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Coming out as Singapore’s youngest person openly living with HIV

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Calvin Tan, 24, is Singapore’s youngest person openly living with HIV.

I was diagnosed with HIV when I was 19 from having unprotected sex with a HIV positive person.

He stated that he was positive in his Grindr profile but I did not ask if he was virally suppressed. I continued having sex with him because he was the easiest avenue to satisfy my skin hunger since he likes it bareback as well.

It was a deadly combination.

When my test results came back positive, I tried to act strong. I threw myself into a situation where I was not aware of all the consequences. Thanks to my actions, my life now will be forever changed. I kept thinking to myself, I am going to suffer. I am going to be rejected by everyone. I broke down in tears, overwhelmed by the reality that I am going to be a person living with HIV from here on.

Five years have passed since. I am 24 and have spent the last few years being an advocate for people like me. I also work as program coordinator for Action for Aids Singapore, planning and executing HIV prevention programmes targeted at men who have sex with men.

I am the youngest person openly living with HIV in Singapore. There are many downsides to choosing to live openly with HIV – discrimination after all is alive and well in our society, and in many other parts of the world.

But it really sucks when it comes to being intimate with other people.

Once, I disclosed my status to the person I was with right before sex.

He stopped and said: “You are positive, and you still want to have bareback sex”?

I regretted not informing him earlier, but if I did so, would I even have the chance to have sex with him at all?

Why was I feeling this way? I am virally suppressed. I, of all people, wish not to harm others. But why do I experience serophobia so strongly in this community? Am I not allowed to have the sex I want?

Disclosing my status when I go on dates backfires as well.

The worst dates I had involved me wanting to be vulnerable about a personal topic with them.

After I confess my status, it always ends up being an interrogation session.

“How did you get it?” eventually leads to “I think we are better off as friends”.

Don’t they want to know who I am as a person, instead of what I have?

Disclosing to my family was a hit or miss. My mum took it poorly. Her English is poor and did not understand what HIV meant in English.

So I had to say in Mandarin: “我有艾滋病.” (I have Aids).

She panicked, thinking I was about to die.

Devastated, she looked at me and said: “You see what happened when you continued with this gay lifestyle”?

It took months to convince her that my medication works. But, she still believes that I could be “cured” if I attended faith healing classes with her.

She thought I needed “help”, when what I really needed was her support.

To be honest, when I was first diagnosed, I did not think about other people who were also feeling the grief and loneliness of being HIV positive.

But we all do. When I realised this, that was when I decided to become an advocate.

Society needs to know that living with HIV hurts, that we cry and bleed like anyone else.

Coming out as a young person living with HIV (PLHIV), I’ve become a symbol of hope, honesty, courage, but also a target for homophobia and serophobia.

And I am okay with that.

Calvin Tan

Calvin has been an HIV advocate ever since he was diagnosed with the virus during his late teens. Over the years, he has opened up to the public on the discrimination he has faced regarding his diagnosis.

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