Andile Gidana

My partner’s act of courage helped me to confront my fears and take the test, writes Andile Gidana.

It is such a breeze for me to disclose now because I know that HIV is manageable, and that there is life after HIV. I never thought that I could live with it.

It was in 2003 that I met my current partner, Derrick Fine. I met him through Exit, the gay newspaper. It was love at first sight. I was swept away by his looks, his voice and his warmth. We started dating from that day and I was always looking forward to seeing him.

The last time I went for an HIV test was in 1996, and I was negative. I never bothered to go again. I just assumed that it would never happen to me. Although I had an inner voice telling me to go and have myself tested, I just ignored it because I was scared.

It was on a Monday that Derrick invited me to his place for the very first time so that we could get to know each other better and spend some quality time together. He sat me down and started telling me about his involvement in HIV/Aids work.

He said the reason why he invited me over was to let me know that he was living with HIV and that he didn’t want anything intimate to happen before I knew about his status.

I don’t know what happened to me. Instead of freaking out, I was more attached to him. I told him that I loved him and that HIV didn’t make any difference.

I could see on his face that he was surprised. I assumed that he thought I was going to reject him. I could feel that he was relieved, and he started crying because he was happy to know that he could still love and be loved in return.

When Derrick disclosed to me, I felt an urge to have myself tested again. I wanted to know where I stood, and with all the courage and knowledge he gave me, I went for my test in October 2003. The results came back positive. Funnily enough, I was not devastated — it felt like I was expecting it.

I started thinking to myself that sooner or later I would have to tell my family about my status. It was like a second coming-out, first being gay, and now living with HIV. My mom and I are very close, and I used to visit her at work on weekends. After my HIV diagnosis, it was difficult for me to look her in the eye — I felt like I was living a lie because she didn’t know.

I wanted to prepare her, as I knew that she was going home in December. I wanted to use that opportunity to tell her, together with the whole family. To my surprise, she was as strong as ever. She told me that she loves me for who I am and HIV is just like any other disease. She promised to give me all the support I need. My family accepted me, too.

I was relieved and grateful to know that I could count on her and the family as a whole. It is such a breeze for me to disclose now because I know that HIV is manageable and that there is life after HIV.

Derrick and I continue to support each other and we don’t let HIV control us — we control it because we are more powerful than it. I just want everyone to know that it is such a relief to get tested sooner rather than later. Believe me, it makes life worth living.