in the closet even after I developed full blown AIDS five years ago. With the exception of my few gay friends who have lost many, there is no one in my orbit who would really appreciate or fully comprehend my experience. So why share?  I do share with people who face life threatening illness or lose a spouse and I share my experience without all the gory details.

Keeping this deep dark secret can be entertaining. Women will often comment about how scared they are about contracting HIV. I nod and concur. When I am forced out of the closet in a doctor or dentist office when revealing names of my meds, they are amazed that a professional woman in a business suit, designer sunglasses, carrying a laptop, and blackberry is just a few years from full blown AIDS. They all want to know how I got it. Maybe I should concoct a story about that too? The reality of a conservative European banker husband that refused to admit he had been on the “down-low” may not be that exciting.

I have rehearsed the AIDS speech to a prospective male suitor. Should I make it a quiz? “What’s the worst STD in modern times?” Or a statement:  “Enter at your own risk.”  Or a fun fact; all my husbands tried to kill me; one gave me HPV, one gave me HIV and one almost bored me to death.

I am fortunate and grateful to be alive, feeling well, able to afford my Atripla, and that my son is HIV negative. We are still happy to be in the closet and to come out when we feel like it.