By Matthew Hodson | @Matthew_Hodson

I’ve been living with diagnosed HIV for 18 years. This is hardly a revelation as I’ve been blathering on about it publicly for the last five years or so.

I was diagnosed on 30 April. Like most people with HIV that I know, I remember the date. And I remember how it felt to me at the time, the words “I’m sorry to say that your result was positive” echoed in my ears for weeks after.

I knew that I had taken risks on a couple of occasions, when drunk and heartbroken. I had also had a long-term relationship with someone who was living with HIV and, although we always used condoms, this was in the days before treatment so his viral load was high and any incident of condom failure could easily have resulted in transmission. The health advisor grimly informed me, when he took my blood to test, that both these factors placed me in the high risk category.

I had held out on testing for a couple of years. In part because I knew that I needed to be strong enough to deal with a positive result, should that be the case. Also, I wasn’t sold on the idea of knowing I had HIV when there was so little medically that could be done. All of that changed in 1996 when it was announced that triple-combination therapy was effective. Clinicians started to talk with hope of ‘near normal life-expectancy’.

To me, then in my early thirties, I took this to mean that with treatment I might survive another twenty years. I expected though that my face and body would still be ravaged by the disease. That I would wear the scars of infection and suffer the fear, contempt or pity of others as a result.

Now, as I approach my half century, I feel glad that I expect to beat that twenty years target by some distance. Dosing has got better and side-effects are now rare. I have enough energy still to run 10km at the weekend, and do a full week of office work and then go and perform in a show in the evening. I take fewer days off sick than most people I know.

Despite the advances in treatment, many within the gay community and the wider public still are ignorant about the virus and unduly fearful of people with HIV. Although friends and colleagues knew about my HIV status, I feared saying anything about it publicly. I didn’t want to take on that responsibility. I didn’t want to risk being shunned. I feared disappointing my family. I felt about my HIV status as I had felt about my sexuality, back when I was a teenager, with a Government that derided gay relationships as ‘pretend’.

When I started talking about my HIV status publicly, I felt unburdened. I get the occasional bad reaction. Every now and then someone will use social media to say something along the lines of ‘hurry up and die from AIDS’. Yes, still. More frequently the response is from people who are grateful for my honesty, or who take the opportunity to ask me questions about HIV, life expectancy and risk. I have been given an opportunity to dispel ignorance and fear and I do what I can.

My twenties and thirties were blighted by far too many funerals. I never had the opportunity to see how Ray, Mick, Roy, Paul or Derek would have reacted to the seismic changes we have seen in society. They never searched for anything on Google, they never went on Grindr, they never knew a world where the age of consent was equal and gay men and lesbians could marry.

Ultimately, being open about their HIV status wasn’t an option for them. The symptoms were visible and the virus ended their lives all too soon.

I’m living with HIV now. I’m married, employed and healthy. I appreciate how lucky I am.

Matthew Hodson is the Executive Director of NAM