HIV / Case History: John finds the strength to be positive: Liz Hunt meets a one-time yuppie who lives with the legacy of a San Francisco summer

THE HEALTH advice for British gay men worried about Aids in 1984 was simple; don't go to bed with a North American, or anyone who has been there.

For 21-year-old John Harvey (not his real name) who had done exactly that, there was no one to turn to. 'In the United States there was some information about this thing, but here there was nothing, just 'gay plague' scare stories . . . It was frightening because I knew what was likely. I knew something was wrong.'

John, a student, had spent the summer of 1984 in San Francisco. In February 1985 he had an HIV antibody test, which had just become available. It was positive. 'There was no counselling at all then. They said 'you'll probably be dead in three years' and that was it . . . It was my final year at university, I had a career and life ahead of me and I wasn't going to give it up. I was an Eighties child: I wanted it all, the house, the job, the money.' He opted for a life as normal as he could make it, and a decade of being 'body positive' has not changed his view. Now classed as a 'long-term survivor', he remains in good health. He has qualified as an accountant, has long-term goals, contributes to a pension scheme and saves for his old age.

His 'yuppie' aspirations have been tempered and the greed is gone. 'Facing up to the possibility of dying in your thirties is a strange experience . . . It is a cliche, but it puts life in perspective. It is horrible to draw a line through someone's name in your address book. I leave it as long as I can. Some people have had to throw away their address books.'

Having endured the roller-coaster ride of hope and despair of Aids research - of wonder drugs that were not, and unsubstantiated claims that HIV was harmless after all - John is realistic about the future. A cure, he says, is unlikely but better understanding of the immune system and how to protect it from the ravages of the virus will continue to lengthen Aids-free survival. There will be a shift in the public perception of HIV, but it will never lose its stigma, he says. His employer and work colleagues do not know he is HIV positive.

John's greatest dilemma was when and what to tell his parents. They knew he was gay, but it was not until last year he told them he was infected. 'It is hard to tell your parents you will probably die before them. They would carry the burden more heavily than me, but if you don't tell them until you have Aids, they feel betrayed. My mother said 'I thought we'd been lucky and you'd escaped'. They'd considered it, read up about it. They knew what to expect.'

However, that didn't stop false hopes when some newspapers said Aids was a myth and that a dissolute, promiscuous, 'druggie' lifestyle rather than HIV was responsible. 'My mother would send me these articles from the Sunday Times; she would say 'look it is going to be OK, you don't live like this'. I am bitter about that.'

Weeks go by when John Harvey does not think or talk about HIV and he insists the diagnosis casts no long shadow on his life. What he hates most is the uncertainty. 'That is the hardest to cope with . . . Sometimes I'll wish I'd get ill and know it's all over. I hate the disease and what it does, the loss of dignity. Then the feeling passes and I put up with the uncertainty.'

Body Positive can be contacted on 071 373 9124.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
boxing
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living