The Háttér Society organizes a community meeting for people living with HIV every two weeks. These casual occasions are open to everyone. Each month, Humen Magazine features regular participants who are happy to share their stories with our readers.
Péter is bisexual. So far, he has had two serious relationships, both with girls – the first in high school and the second during his college years. He realized his attraction towards people of the same sex at the age of eighteen. He found it hard to accept, suffering for two years until he began to date boys as well. From then on, however, the inhibitions faded, as he really enjoyed being able to seduce “anyone”.
He was very active, but responsible in his sex life. Although he has always known about HIV, he only started to collect more information on it after he started dating boys. He was aware that HIV was not equal to AIDS, and that protection is necessary, but his interests stopped there. He had his prejudices against people living with HIV, and never even thought about looking for the company of those affected. He did not know anyone in his direct or indirect environment who had anything to do with HIV.
His life started to take a new direction in 2016, when he began his second long-term relationship that lasted three years. Unfortunately, after a year and a half, the relationship turned sour. Quarrels, emotional blackmail, a sense of clinginess have taken over the place of carefree love. His girlfriend repeatedly threatened him with suicide if Péter left. But instead of stepping out of the relationship, Péter chose cheating as an escape. “When you feel trapped, you are capable of very stupid things. We often don’t know how to escape emotional traps – or we just don’t dare get out of them.”
However, he was still very responsible when it came to safe sex. There was a total of four people in his life with whom he did not use protection: his two girlfriends, a random guy in his early twenties, and the last boy he had an affair with. He said the guy told him not to use a condom. He convinced Péter that everything was fine and that there was no one else he was having unprotected sex with. “I trusted him because I was an idiot.”
A month later, he noticed that the lymph nodes in his groin were enlarged. He first went to his GP, who sent him for several tests, but none of them yielded any results. Unsurprisingly, Péter turned to the internet where he found out that HIV can cause such swelling.
Immediately, he visited the Anonymous AIDS Service on Karolina Road. The quick test showed a conditional positive result, to which he reacted with a panic attack then and there. On the way home, he called his girlfriend — who by then was aware that Péter was bisexual. She has always handled this well. However, she did not know about the regular cheating. Péter told her that he just tested positive for HIV, so there is a good chance that she also contracted it. They met at Péter’s apartment; her partner later told him that she could only be angry with him until she saw how utterly broken he is.
Since Péter had also been having sex with his partner besides the affair, he was understandably worried. The following one and a half weeks was a nightmare, when he already knew he was HIV-positive, but his girlfriend had not yet been tested. He gave himself an ultimatum: if he ruined someone else’s life, he would put an end to his own. But the girl’s test came back negative. Péter’s relief was indescribable. “If I would’ve given it to my girlfriend, I would have killed myself for sure.”
Although their relationship had not been working for a long time at the time and he used cheating as an escape from his girlfriend, Péter is not blaming her for contracting HIV. He sees her responsibility solely in the fact that he has become more promiscuous. But he also doesn’t blame the boy from whom he caught the virus. After the result of the second, confirmatory blood test, Péter spoke to him. The guy learned from Péter that something was wrong. In the year and a half since then, they have spoken and met several times, and since the former partner is not a native Hungarian speaker, Péter helped him several times when he had any questions about HIV treatment.
While he was depressed, he let his girlfriend support him. When they did not know yet if she was also positive, they talked about continuing the relationship. They felt that their newly “acquired” (supposed) status could hold them together. But Péter broke up with her right after it turned out that she is HIV-negative. He also managed to get a little stronger mentally after that. “You can’t waste your whole life next to me because you think you can’t find someone better than me,” he told his girlfriend. It was very difficult for them to agree that it could not go on and they put an end to the three-year relationship.
In addition to his ex-girlfriend, Péter shared his situation with other people close to him. In fact, he feels he made the mistake of initially telling a few too many people than he should have. He tried terribly to cling to people’s help and support. “I was yearning for someone to calm me, for someone to say something that will end this nightmare.”
It particularly hurts him that he did not receive any support from his three college friends. He was tested in the early summer of 2019 and they completely turned away from him for the summer break: for those months, he was virtually completely alone with his suffering. This is partly due to the fact that he was again preoccupied with the idea of suicide, so he started going to a psychiatrist, with whom he underwent three medical treatments in a short time.
