Christmas Morning When You're Single...

Photo: Nomao Saeki.
I committed to writing this piece a couple of weeks into December; I had an idea that I could write a series of pieces documenting my single – no children, no partner – yuletide season. I think that was a plan, a handy plan I hatched to allow me to avoid facing the real emotions of the day. As I said in my last piece, I haven't intentionally experienced a lonesome Christmas, I've always had company; for the last few years I've always found company. Not only did my handy avoidance writing plan allow me an alternative focus but it also meant the world at large would see me as a something: a writer, a success, content, fulfilled? I'm quite good at hiding from the world; years of drug addiction helped me hone that craft.

But I'm disconcerted to report that my cunning plan to avoid anything real on this festive morning has failed, but not failed because of anything dramatic or anything expected.

What did I really expect to happen when I declared I'd write about Christmas rather than actually live Christmas?

There is no immaculate arrival of a child or partner bearing 'tiny diamonds' or sexy knickers that barely cover my vagina; no wise peeps knocking at my adobe windows and no unrequited gifts left on my door. Nothing dramatic, just silence.

What did I really expect?

What I've got is silence, pure and simple. A silence that on some level or maybe many levels I've created – a silence that entered my life when I was first diagnosed with HIV, all those years ago. I have cultivated that silence ever since, unwittingly. Maybe it was always there. I can't fathom how long its longevity has shaped my being, but I do remember it as a tangible thing that I sought out when I couldn't find a way to process being diagnosed as positive. I sought out silent places.

Back then you were offered two things after diagnosis: a visit from the priest (other religions on offer) and a form called a DS1500. Those letters and numbers, 'DS1500', hold such a potent significance for me as it was the form that entitled you to death benefits. It stated that you weren't expected to live more than six months. It was the official state entrance to your death. It allowed you to die with apparent dignity, more trinkets or perhaps the odd day trip to contemplate your impending death by the seaside.

The DS1500 curtailed many lives. It's hard to come back from an entitlement to death benefits, a little like the insidious practice of declaring teachers incapable or hospitals as failing institutions. The language of doom seldom inspires aspiration and the DS1500 seldom inspired a fight for life. I lost many people in those years and I lost the ability to process what was happening in my life and to my life. I had arrived at university full of hope, expectation and youthful eyes looking forward to an unknown future. I felt brave and optimistic and that I could be anything I wanted or needed to be. The DS1500 made me question everything that I believed about personal struggle; I was the first person from my extended family to go to university, I was having the ride of my life. Perhaps that was the problem?

This morning's silence has taken me right back to those initial feelings post-DS1500, I didn't own up to them, I didn't know how to express them. I felt anger, a raging anger that my world that I had worked so hard for could be destroyed with a few words on a government form. I'm not blaming the form – it was an absolute godsend for so many whose lives would be blighted by opportunistic infections, the spite of stigma and a painful morphine-soaked end. But I didn't want a DS1500, I wanted a degree, a degree that to me seemed mythical.

I didn't die in six months and I did get a degree two years later, but I've had a lightning bolt of realisation on this incredible planned, staged Christmas morning that I have also created a life based around silence and on avoiding connections with people.

I didn't realise it at the time but in some way I believed those words on the form, and I stopped trying to connect with the world as a living person. I lived dying. I live dying. I see vibrancy through a lens, through a narrative, through the laughter of others, the loves of others. Through my writing and maybe my work. But I never feel it inside me. I gave up expecting that way back then.

Why am I so surprised about the silence this morning? I have cultivated it. I sold up in London and moved to these rather beautiful but remote mountains. I could adopt or foster children, I could be a mother now. I'm not unattractive; I'm sure someone would find me a catch. No, I've forgotten what it is to be connected to the world, however connected I look. I am alone because over 20 years ago I was told I would die and I couldn't bear the pain of dying, so I ran away into a chaotic, at times devastating, silence. I couldn't cry then, I never did – perhaps my sister was right to accuse me of having withered tear ducts. I never cried about being told I would die. How strange is that. I just felt numb. Silent and numb. Maybe everything since then has been an attempt to shock that numbness, that silence into noise and into reaction. To kickstart the optimism I had many years ago, when I first got to university and saw the world as a great plain of undiscovered experiences and feelings.

My diagnosis felt like punishment. But it wasn't, it was just risk and virus; like 2016 isn't a terrible year, despite many celebrities dying, it is a year of optimism and wishes, a year of births, a year of discoveries, the falling numbers of people being diagnosed with HIV, PrEP and the changing landscape for my trans family. No one was punishing me back then, certainly not this world that I need to believe in again. I need to commit to taking the risk of seeking out and finding love; I am alive, very alive and I need to honour those for whom the DS1500 was a statement of fact. Thank you words, thank you silent Christmas morning, thank you mountains, thank you. I will endeavour to seek out noise, vibrancy and love this year.

I want to dedicate this piece this Christmas morning to someone I have never forgotten, whose eyes were a life-filled fizzing blue set against a 1980s orange mohair jumper and asymmetric bleached hair. Whose eyes twinkled with life and an absolute joy at the fun of being free and living without constraint. My dear sweet Simon, you taught me all those years ago to be brave, to wear mascara, kohl and not care what people thought and you taught me to dance, laugh and flirt at the same time, such a skill. You taught me and all those around you that life was for living and that life was a wonderful thing. You'd never say that this has been a bad year, as much as you adored Bowie – you'd have seen it as his time to go. I hate that AIDS took you away from us, you would never have allowed me to dwell in this much silence, you would have put the needle on and the rest is history. I miss you today and, in truth, I think of you most days.

@justjuno1
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