By Joshua Trotter
Edited by Christopher Heide
I once was a boy without fear of tomorrow. I lived without judgment because there was no judgment. I was just a boy, with blond hair, hazel eyes. I was once known as a mama's boy, who was studying to become a youth pastor, who thought that becoming more involved in religion, because his mother said it was good and right, was the best thing for his life.
Life was good, in the sense that I lived in what I would call the family of the American dream. We had toys. We went on vacation. We loved each other, because we were family. There was no fear of what tomorrow would bring because things were simple. Life was easy because the only expectation was to be part of the family.
Now I look back and ask - is that American dream still alive or has the dream changed? Where is the the little boy with blond hair and hazel eyes? Is he still innocent or has life corrupted the very thing he held onto for so many years thinking things would never change.
My name is Joshua Trotter, and I live today as a gay man with HIV. Most people will cringe when they hear the word HIV. You probably already did without realizing it. We as human beings are scared of the things we can not relate to or understand. We run from our fears and never embrace the true identity of community.
Where has the love gone? Where is the day when parents were be able to let their kids play in the yard without worry, where neighbors made one another fresh baked apple pies, where people helped the elderly across the street? Have we forgotten or is it too late to change the world?
I would say the majority of folks go through life closed off from the rest of the world. Most cannot see the hurt of our community because we have yet to let down our own personal walls of shame, guilt, hurt, etc. When problems of others in our community arise, we tend to place blame. We tend to throw judgment, not because we don’t care, but because the root cause of not allowing a sense of love to move through our hearts to others is because we as a people would rather live and go through life as simply as possible. Life, from my perspective, has never been easy.
I was infected with HIV back in November of 2011. This discovery has changed my life again. This is not the first time my life has been forever changed in an instant. There is no going back. There is no waking up and realizing this has been a dream. I will forever live with this disease.
When I first learned I was HIV positive, it nearly killed me and sent me spiraling into a deep depression. It made me feel as if I would never be pretty. It seemed that I would never find the love that, at times, I so desperately desired. It was easy for me to feel that my life was over. It was easy for me to feel defeated, lost, and disgusted by my own reflection in the mirror. For endless nights I would lie in bed crying myself to sleep with the thought that the pain would never end.
Each call to my mother asking for her love was met with the response –
“This is a consequence of your sin. You chose to have HIV and now you must live and die with it, may god save your soul as you enter into hell.”
It seemed that people thought of me as dirty. Their thoughts were no longer about the good I had done and continue to do for the community. I was branded by the injustice of another individual.
“YOU ARE POSITIVE!”
“YOU ARE UGLY!”
“HELL NO, I WON'T DATE YOU! I HOPE YOU DIE, YOU'RE DISGUSTING!”
All of these comments have been haunting imprints of my soul. I am forever marked and damaged by the words of the community. How does one survive such a hit?
Being positive is an endless battle rife with attempts to control the emotions of sorrow, suicide, rejection and much more. The best remedy at that time was just an empathetic phone call or visit from a friend. These seemingly simple gestures worked to calm my nerves; to settle my anguish for a moment.
What’s the process you might ask? For the first three months after my diagnosis I was in denial. I wanted to be me, but I felt that the person I was had permanently changed. I denied the fact that my health was rapidly deteriorating. My once soft skin was changing and becoming rough; I had first stages of eczema, a side of effect from HIV. Even the common cold was infecting my immune system, keeping me perpetually sick for weeks on end.
After that first stage of denial stage, I fell into a deep depression. I totally gave up on myself and would not get out bed for weeks. I gave in and told myself that I was no longer willing to fight. In my world, at that moment in time, it felt as if even my own mother was against me. How was I going to lift my head and continue to make something of myself? I had decided that I was completely defined by my disease. I had failed myself. There was no point of tomorrow. I had lost hope and the future became meaningless, abstract and unattainable. How many nights did I have to fight all on my own? Why couldn’t I get a break from it all? Could I just have a moment in time where I was just at peace? Amongst the endless waves of my desperation, I felt that I would never find that serenity. I could no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could only see the walls of my world tumbling down and I only had myself to thank for it. I was lost.
After that, I became deliriously angry. Angry at the fact that I was now defined by my disease Angry at my friends and family for not always being around. I began to push people away. One by one I was left with no one; no where to feel at home, safe and at peace. I just wanted to be happy, be loved, feel pretty and have a life that was enamoured with self worth once again. Was this the end? I began to suspect that it truly was.
I think most of us can relate to the idea of something in our lives that has made us ashamed to the point of self-loathing and disgust. Most of us can empathize with that consuming feeling of loneliness. We can never give up, because at the end of the day we must think about the bigger picture. What is your bigger picture? Affirm and own that you are HIV positive, or have cancer, or lost a family member or friend through an unfortunate passing, addiction recovery, homelessness, incarceration and or physical or emotional abuse.
This question did not present itself to me until about 97 days ago when I decided that I was no longer going to lay victim to my circumstances. A part of me still is a young boy with blond hair and hazel eyes, who is still innocent and so full of life. I made the decisions to take control of my own fate again take hold and move forward with my life.
It took me a long time to get to this point. For so long I had desperately wished that God would take me from the pain that I was feeling. Of course, he did not grant my miserable, self-seeking prayers. I was forced with the question of what is the bigger picture. I must believe that the point of my life was to live as an example; a pillar of strength, resourcefulness and triumph over hardship. I must believe that by engaging in the fight against HIV stigma and pushing for a future for my community, I have found my purpose in life.
Becoming an HIV activist in my community has not been easy. I am faced with the possibility of rejection. Faced with rejection and prejudice, I still choose to tell my story. It’s a calculated risk that I chose to take. Not everyone is going to understand my personal struggles or the many injustices that we have all experienced. Despite all of this, we can still band together as a community.
As a gay man living with HIV urge you to reflect about your life; to see where you can help improve your community today. Community can be as simple as saying hi to someone on the way to work. Or it can be more then that. Community is what you make it to be.
Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. We cannot continue to let the work that needs to be done be passed on to the next person. When each and every one of us has the ability for change.
If we all pick up the slack how much further will our communities thrive with success? Success is a powerful word. I choose to live as open as possible you never truly know what may happen within a day. If you can wake up and say to yourself I can or I will I promise you with in a week’s time you will see a difference in your life and in the people you surround yourself with.