Brad Crelia died on Wednesday, November 19, from health related issues. He was 29 years old. In 2010, soon after learning he was HIV positive, Crelia created HIVster.com, a website that offered a fresh perspective on what it means to live with HIV.

We at Visual AIDS first met Brad through his writing. An essay he wrote for BUTT magazine spoke to us. It was an example of the powerful work culture can do within the AIDS movement. We met with Brad when he lived in New York, and in 2012 we had the pleasure of working with him on another piece of writing which we link to at the bottom of this page.

While his essay is no longer available on the BUTT website, we are able to reprint it here on the Visual AIDS blog, thanks to Adam Baran and Felix Burrichter, former contributing editors at BUTT.

Rest in Power Brad.

Brad to BUTT editors: Two weeks ago I found out that I'm HIV positive, totally blown my world apart. I'm starting to piece everything together again. Thought a tattoo could help bring me back into reality and deal with this. The tattoo is permanent and so is the disease. I attached a couple pics and a paper I wrote on this whole ordeal for my creative non-fiction class. I don't know why I'm sending this. Writing is therapeutic for me and I am a pretty honest person.

I was barely fourteen when I came out to my family. My parents were divorced, basically all my life, and I grew up going between both households. My father’s: red meat, God-loving, I-voted-for-Bush-and-damn-proud-of-it conservative; and, my mother’s home, where she was the editor of an alternative newspaper and community outreach manager of Spokane‘s Planned Parenthood. It’s not hard to guess who I came out to first. My mom wept when I told her. Not because she was upset, but because she was already thinking about the difficulties that lay ahead. The hours following my coming out were spent talking about the hatred in the world, the close-mindedness of people and about disease.

Growing up gay you’re forced to watch your back. There are bullies, like hicks, who taunt you because your pants are too tight. Safe sex practices were preached to me like the Bible. I had the normal, gay-boy life growing up. There were times with drugs and depression, and I’ve been beaten up a few times. Growing up gay is not an easy thing. Even inside the queer community we’ve made it pretty rough for each other. Gay guys don’t always get along with lesbians. And, we sometimes laugh at the transgender community. The men and women affected by HIV/AIDS are outcasts and second-class citizens. I know this because I’ve treated them that way myself. I’ve held prejudices against people going through the same difficulties that I am now going through. Until recently, I didn’t realize how detrimental this behavior actually is.

My confession isn’t my coming out process or the fact that I’m gay. It’s not even a confession about my own homophobia towards the LGBTQ community. Over the last week, I’ve gone back to that day with my Mom, remembering her weeping and her fears, and the compassion she held for me. I remember the suffering she endured and how time seemed to slow down. I also remember the day she died in my arms. I am wrestling with the emotions and feelings from that day. I am upset with myself and I feel stupid for not taking the advice I had heard all too much. I feel dirty because of the preconceived notions that I held. Why? Because this week I learned that I am HIV positive.

Now, judgements and thoughts of disgust are racing through my head. I remember the thoughts I’ve had about people who are positive; that they dug their own graves and played a loosing game with the devil; that their problems were their own doing. I can only imagine what other people say and how they think. Overnight, my world changed.

The reality is different than what I have in my head right now. I know there have been amazing medical advances and research that have made this disease manageable; people live full lives being HIV positive. I know all of this, but it doesn’t change the fears that I have. When I think of this disease, I picture Tom Hanks unbuttoning his shirt to show his lesions to the courtroom in Philadelphia. He is dying and his body is giving out, falling apart in a hospital bed. I see myself that way, slowly dying, losing weight and in pain. It’s hard for me to separate the reality of medical advances and research from what my mind has turned into reality.

The diagnosis is just starting to hit me. Sitting in the doctor’s office after class last week, I knew what was coming, I had blood drawn a week prior and got the call that my doctor needed to“talk to me about the results of my blood work”. A thousand cups of coffee couldn’t have gotten my blood going any more than it was that day. When I got into the room and had my doctor sitting in front of me, I thought the veins around my temples would explode. He ran down a list of other sexually transmitted diseases, and at the end he looked me in the eyes, and for the first time in my life, I was told that I’m HIV positive. My body shook, uncontrollably. I imagined all the blood running out of my face, absolutely pale, dead pale. He offered me time to get my thoughts together. I turned him down and asked for a smoke instead. He obliged, but only if I promised to come right back. What hit me the hardest was his concern. I thought about his worry that I might not come back or that I could possibly hurt myself. The severity of this diagnosis worries someone so much that they can hardly let you leave their sight for a smoke.

I walked outside to smoke. A friend was with me. Before I could say a word, I looked into his eyes and broke down. A ton of bricks came crashing down square on my shoulders. I wanted to disappear, and this was only five-minutes into the disease. The last week has been a whirlwind of emotion; I’ve started to learn that I need to throw out all the horrible prejudices I’ve harbored.

What makes me any better than anyone else? And, most importantly, who knows what tomorrow brings, good or bad? The only thing I can concentrate on now is my health, my education, and keeping a positive attitude. And, just like that, the weight of those crashing bricks, from just a few days earlier, eased away with the loss of misconception. A calmness set in, knowing that this unfortunate life lesson has transformed into a reason to live.

Also by Brad Crelia: What A Mitt Show: The Personal Toll Of A Romney Presidency
Thanks to Sam Feder and Max Freeman.