Weighing Options
I’m Going to Be Fifty-One—A Good Time to Reassess
by John Francis Leonard

Hold on a minute and bear with me. Yours truly couldn’t think of a thing to write about this month, so this essay is going to be a bit off the cuff. My column usually centers around what I’m thinking at the time and how that is affected by my diagnosis. What I’m thinking about right now is that in two weeks time, I’ll be celebrating the fifty-first anniversary of my birth and, as an HIV-poz individual, that’s a lot to celebrate! I’ve always been a fatalist, even as a small boy. As a young man I always believed that I would die young and when I received my diagnosis at thirty-three, I felt it was par for the course. As a fatalist, I’ve been proven wrong and I’m happy to say that I’m still here! I’m not going anywhere yet. Besides, I have yet to win the Mega Millions and I still believe I am fated to die wealthy.

The best birthday gift I could have received this month came early and it’s a gift that’ll keep giving for all of us in the poz community as well as the LGBT community and that’s a Democrat in the White House again! Not only a Democrat, but one with a long history of service to minority communities. We also have my initial pick in the primaries and the first woman, black and South Asian, Vice President Elect Kamala Harris. As I wrote last month, our country is deeply troubled and divided right now and I can’t think of two more qualified individuals to lead us out of the mess we’re in. We can finally see some real progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS once again, not gaslighting by an administration making phony promises on the one hand and fighting for religious extremists on the other. Religious liberty is just a new word for bigotry and discrimination, there is nothing Christ-like about it. Plus, can’t say you will end HIV/AIDS and turn around and do things like cut funding for research, end Planned Parenthood (an organization long at the forefront of that fight), and outlaw poz individuals from serving their country in the military. After four long years of marginalization, minority communities in this country can finally exhale.

On the dating front, things have been lively to say the least. I met a young college student online and, in what is probably the biggest cliché of my life, we have established a relationship, albeit a mostly sexual one. He wasn’t fazed by my status; it always surprises me how well versed in U=U young people are and he wasn’t caught short by my disclosure. I was going to leave it at college student, but the fact is that he’s nineteen. I probably need my head examined! Like my dear friend with benefits, Brett, he’s bi and from a black church-going family, so he is closeted about his affairs with men. I never thought I’d be fine with that, but I’m not looking for a traditional relationship, so if nothing else, that puts some parameters on our friendship He pushes at those parameters, however, as he’s young beautiful and not used to hearing the word no. He grew up in financial privilege and is rather spoiled, but we’re working on it. He has his whole life ahead of him and while he’s a little infatuated with me, I’m certain that I’m a brief stop on a long journey.

On the health front, I’ve made a serious decision. I am pursuing weight loss surgery. It was a hard decision to make and it took a while to come to terms with just how heavy I’m getting. I really want to live my healthiest life as an HIV-positive individual and I can’t do that if I’m this overweight. It’s easy to rationalize my weight, I’m six-one and built like a linebacker. I’ve lost twenty to thirty ponds before only to put even more back on. Now they don’t just perform this surgery when you ask for it; it’s a six-month process of doctors and tests and I’ve worked with both a nutritionist and a psychologist on this journey as well. If things continue to go to plan, I’ll have the surgery at the end of January. Another big decision was which surgery to have; there are two that they recommend. One, the more radical of the two, is more prone to complications and leads to a more extreme weight loss. I have witnessed two people at work who had this form of surgery and their weight loss is so significant that, to me, they look unhealthy. I’m much more comfortable having the simpler surgery, the gastric sleeve. My doctor agrees that with my height and weight, this is much more practical. If I do the work, I’ll lose sixty to seventy pounds and I’d be thrilled with that and look much healthier than if I were to lose 100 to 120 pounds with the bypass. I feel confident in my decision and look forward to feeling and looking better. I’d be a total liar if I said that this surgery were only about my health.

I am very blessed to be turning fifty-one. So many in our community including many dear friends, did not enjoy that privilege. I’m going to make this a new chapter in my life and start living more fully in my fifties. For so long after moving back to my small city, I couldn’t settle down. Now I’m surrounded by good friends and family and I’m a part of a community. It feels great and I look forward to more happy and healthy years to come.

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.