Vinh Phillips is a person who is driven, goal-oriented and wants to live life as it is. He was born in Viêt Trì, Vietnam and at the age of six months he was adopted into his new family in Gothenburg. He is now 25 years old and is about to start studying for a bachelor’s degree in gender studies in Sydney Australia, where he lives with his boyfriend Stephen.
Growing up as an adoptee, and coming out as a gay as a 10-year-old became challenging both internally and for his immediate surroundings. Since sexuality was not something that was openly talked about at home, he already as a 14-year-old began to seek contact with like-minded people on various nternet sites to exchange experiences and thoughts.
“That adults listened to what I had to say was new to me and it built up a trust, confidence and closeness that I had never felt before.”
After 6 months of chatting with a guy, Vinh and the guy decided that they would meet. The meeting did not turn out as he had imagined when it turned out that the guy was not a like-minded guy, but an older man. Fearing that he had already shared who he was, where he studied, trained and lived, he did not dare to reject him. The initial meet-up turned into several repeated meetings of abuse over 2 years in fear of what the man would reveal to others and about the fear of rumors and sharing of conversations on the internet.
After a while, Vinh fell in love with an older guy he wanted to tell his parents about. It did not go very well. Without understanding from his parents, he moved as an 18-year-old from his small hometown to Stockholm.
One morning the phone rings ..
“I was sitting on the subway from Kista to T-Centralen, the job shift would soon start … it’s ringing. Hi it’s… from RFSL, we want to announce that you have HIV. Do you want to come in and talk about it? My whole world collapsed and I felt a panic attack creeping up. I did not understand anything and did not know to which of my relatives I could turn. “
From that day on, he chose a career, an apartment and training, and that became the focus. “I did… What is expected of an adult… Because most of the time people felt sorry for me. I was always open to others because I did not want anyone to see me as young and weak, I wanted to prove to others and myself that I am strong and independent. ”
Because of his upbringing, Vinh has had difficulty trusting people around him, and has often taken control of others in relationships. The relationships and the trust in people and what people have taken from him have shaped him more than he himself wanted. It is only now that he feels that he is the one who owns his sexuality, his mental health and his HIV.
“My boyfriend in Australia loves me for who I am which has helped me appreciate myself, what I feel and that my past does not define who I am. For me, it is important to be genuinely happy. ”
However, the need for control over situations has made it easier for him to be open about having HIV. He describes it as easier for everyone to know than to have to tell one by one, because then he feels no shame or that he is carrying a secret.
“Discrimination because of your openness to HIV, sexuality, ethnicity or any other reason, it depends only on their ignorance.”
The journey to a good future has been about accepting his past and finding himself and his roots from Vietnam. Today he has met his biological family, and found mutual love in a relationship.
“For me, it took several years to realize what I went through, I created my own reality and took all the responsibility to be able to move on, but it just buried everything. I was afraid to tell my full story, because I felt ashamed and did not want anyone to look down on me or think I was wearing a sacrificial cardigan. For me, the whole thing is de-dramatized when I dared to be open to myself and realize that I can be who I want to be, today I feel an enormous freedom. “
Vinh has three pieces of advice if you are living with HIV:
- See your medicine as any vitamin or mineral tablet.
- Remind yourself that anyone can get HIV, you are equally worth regardless of status, and can live a completely normal life and everyone has their own responsibility for their sexual health.
- Dare to be open. You will in all probability encounter rotten eggs, but it is also faster to sift them away. Being HIV positive is not something you need to hide, it is not a shame and should not have to be a secret you choose to reveal to a few people. Your openness about HIV can make life easier for other people but above all for yourself.
“… today I want to work with helping others and by telling my story and being open with my HIV status helping others not to feel lonely and dare to open up.”