Generations of HIV

Filippo diagnosed in 2011: “I was 20 years old and it felt like the world was crumbling beneath my feet.”

Filippo Gafaro Barrera is 28 and from Italy. He appears on Sky News as a guest commentator where he recently discussed being HIV positive and Gareth Thomas’s announcement.

“I had just turned 20 when I started feeling very ill. It’s not a given that it happens but I was lucky enough that I was extraordinarily unwell with the worst two week long fever. I have never had something like that. 

I was a student, so I just thought it was a cold and then it got worse and worse until I had to go back home from university in Milan back to Parma to my parent’s house. We thought it could be streptococcus, so we ran all the tests. All those options exhausted, my GP recommended that I take an HIV test. 

I think the original credit goes to my mother. She used to work in a drug rehab community in the 80s. She had a few friends who were HIV positive and living with it, so she knew that it was an option. I was out of the closet so she knew I was exploring sexually in university. I think anyone from the provinces can relate to that. You get to the big city, meeting people you don’t necessarily know very well.

I tested and within three days I had the result – and it was harrowing. I was 20 years old and it felt like the world was crumbling beneath my feet. 

I had received very little sexual education, so to be entirely honest, I had no idea what it entailed. It was a matter that I had shied away from. I was having sex, I knew HIV existed – but I didn’t know how the two things correlated at all. 

So the first thing that comes to mind is death and that’s exactly what I thought: My life ends here? And I’m this young? I thought that was the end of life as I knew it and in a way it was. I think it was symbolic that it happened at an age when I had just moved out of home and moved to another city and was finding my own identity. I think my status then actually accelerated this process. It made me grow up even faster than I already was and so in hindsight I am somehow grateful that this has happened to me. 

My sister said something that stuck with me. She said, “Now you know for sure that when you find someone who says ‘Till death do us part, in sickness or in health’ he’ll actually mean it – and only now, after so many years, I know she was right.

I’m dating someone who knew I was HIV before meeting me. When Gareth Thomas came out as HIV positive, Sky News gave me the opportunity to give a layperson’s view of how the news impacted on me and what my coming to terms with HIV was like. Now this video is everywhere, and I’ve just allowed the news to be out there and it has taken such a burden off me. Now I’m dating someone very special who knew before we actually met. We technically didn’t even need to talk about it – it’s on my Instagram profile – so by the time the first date occurred he already knew, and we were able to talk about it very transparently. He actually brought it up himself. There was no embarrassment around it. And it’s actually a chance to open up about something that has impacted my psychology very deeply but that hasn’t made me less of a man. It’s made me a more grounded person than I was before.”

Photos by Joel Ryder

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