Manny's Story

Realizing that you are gay isn't easy. Neither is telling your family, especially if your mother is a strict Catholic. Manny thought his mom might have known, but she never said anything—until Manny began to exhibit signs of being HIV-positive. When he started losing weight and wasting away, his mom came up to him crying, and gave him a hug. That was the sum total of her acknowledgement, except for the way things changed at home. Everything became plastic at his house: dishes, cups, utensils. He felt awful—as if he had leprosy—and guilty because he had caused so much anguish in his family.

Yet today, Manny says that having HIV was not a curse, but something that saved his life… It made him humble and he realized that life is too short to be bitter. His dad, who had always been the quiet parent, told him that just because he was small (Manny is about five feet tall) didn't mean he couldn't do anything he wanted. Manny realized it was the same with HIV. Just because he is HIV-positive didn't mean he couldn't help others, and he has been doing just that.

Manny believes that he became infected from his former partner of 10 years who used heroin, crack cocaine, as well as alcohol. Manny too began using drugs. Eventually, he realized that this was not the life he wanted.

It took three attempts for Manny to become clean, but with the help of Vida Serena (a drug rehab center), he has been drug-free for over four years. Through SAAF (Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation), Manny found help. At Vida Serena, he was required to perform community service hours, which led him to TIHAN. He began volunteering as a receptionist in the TIHAN office, and now he is involved in speaking to groups, telling his own story about living with HIV. He says he is tired of being in the background and wants to make a difference, to be useful. Currently, Manny also works for Vida Serena as a Resident Manager. He talks to clients and tells them his story in an effort to help them kick their habits and to show them that it is possible to change their way of life.

Manny has some health issues— heart disease runs in his family. His dad died after a quadruple bypass, so Manny goes to the gym in an effort to regain his strength, takes vitamins, and is currently on two medications at night.

Manny's new partner of five years is also HIV-positive. Manny learned sign language since his partner is deaf. This has also been a blessing for Manny since his partner told him that deaf people have an advantage when communicating. Most people just blurt out what they want to say without thinking about their words or their consequences, whereas hearing-impaired people have to think about what they want to say so they can form the correct words with their hands.

With the help of caring people and organizations, and his own strong will to survive, Manny is blossoming into a powerful role model for others who want to live a healthier and happier life.

—written in part by Valerie Golembiewski

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