HIV, homophobia the ghosts that haunt Chris

HIV is a ghost that haunts every waking moment of Chris' life.

The 38-year-old sits back on a worn lounge in the home he shares with his partner and a little terrier called Max and a black and white cat known affectionately as Moggy.

Breathing deeply, voice shaking slightly, he recalls one of the last memories he has of his big brother Jerry.

"I remember looking at his hands and all I could see were warts," the tall softly spoken bloke, who does not want it use his last name, says.

"He died of HIV-related pneumonia."

It's been 20 years since Jerry died, but the wound is still raw.

As a teenager, Chris had plenty of reason to look up to his brother - he was intelligent, good looking, a successful banking professional and a proud gay man.

But Chris also knew his hero had a weakness - heroin.

Like a lot of drug users during the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, Jerry got the virus sharing needles.

"The discrimination was awful back then - it was disgusting," Chris says of his brother's last few months.

"He got fired for being HIV-positive, my family completely abandoned him.

"I had to run away from home to see him before he died.

HI"He was so sick, he was getting everything.

"The medications weren't working.

"It was horrible."

Many people say time heals all wounds.

For Chris, though, time simply makes the wounds bearable. Personal loss, homophobia and the worst of luck have scarred his life.

Growing up with strict Pentecostal Christian parents in the Wynnum region, Chris knew coming out meant he risked the wrath of his parents who steadfastly refused to accept his and Jerry's sexuality.

"With me, my dad says 'I have to tolerate the fact that you're gay'," Chris says.

"That really hurts."

Three years ago, he hit rock bottom after a plan to spice up his relationship brought HIV back into his life.

"As relationships do, we were getting a little bit stale and we wanted to add variety to the package," Chris says of the casual encounter with a stranger that sent his world spiralling out of control.

"I never got to meet the person I got it from ... maybe he didn't even know he had HIV."

Among a sea of writhing bodies in a dimly lit male-only club, Chris became caught up in the moment.

"Sex can be very emotional - people don't think when they have sex," he says.

"You're both drunk, you're both attracted to each other, you don't take a second to think about whether or not you want to use that condom.

"You go directly into the act ... you just don't think."

Chris concedes the plan to spice up their love life was his partner's idea and the outcome tore them apart.

"I don't blame him any more," he says.

"I think he was angry with me and I was angry with myself for being so stupid."

The couple went their separate ways for about seven months.

"There was a lot of fighting about HIV," Chris says of that torrid time.

"We fought a lot about it and there was a lack of trust between us."

Three years later and Chris is still counting the cost.

"It has had a huge impact," he says.

"Not only on my relationship, but on my own life.

"It changes the way you think about sex, it changes the whole idea of relationships, it changes where you can live or what you can do.

"For example, I can't just pick up and move anywhere in Australia because I have to have a clinic that's close by because I need to have testing every six months.

"It's very different, very emotional."

The well-educated and articulate unemployed childcare professional and his partner are living on struggle street.

No job means he cannot afford for his partner - who cares for his ailing mother full-time - to take the HIV prevention drug Truvada.

Because it is not on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, the preventative pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug costs about $10,000 a year - a figure well above the couple's meagre finances.

They can't even afford to spend the $1300 a year it costs to import the drug.

"PrEP would be an added security for him and for me," Chris says.

"Even though I'm on treatment and I know the virus is very hard to pass on, deep down inside me there's still this fear that it could happen - that I could give Ian HIV.

"God forbid, but I promised myself that this virus will die with me and it scares the living shit out of me - I don't want Ian getting HIV."

The company manufacturing the drug hopes it will win approval to go on the PBS next year.

Until then, Chris and his partner are playing it "very safe".

While the burden sometimes weighs him down, Chris says it is vital for those around him to know HIV is not the death sentence it once was.

"HIV has changed," he says.

"Without treatment HIV can kill you, but with treatment it won't.

"The big thing to remember is you don't have to die from it, instead you live with it."

Chris says he hopes others will learn from his mistake.

"Be informed about sexual health," he says.

"Stay safe. Always use clean fits. Always use a condom.

"And don't be afraid of testing."



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