His mother already knew about the situation when Péter was just going for the testing. Later, when he traveled home to the countryside, she tried to comfort him. The first night she wanted to sleep with his son so that Péter would not feel so alone. He called his father after the first test result, who immediately traveled to Budapest when he heard his son’s voice on the phone. They were sitting in the apartment with his girlfriend when he arrived. Péter then also told him that he was bisexual. His father tried to reassure him, “You don’t have to worry, I’m sure you weren’t so stupid to expose yourself to such things.”
But Peter was cruelly honest. “But yeah, I was exactly that stupid. What will happen to me now?”, he asked desperately from his father, whom he had seen so fragile for the first time in his life. He turned his back on his son for a few seconds and even a tear ran down his face. Although he has never asked his son about HIV or bisexuality in the year and a half since then, he always listens very carefully. “I was very proud of Dad for rushing to me, trying to comfort me. He was homophobic all his life, so it was a new challenge for him. But he handles it very well, even his language use has changed a lot since then, at least in front of me.”
As a person living with HIV, the most difficult period for Peter was when his virus cell count was not yet down to zero. “I felt cut off from life.” He had not received any medication in the first month, at which point he began to envision all sorts of symptoms, panicking that his immune system would give up. He tried to ease the unbearable pressure with smoking weed. He was addicted before, but then a radical change took place. He switched from one or two grams a week to five grams. Although he decreased the dosage when university started in the fall, he still looked sickly. His mental attitude to things had changed so much that he could not concentrate on anything. In February of the following year, he asked for a passive semester at the university. “I had to put myself together to be able to do anything.”
When we talked in early February, he hasn’t smoked a single cigarette in four weeks. It is going easier than he thought. The last time he had a longer clean phase was in 2018, when he didn’t smoke for sixteen days – but that was primarily due to him breaking his hand, and not being able to roll with one hand. Now the first four or five days were “the real dog days,” but after a while he overcame them. At first, he still needed alcohol, but now he doesn’t.
He thinks he’s not addicted to weed or alcohol, but to habits. Marijuana stopped having an effect on him, it was simply the ceremony that accompanied it mattered to him. It was the same with one of the sedative medications that his psychiatrist once prescribed him. Even though you want to quit that too, it’s going to be a lot harder. There are times that you don’t even take it for a week, but because you have poor sleep, you are forced to.
Since 2018, he has been visiting a therapist for certain intervals, who recommended the Through Positive Lens group to Péter. Together, they called the Háttér Society regarding the details of the meetings, but it still took a whole year for Péter to go to one of the Friday night occasions. He didn’t know what to expect. “I didn’t know how closed the door was. I was afraid because I’m not exactly gay, they won’t accept me.”
In the summer of 2020, he felt very alone again. So, he decided to finally go to a meeting. “In the worst case, they’ll kick me out.” His fears were not justified at all, he felt relieved by the end of the first time. “Everyone saw that I was shitting my pants, but I also told them.” One of them reassured Péter that he had spent five years without daring to tell anyone about HIV. Another regular participant analyzed the results of his blood test for him, reassured him about the numbers. Peter felt welcome. He found that there were also things in the circle that he has to discover for himself.
Dating is still difficult. However, he jumped in the dating pool soon because he thought it would make it easier. He told his status to one boy. He had had his only proper date with him for a long time. He told him about his status on the third date – the guy handled it very well. “I’ve done stupid things before too and the difference between the two of us is that you had less luck,” the boy told him. It meant a lot to Péter. “Your status doesn’t change who you are. You’re not a bad person for not using protection.” In the end, things didn’t work out between the two of them, Péter had to face the fact that he wasn’t ready for it yet emotionally. He has been more careful since then and feels he would not be able to open emotionally for now. He’s afraid he’ll be rejected and doesn’t want to go through a bad experience. He has no idea how he would take it.
Péter wondered a lot if he should tell us his story. He was unsure. He thought a lot about it, talking to his mother as well. Eventually, he opted for the interview because he thinks there may be readers who recognize themselves in some element of his story. Be it bisexuality, a relationship-turned-emotional prison, escape routes, fresh HIV-positive status, addiction, or dealing with all of this. His story is not an easy one, it is full of difficult moments. But with perseverance, hard work, opening up to others, and sharing, he is already confident that others will draw strength from it.
Previous interview in English: