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America’s Got Talent Contestant Reveals He’s HIV-Positive And In A Happy Relationship

James Clark, Branden James

From age twenty forward, I’d certainly exercised my right to be an individual. I was rather grounded at home as a serial monogamist, jumping from one long term relationship to another. Out of the house, however, I lived a sordid life experimenting with drugs and exploring various sexual avenues.  These acts of self-sabotage seem to be a rite of passage for many in the gay culture especially. But then again, I’m a product of Generation X, and I think most of us have been there, regardless of sexuality. About halfway through my twenties, I was in a free STD testing clinic called, The Spot in West Hollywood. I was no stranger to getting a routine panel of examinations to make sure I was rid of anything sexually transmitted.  I’d had relationships with HIV-positive guys in the past. Sometimes we slipped up. It happens. It was the mid 2000’s and this was at the time in HIV care when doctors thought it was better to wait to take medications until you had to. There was nothing like PreP available at the time, so the risk of transmission was likely.

TeenA week passed. It was nearly time to go back and get my test results. The next day I went in and waited nervously in the holding room. A large African American woman stepped out of one of the examination rooms and called my name. I sunk in my chair as if trying to hide myself and shamefully walked in. I guess I expected the inevitable given my recent behavior. And my expectation was right. The woman told me I was HIV+. I remember her being so kind and giving me a hug and some reassurance like my mom might. She said, “You’re gonna be fine Hun. You’re gonna be just fine.”
The most daunting thing about becoming positive was not the supposed death sentence (which even ten years ago really only existed in the realm of fear), It was the guilt and shame that I carried with me which was daunting. After all, I lived in L.A., the land of judgmental people; according to many. I felt like I had done something wrong, when in actuality, I was just wanting to be loved like all of us- and having sex is simply a part of human nature. I formed a major complex about what people would think of me. It had become so bad I was concerned that people could actually ‘see’ I was HIV positive. I kept it a deep dark secret to everyone except the trusted few. Fast forward 10 years and here I am now. I’ve decided that I can’t allow myself to feel isolated anymore. I’ve grown up my entire feeling different- feeling like I didn’t belong.  But being unique is interesting. Being different sets you apart from everyone else. I realized that we’re all given circumstances in life, and if we don’t share those stories which make up who we are, we miss out on so many opportunities to inspire people and help people. So I decided to be brave and write about it in this very visible magazine. I recently stood up in front of a crowd of 140 strangers the other day and told them. I had planned to tell America’s Got Talent about it when I was on the show, but my partner at the time was afraid of the backlash it might cause for his own life. The biggest obstacle of all was telling my parents, just a couple of months ago. I had been through nearly ten years of worrying what they would think- how they would react. When I told them, all they could say was, ‘I’m sorry we weren’t there for you. I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t tell us.’ After telling them, My Dad walked across the living room of my house and gave my boyfriend James a big hug. He said, ‘thank you for being such a good friend to my son.’  I can’t tell you how much that touched me. I was suddenly free from pain I’d been carrying around for more than a decade. I’ve spent so much of my life being someone else in order to spare people’s feelings. I hid behind my fear of embracing and owning who I am. It’s time I changed that. I believe life works out the way it’s supposed to. And mine has certainly come full circle.?”

Branden James, a finalist on season eight of America’s Got Talent, in an interview with ATeen magazine about his relationship with musical collaborator James Clark

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