Dating is never easy, but it’s especially complicated for Luis Oyola. The 24-year-old is trying to find love in the Bronx, but it’s no Sex and the City.
“It just seems to be guys wanting to just get in my pants, and if I do find someone that I’m interested in, I get nervous telling them my status,” Oyola says. “I taught myself to just brush off [the nerves].”
Oyola doesn’t shy away from the subject of HIV, even if not everyone is comfortable with it. “I know I shouldn’t tell someone my status unless I’m getting intimate with them, [but] I just feel like breaking the ice with it.”
Oyola tested positive about four years ago, and it was a surprise. A persistent cough brought him to the emergency room, and after three days in the hospital, he tested positive for chronic bronchitis. His doctor urged him to take an HIV test and later brought him into what seemed like an “airlock chamber for contagious disease.”
“The thoughts that went through my mind were scary,” Oyola says about receiving the news.“I [felt] like, I’m going to die. I wanted to hit the doctor and scream at the top of my lungs. Instead I told the doctor to leave the room and I punched the wall.”
After talking to some loved ones — and eating a mammoth amount of Chinese food and chicken nuggets — Oyola calmed down. But he remained depressed, and it took him a while to realize he wasn’t going to die.
Even though he doesn’t have a romantic relationship right now, he has worked to improve another important relationship in his life — the one with his mother. First Oyola had to come out to her about being gay. Before he could find his own way to tell her, gossip got to her. But his “old-school Puerto Rican mom” surprised him.
“When I came out to my mom, I expected a Bible to the head and holy water,” Oyola says. “Instead, she told me, ‘It’s OK, I still love you, just know to be careful out there.’ ”
Then he had to come out about his HIV-positive status. When he was in the hospital for bronchitis, his mother suspected more was going on with her son’s health. Then she decided to speak to the doctor herself.
“I got up so fast from the bed with the IV in me and ran to the doc and told him not to tell my mom,” Oyola recalls. “He said he won’t due to confidentiality.” Not long after, Oyola told his mother himself, and eventually she grew to accept it.
Oyola is now working on his high school equivalency exam and considering studying technology, computer science, or anatomy at college. While he puts himself out in the dating world, he’s also getting better about talking about his status.
“Most guys around my age do talk about HIV,” Oyola says. “They are aware of some info, and it’s awesome to educate others about it.”