“He’s HIV Positive!”

Apparently today is National Coming Out Day, if I’m to believe my Facebook and my Twitter feeds. This is great for two reasons:
1. Going to a Professionals Mixer at the Abbey tonight and am bringing my gay ex-husband/roomie with me. Flame Dame clichés galore!
2. Don’t really need another reason, but I wanted to make a list.

Admitting your sexuality to others can either be an easy chat or a heart-wrenching ordeal. Luckily my friends who have come out have been able to have a relatively easy time of it (at least with the people they’ve been able to tell – sibblings and friends, but the parents may be left out for the first few years). I realize it helps to be in liberal-ish California to break the news and that millions of others are still struggling with being accepted as human beings, much less homosexuals.

To honor this special occasion, I’d like to share the story of how my mom’s youngest brother decided to come out. At the time it wasn’t that funny (for reasons you’ll soon read about), but fifteen years have passed and I’d like to think that my mom kind of laughs about it today.

I came across my first gay man at the age of fourteen. My father had just reconnected with his long-lost half-sibblings, and we discovered that his brother was gay. Having never been around a gay man before, I was intrigued by the hand gestures, the slight gay lisp mixed with a Long Island accent, and the gentle swish of the hips as he walked. I abolutely adored my newly found uncle – the things that came out of his mouth and his personality made me feel like I’d come home to something. It was comfortable, like a friend you’ve always wanted but never imagined in your wildest dreams that you’d come across someone so divine. It also felt like I could explain where some of my sarcastic traits came from, as my mom’s side was much tamer in their sense of humor.

A year passed, and my newly-discovered uncle was a permanent fixture in our lives. Everyone was comfortable around him, and I was pleased to see that my family wasn’t doing the usual quiet back-handed whispers that come with anything that doesn’t follow the norm. My mother’s youngest brother must have been relieved by this, because soon after we received a card in the mail, with this image on the front:

I had just gotten home from school to find my mother sitting in the den, crying. The amount of tears meant that it was more than just a touching moment on Oprah, so I assumed that someone had died.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Uncle M-mike c-came out,” she sobbed.

“So? Uncle Gordon’s gay.”

“He’s HIV positive!” She broke down in fresh tears.

“How do you know?”

“He s-sent this card…”

She held out the card and I glanced through it. Inside he mentioned how much he loved our family (especially our love of food), then casually mentioned that he was gay. He said that he sent everyone else cards in the mail and that we weren’t to worry about his health: he tested HIV – and would always use protection.

I turned to my mother. “I don’t see the part where he’s got HIV.”

She pointed to the line where he wrote “I tested HIV -” and got upset again.

“Mom, I bet he means that he’s HIV negative.” It dawned on me that he probably intended the dash to mean “negative,” but my mom took it to be a pause.

It took a few hours before she managed to get a hold of her brother by phone, and he apologized: he did indeed mean for that phrase to read as “HIV negative.” My mom was feeling much better after that conversation, knowing that her little brother wasn’t going to die of a terrible disease.

For me, I was pleased to have another gay man in my life. Little did I realize that this would cement my fate as a Flame Dame (and I wouldn’t become aware of the title until I started working in retail).

I am proud of my uncle for coming out, and I’m proud to have so many gay and lesbian friends in my life. You guys are the ones that keep my life exciting, and I Thank You from the bottom of my heart.

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