Ac­tor puts on a show for World Aids Day

Stockport Express - - News - DA­MON WILKIN­SON stock­por­t­ex­[email protected]­

NATHANIEL Hall con­tracted HIV when he was 16 years old.

He had only re­cently come out as gay.

Fright­ened, con­fused and ashamed, he kept the di­ag­no­sis a se­cret from his par­ents for 14 years.

Last Novem­ber the strain of ‘liv­ing a lie’ led to what he de­scribes as a ‘mini-breakdown’ and he knew he had to tell his loved ones the truth.

Last week­end the Stock­port-raised the­atre ac­tor, writer, pro­ducer and ac­tivist, now 32, put on a one­man show based on his ex­pe­ri­ences to mark World Aids Day.

Here, in his own words, he de­scribes his strug­gles grow­ing up with HIV. AGED 16 I met a guy in Stock­port who was older than me. We started a re­la­tion­ship. It was my first openly gay re­la­tion­ship.

It only lasted for a short time over the sum­mer.

As a re­sult of that re­la­tion­ship I con­tracted HIV. I found out two weeks af­ter my 17th birthday.

It was like be­ing hit by a bus. I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber be­ing told, I just re­mem­ber go­ing home and hav­ing to make this de­ci­sion as to whether I told my par­ents.

When I told him [the boyfriend, about the HIV di­ag­no­sis], I got mes­sages from his friends say­ing I was just a silly lit­tle boy and I was mak­ing it up.

I just re­ally wanted him to get tested and get the treat­ment re­quired so that he wouldn’t pass it on, be­cause most in­fec­tions come from peo­ple who don’t know they have the virus.

But I never found out whether he knew. He told me that he had been tested and that he had a clean bill of health.

I was acutely aware I had grown up gay. My par­ents knew I was gay. We’d had the con­ver­sa­tion about safe sex, so there was a lot of em­bar­rass­ment and shame.

As a gay teenager in the 90s school wasn’t par­tic­u­larly a happy place.

There was a lot of ho­mo­pho­bic bul­ly­ing that went unchecked.

As a gay man you get this mes­sage, through TV, through the me­dia, from so­ci­ety in gen­eral that be­ing gay is shame­ful. As you grow up you have al­most this in­ter­nalised ho­mo­pho­bia - and it’s hard to over­come that.

So while all that was go­ing on the shame and stigma of an HIV di­ag­no­sis was added on top. It was a very pow­er­ful thing - it still is.

I chose not to tell my fam­ily. I thought I would at some point, once I’d got my head round it, but then days turned into weeks, into months and into years.

The longer I left it the longer it felt like I was liv­ing a lie.

Over 14 years there were bouts of de­pres­sion, lots of anx­i­ety. There was a lot of al­co­hol, drugs. I was just try­ing to blot things out.

I re­alised I had a prob­lem last year. I looked in a mir­ror and didn’t recog­nise who I was.

I felt that if I didn’t do some­thing about it it could spi­ral into some­thing re­ally se­ri­ous.

As a the­atre-maker I write a lot, I write po­etry and I write my thoughts and feel­ings down, just to try and make sense of them.

So one af­ter­noon I sat down and wrote all my thoughts down in let­ters to my fam­ily to ex­plain what had hap­pened.

It was a way of say­ing I need you to help me. I tried to do it so many times be­fore in per­son, but just couldn’t.

I wasn’t sure if I was go­ing to post them, but af­ter­wards I felt re­ally calm, so I sent them off straight away so that I couldn’t sab­o­tage my­self.

The re­sponse was re­ally un­der­whelm­ing to be hon­est. My fam­ily are very, very sup­port­ive. I got a few texts and calls say­ing they were re­ally sorry I’d had to go through it my­self.

But that’s great. They were just quite mat­ter-of­fact about it.

It still an on­go­ing process. The con­ver­sa­tion is still go­ing on.

It was a huge re­lief, it felt re­ally free­ing - it still does. I’m a lot calmer now. My anx­i­ety is get­ting bet­ter. I’d get a re­ally tight feel­ing in my chest, that’s not nearly as bad now and it’s def­i­nitely be­cause I’ve told my fam­ily.

When I was work­ing on the idea for the show with my col­leagues they asked if I was def­i­nitely sure I wanted to make it all about me. But that was the most cru­cial thing.

I know lots of peo­ple with HIV who are keep­ing it a se­cret from their work, from their fam­ily - and they shouldn’t have to.

It was so im­por­tant to say ‘This is me,’ with­out any shame.

If it in­spires just one per­son liv­ing with HIV to say I am go­ing to live with­out shame then I have done my job - I will be very happy.”

‘If it in­spires just one per­son liv­ing with HIV... then I have done my job’

●●Ac­tor Nathaniel Hall

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