It was September 7th, only the other day that I happened to come across a Fabulis members profile after he had asked me a question. This member Joey Cumley has quickly become a new inspiration to me. I asked him if he would mine if I attempted to tell his story about his diagnosis as HIV positive. Soon, I found him to be one of the most positive people on Fabulis Joey Cumley is my inspiration this week and of whom I write.
Joey hales from Kansas originally, but as soon as he graduated high school he managed to escape with an ex bf, and moved to Chicago. After breaking up Joey took a job as a flight attendant based out of NYC area and located to the big city and was fortunate enough to be able to travel all over and meet people in every city. Joey told himself that once flying stopped being fun that he would quit, because he didn’t want to end up one of those mean bitter bitchy flight attendants that feel trapped in their jobs. After 3 years, Joey decided it had run it’s course and quit and moved to his favorite city, San Francisco.
It’s kind of amazing that in each city that he has lived in that he can look back and see very clearly how his life changed and how he evolved. When he was in Kansas he told me that he was a sheltered, ridiculous boy that had no culture and didn’t know anything about the world. When Joey moved to Chicago, he remembers seeing a Yamaka for the first time, and eating exotic foods – also distinctly remembering how it felt seeing two guys holding hands in public without any fear of heckling, or violence.
He also remembers that it was in Chicago that he met the first person that ever told him he was HIV positive. Joey thought he was foolish enough at the time to think it was the first positive person he had ever met, although now
it’s clear to him that this was just the first person courageous enough to admit it. Joey admits he had an instant connection with this man, and although they both really cared for each other, the “HIV thing” ended up being too much for Joey to deal with in the end. He was scared he would get it, to some degree, but what really scared Joey was the thought of falling in love with someone and then losing them, or seeing him get sick and himself being helpless.
He remembers one night when the two of them got home from dinner and drinks, and Joey’s boyfriend realizing he had forgotten his meds at his place and Joey making him leave at 2am because he was so panicked that he was going to be sick. It broke Joey’s heart to end things with him, and to realize that he couldn’t handle something like that and for a time Joey hated himself for it. Joey and he kept in touch over the years, and in fact still talk today..
The connection is still there, that is undeniable, but thankfully he was able to find someone else and settle down. NYC was almost overwhelming for Joey. He was fortunate that a group of NYers took him under their wings, and introduced him to everyone, and made it such a great experience. Living in NY, and flying, it really let him figure out myself. Joey became very independent, and learned not to care so much about the opinions of others.
Later he moved to SF. It immediately felt like home to him, and he was welcomed by a group of friends of all ages, that were all so individual and carefree. It was in SF that Joey met many people that were HIV positive, and all very open about it. He was able to ask questions, and begin to understand the disease better. Joey felt his fear of the disease slip away with each year that passed, and with each friend that told him about their situation and what
they were going through. Joey constantly felt pangs of guilt for not having known all of this years before, but unfortunately in the Midwest it’s just not something that is discussed, and there is a huge stigma attached to anyone that is positive.
It was three years ago now that Joey tested HIV positive. It’s not something that he wanted, nor it something that he ever thought would happen to me. He doesn’t blame anyone, he was an adult and on occasion made decisions that were not the safest, and now the consequences are his. Joey’s friends rallied behind him 100%.
Joey remembers the weekend after he found out. He was at a party with some of his best friends, and he couldn’t keep it to himself any longer so he told some of them, and he just felt a warm sea of arms around him and reassurance that everything was going to be okay. Some of Joey’s older friends became the mama hen types and told him that he needed to start taking better care of himself, improve his diet, start working out, etc. Joey remembers being amazed that not one person was scared away, no one turned their backs on him and no one let
fear stop them from helping him through what he was going through. Joey had a group of younger friends that hadn’t been exposed to HIV much still, and they had a lot of questions. Joey decided very early on that he wanted to and something compelled him to be as vocal about this as possible, and he wanted to
answer any questions that anyone had. He told his friends to tell people, he didn’t want this to be some dark secret that consumed him. Instead Joey wanted everyone to know, and Joey didn’t want to feel any shame or darkness surrounding it.
