Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

The HIV 101

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Let’s call it the small H. Although it is a virus like the flu or a cold, HIV is different because it attacks the immune system, which is our body’s defense mechanism against all kinds of sickness.

So where on earth did this come from? Two words: monkey business. Scientists have identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They say the virus most likely jumped to humans when they hunted these chimpanzees down for meat and came into contact with their infected blood.

Now, this crummy little nuisance of a virus has the nature of finding and destroying a certain type of white blood cell, called the T-cells or CD4+ cells, which are like the fighting soldiers in an army. Once inside the cell, HIV is able to use a cell’s own mechanisms to replicate itself, producing millions of viruses, eventually killing the soldier and releasing even more of the virus. Sound like the Alien movie? Well, it is literally an Alien invasion!

Technically, you can’t die from simply having the HIV virus in you. You just have a weakened immune system, making you more susceptible to serious infections and other diseases, some of which, like cancer, can be deadly. These are called Opportunistic Infections. But the good news is that there are now ways to maintain and strengthen your army, enabling it to fight your battles. It will really be up to you whether you have the will and the discipline to do so.

What is AIDS?

Now, AIDS is a slightly different story. Let’s call this the big, awful A. AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome; it is the final stage of the HIV infection. Reaching this stage means you have not been able to maintain your fighting cells (T-cells or CD 4), and as in all things, neglect leads to ruin.

But, mind you, it can take years for a person infected with HIV, even without treatment, to reach this stage. Getting to the stage of AIDS means that the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has trouble fighting infection. When a person has a number of Opportunistic Infections, or a very low number of T-cells, he or she is considered to have AIDS.

Again, technically, AIDS is not what will kill you. It just allows for the killer infections to overcome you. But you don’t even have to reach this point anymore! That’s why it’s important that you take an HIV test early enough to treat the small H in its infancy, so you can take the necessary steps to avoid reaching the big awful A!

Who can get HIV?

Regardless of age, gender, sexual preference, race, religion or class, anyone can get HIV. Yes, that means you and I.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Although flu-like symptoms, frequent fevers, night sweats, enlarged lymph glands, significant weight loss, persistent diarrhea, unexplained fatigue and acquiring other sexually transmitted infections are a number of red flags to look out for, there are no hard-set rules on the symptoms of HIV. As the pinoyism goes - You can never can tell!

You cannot rely on symptoms alone because many people who are infected with HIV are asymptomatic - do not manifest symptoms - for many years. One can look and feel healthy, but still be infected. The only certain way to find out if you are infected is to be tested for HIV.

Are HIV and AIDS deadly?

Again, technically, no one dies of HIV or AIDS. Having HIV or AIDS only exposes the body to Opportunistic Infections, which are what ultimately cause death.

The killers, or Opportunistic Infections, include Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, Diarrheal Diseases and Cancer, among others.