Words by Ruaidhri O'Baoill | @RuaidhriOB 

Just over a month ago I passed the three-year mark since my HIV diagnosis. 

I had the date marked in my diary and was looking forward to acknowledging it in some respect but when it came around, call it getting older perhaps, it slipped my mind and it wasn’t until the day afterwards that I realised. I was a bit sad that the chance of celebrating how far I had come in the three years had passed me by.

A few days later I had an epiphany moment; maybe not remembering it was actually the perfect way I could have celebrated. I had got to a point in my life where my diagnosis was not at the forefront of my mind any more and that was a pretty incredible feeling. I know where I was back then and I know where I am now and the difference is fucking awesome. All of this then got me to thinking that maybe this was the right time to move on from my columns and FS magazine.

While I was working out what I would want my final column to say, I decided to re-read my first email I had sent to FS magazine just under three years ago. I had got in touch with Ian Howley (editor at the time) only six weeks after my diagnosis not only asking for some advice but mainly to express how much I had felt there was no one my age being publicly open about their status. I was twenty-five at the time and I didn’t have anyone to really look up to. 

I had read some of Kristian Johns’ work and knew this is what I wanted to do. This is how I want to talk about HIV and more importantly my own diagnosis. He was honest, funny and relatable. I told Ian that there were not really any positive role models for me and he said why don’t you become one? Three years later and here we are. Do I think I achieved what I set out to do? I hope so. 

Over the years I have had numerous guys get in touch to ask for advice, say thank you or even just to talk about stuff. That has meant the world to me. It has and still is incredibly validating to know that other guys out there are going through and feeling exactly how I have felt or am feeling. There’s a whole community out there who although you do not know them personally you know they have got your back. We are all going through this together, no matter at what point in our diagnosis we may be. 

A lot has changed even in the past three years. We have had the evolution of PrEP, the affirmation that being undetectable means HIV cannot be passed on and more importantly, for me, a significant rise of those who are more publicly open with their status. When I first volunteered in the HIV Stripped Bare campaign in 2014 (see my banner image for my debut shot) there were about ten of us who took part. Since, there has been a continuous increase of new volunteers who are eager to stand up and be counted. We now have greater visibility not just within the gay community but also in the mainstream media. This has been down to each and every single person who has been brave enough to stand up and tell their story.

This must continue to grow and if there is one thing that I would love for you take from my columns it would be to start, and keep, talking about HIV without any shame. It was because I started and kept talking about it that my friends understood and learnt more, that my family were able to look after me in a way we all never imagined would have been necessary and that I have been able to now get to a point in my life where I am happy. The more we proudly talk, the more we change the world.

I would never had thought that I would end up writing columns about myself for a magazine, but being HIV-positive allowed me to do so. I also would have never had thought I would have coped with a HIV diagnosis but by writing these columns I have been able to. Honestly, I like who I am now and I have to admit that being HIV-positive has played a huge part in that.

Before I sign off, I just wanted to say thank you for letting me process my journey so openly and publicly without any fear of judgement but rather with a lot of love and support. It has been life changing.