Joey was very fortunate that his numbers(T Cells) were always very good, and his strain of HIV is highly sensitive to all medications, so he’s been undetectable since very early on. Joey told himself that if in fact people decided that it was too much for them to handle, they should at least know up front what they are getting themselves into, and know that he is positive. He also made the decision not to hold it against anyone if they were scared, or ignorant, because it was only so many years ago that he was that boy.
He didn’t expect things to unfold the way they did though. He found that as soon as the word got out, he started getting messages online from friends he had known for a long time, all of a sudden confessing that they too were HIV positive. They asked about the reactions Joey had gotten, and slowly some of them started to be more open about their status as well. Joey also became sort of the go-to guy for people if they tested positive. Joey was 25 when he tested positive, and still remembers scouring internet chatrooms, and trying to get advice from people. Unfortunately most of the advice came from people much older, that had a completely different experience than what someone today goes through. Joey can’t imagine what it was like being around when HIV/AIDS destroyed so many lives, and people saw their friends passing. (In 1990 a family member of mine was diagnosed as HIV Positive and at the time ; the outlook for those with HIV or AIDS was very grim)
Joey felt an immense guilt though because those people didn’t know what was happening, now we KNOW better, so you feel a failure when you test positive. It almost felt like I let the whole community down. (Joey, you lifted the gay community up and brought them together and continue to do so.
Joey always tend to give good advice, even when he has a hard time accepting it himself. Over the next couple of years, over a dozen people came to him when they found out that they too had tested HIV positive. Joey was able to help them get over their guilt, and their fear, and tell them that you can’t let this HIV positive diagnosis define you. A lot of these guys were in their early twenties, and Joey wanted them to understand they shouldn’t throw their lives away now, that you’re able to live your life the same way you were before, so not to spiral into any sort of depression.
In hearing how they got HIV, often times it was because they simply hadn’t been tested, or their partners were not tested, and they had this silly blind trust. Joey will not judge anyone for the decisions they make, if someone only likes bareback sex, then that is their decision but even more of a reason for them to know their status. It’s dangerous for us not to be open about HIV, because hiding from it is what causes the stigma in the first place, and the reason that it to continues to spread. The disease is manageable today, and Joey truly believes that people truly need to hear about what our lives are like, so they can stop being so afraid. Obviously this doesn’t mean people should go be risky because there are no consequences, being HIV positive does change you.
It makes you look at mortality, it makes you question how others will view you, in many ways you deal with coming out of the closet all over again. Joey is now back living in Chicago, and now he is experiencing some that are
uncomfortable with his status. It’s amazing to see how much things have changed there, as many are open about it now, and Joey has many negative friends that could care less, but there are still not a lot of people that discuss it, and it’s definitely more feared here than it was back West. Joey always feel honesty is the best policy though and thinks that nothing bad can come of being up front with this. If someone decides that it is too much to handle, at least you both realize it up front before too many feelings or
emotions are involved.
If a friend decides they don’t want to hang out after hearing a diagnosis of HIV positive , the friend probably wasn’t that invested in the relationship anyway. Once you start to realize these things, it’s very easy to be open, and
when your REAL friends are surrounding you, it makes it seem like it’s just a small insignificant part of your otherwise amazing life.
Joey joined Fabulis, a social networking site when it first started, although he really didn’t do much on the site other than exchange bits with one of his friends in Atlanta. It wasn’t until very recently that he has started asking
questions of people, and exchanging messages. Fabulis is such a fantastic site, because there are so many kind, wonderful people from all over the world, and in giving each other “bits” they are boosting each other. Joey can’t think of a more positive website. We are in many ways, pushing each other up.
…And I cannot think of a more positive influence on fabulis other than Joey
Cumley. Your words come through strong and clear. Thank you Joey. x
Submitted by: Joe Lethbridge
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