"I wasn’t well educated on HIV and on the legal situation around HIV at work, but I felt that it was my duty to inform my employers in case I needed time off for medical or appointments or in case I ended up cutting myself at work and spilling some blood, so I told my boss. She was sympathetic and understanding but felt that she had to tell the Deputy Manager. The DM was known for not being particularly discreet and so I ask that the information be kept confidential. I was also worried about the impact others knowing of my HIV status may have on my career. The DM was also equally sympathetic when she was told. However, two weeks later, when I went into work I noticed people acting differently towards me, as if I was wearing a chicken on my head! I had no idea they knew, but I was getting those pitying tilted head looks. I collared one particular girl I was close to and she teared up and told me that everybody knew I had AIDS. My boss said it had not come from her. The DM admitted that she had shared the information over a glass of wine with a friend in the workplace. When I asked the friend, he admitted telling others and said he wasn’t aware that it was meant to be a secret.
The majority of my colleagues were young, HIV unaware, and didn’t understand the impact this had on me. I didn’t know what to do. I was petrified of my story going out further. But I was too scared to do anything about it. My boss said the only thing to do was to go right to the top. So, I made an appointment to talk with the Deputy CEO. He was horrible. He said it was just an accident that the information about my status had been shared and if I didn’t want that to happen I shouldn’t have told anybody.
People would ask and I would have to keep going over the story... rape... HIV diagnosis. It was exhausting. I went back to the Deputy CEO and he said that the only thing that could be done would be to go to a tribunal which would take all the information about my status in the public domain.
Over the next 3 to 4 months, I struggled with the diagnosis, thinking I was waiting to die. Struggling with work. Silenced. Too scared to do anything. Concerned about my career. I hadn’t told any friends. I had no support. For most of 2006 and 2007 I was in a dark place. I can’t really remember what I did. I would go to work, did my job well and then just come home and cry. I felt like I was the problem. I saw the Deputy CEO three or four times, just going round in circles. In the end he said ‘look, you need to close the door on this. If you want you can get a transfer to a different theatre or you could just leave.’ He kept pushing the responsibility back on me. I wish I had been better informed about HIV and about the law. The theatre was just reinforcing the message that had been pushed on to me as an abused child: don’t tell anybody because if you do it will only get worse.
My agent was telling me that I needed to go to castings. But I was too scared to walk into a place full of strangers, people I didn’t know. She was a fairly new agent to me. I’d walked away from the previous one when once, when we were discussing Freddy Mercury’s diagnosis and she said that nobody with HIV could ever expect to be cast in a leading role in the theatre. I told my new agent about my diagnosis. She was sympathetic and told me that she had been on the point of dropping me.
I stayed in the theatre job for another six months and then got a temp job as an exam invigilator which then turned into a permanent role for the next two years. I didn’t tell anybody there about my diagnosis. I didn’t even tell them I was gay. There was no sense of a community there.
Then in 2008 I realised I had to change the script. I started writing. Writing for myself. And out of that came the realization that I can be who I want to be. But this could all have been so much less painful if the senior management in the theatre company had been more understanding and supportive.