Michael Penn and his part­ner Brian were di­ag­nosed with HIV at Christ­mas in 1986. Brian died only five months later aged just 39.

Gay Times Magazine - - ESSAYS - Words Michael Penn

For me, World AIDS Day is about re­mem­ber­ing Brian – my part­ner who died back in 1987. For the past 30 years, on 1 De­cem­ber, he’s been my fo­cus. This year I’ll mark it in my own sweet way. I’ll take a walk with my dog Lucy to the river where my part­ner’s ashes are scat­tered and rem­i­nisce. Then maybe I’ll go to the lo­cal vigil or­gan­ised by Terrence Hi­ins Trust.

When I sat with Brian the night he died, I said to my­self, ‘This dis­ease is not go­ing to get me’, and so far it hasn’t. We had a won­der­ful 17 and a half years to­gether. He died two months before his 40th birth­day. He’d been show­ing signs of get­ting ill for some time and it all came to a head that Christ­mas. He had lost a lot of weight. I got him back to Lon­don and he was di­ag­nosed with Ka­posi’s sar­coma. I was ad­vised to be tested, which I was, and it turned out that I was HIV pos­i­tive too. But I didn’t even think about it – I had other things on my mind and I had to con­cern my­self with Brian’s well­be­ing.

It was a pretty rough time for the next five months un­til the May of that year when Brian passed away. Then I had to start think­ing of my­self. Not that I did, be­cause I hadn’t been told I needed to take med­i­ca­tion. It wasn’t for an­other three years that I was told I needed to be tak­ing AZT. I’m amazed at the way medicine has im­proved over the years. I was even­tu­ally put on com­bi­na­tion ther­apy and that’s all been whee­dled down – now I take four drugs in two pills which I take once a day. And my vi­ral load is un­de­tectable which means that I can’t pass it on.

I was pretty fright­ened and scared at the time, try­ing to keep a good job go­ing as well, and, look­ing back on it, it was a pretty hor­ren­dous time. But you have to get on with life and take it by the horns.

I re­mem­ber the first World AIDS Day in 1988 very well. One of the churches near me in Ip­swich opened a book of re­mem­brance and Brian’s name was one of the first in it, which I was very touched about.

World AIDS Day is, to me, all about re­mem­brance. Re­mem­ber­ing the bad times, but also re­mem­ber­ing the good. Re­mem­ber­ing all the lovely friends lost to AIDS over the years. I was good chums with Kenny Everett and through him met Fred­die Mer­cury. All those peo­ple who were such a big part of the 80s – it’s such a waste of life, but won­der­ful lives lived to the full.

I’m 77 now and have been liv­ing with HIV for over three decades; although I’m told I look much younger, which is al­ways nice. I’m glad now that loss of life isn’t in­evitable. That for any per­son, what­ever their age and what­ever their gen­der, be­ing di­ag­nosed with HIV is not the death sen­tence that it was back then. You can get treated straight away, the med­i­ca­tion is very sim­ple and you don’t have to worry about get­ting ill.

But I wish World AIDS Day got more at­ten­tion as there are too many peo­ple walk­ing around this planet who don’t know they have HIV. Yes, it’s a big thing still and I like to think of it as a re­mem­brance day, in the same way as we think of the dead of the two World Wars and of all those peo­ple who have passed, but the press don’t give the sub­ject enough promi­nence. If they did, more peo­ple would get tested and it would help peo­ple newly di­ag­nosed know they’re go­ing to be ok.

I wear a metal red rib­bon all year round and I wear it with pride. It’s my way of say­ing, ‘This is to rep­re­sent the peo­ple who have passed away with AIDS’, and it’s a re­minder that I’m here and I’m liv­ing with HIV. I’m walk­ing around and I have HIV and I’m go­ing to talk about it if I get the chance. If any­one says to me ‘what does that rib­bon mean?’ then that gives me the op­por­tu­nity to open up.

And my mem­o­ries of Brian? Fun. Very in­tel­li­gent. Very the­atri­cal. Ev­ery­one seemed to be at­tracted to him and he had a very rich speak­ing voice. He could be in a hall and the lit­tle old lady at the back who’s deaf could hear him.

When he was last in hos­pi­tal, Diana Princess of Wales was com­ing to in­au­gu­rate the ward and his first re­ac­tion was – and this’ll tell you some­thing about him – ‘I’ve got noth­ing to wear!’ So I had to rush down to Ox­ford Street to get him a jump­suit he found suitable.

When she vis­ited, she sat on his bed and ad­mired this fabulous teddy bear some­one had bought him, wear­ing a sin­glet that had ‘TOUGH TED’ on it. And Tough Ted had stub­ble on his chin, one of his ears had been bit­ten, he’d been in a fight and he had an an­chor tat­tooed on one of his arms. And Diana sat and ad­mired his teddy bear and it was all over the press the next day.

World AIDS Day has al­ways has been, and al­ways will be, about my much missed Brian.

Terrence Hi ins Trust’s cur­rent Can’t Pass It On cam­paign is all about rais­ing aware­ness of what it means to be un­de­tectable, to erad­i­cate the stigma that sur­rounds HIV. The or­gan­i­sa­tion is also cur­rently run­ning a free HIV self-test pro­gramme, where you can or­der free HIV tests to take and re­ceive re­sults at home, via

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