Have you ever had such a strong connection with someone that you sometimes feel like you’re almost the same person? For the past 20 years I’ve had this connection with a man who has played a critical role in my life. He’s someone I’ve talked to on a daily basis, turning to him to help me with some of my biggest decisions. The funny thing is, we’ve only met once-- and I can barely remember that moment. Who is this mystery man? My amazing, talented, and beautiful Uncle Manuel.
For as long as I can remember, members of my family have compared me to my uncle, pointing out how we share the same mannerisms, voice, and passion for wanting to stand out in a crowd. The love I have for him is something I can’t explain or have ever experienced with anyone else. It’s almost a form of self-love because I feel so close to him.
I love hearing stories about the amazing life my uncle led. He was someone whom I believe loved life and tried to make the most of it every single day. One of my favorite stories is one that his partner (and love of his life) Ed told me about a trip they took to Paris. My uncle wore the most beautiful fur coat and confidently sashayed in front of the Eiffel tower, smiling, turning, and dancing his way through the crowd. One of my bucket list dreams is to recreate this moment and feel the same love and pride that he did. I often think about this memory when I get wrapped up in my own life. It serves to remind me to take a step back and just breathe.
My uncle has taught me many things and I wish I could still visit with him, but sadly he left this world too early---he passed away in the mid 90’s from AIDS.
For the longest time, AIDS and HIV were taboo topics to discuss. I remember growing up and feeling ashamed as I heard people talk about the diseases because they always had a negative connotation tied to them in regards to homosexuality. Discovering my sexuality as a gay man and trying to come out was especially difficult because I didn’t want my family to worry about me contracting one of these diseases that at the time our society associated only with members of the LGBTQ community. Today we know that is simply not the case. AIDS and HIV do not discriminate.
Over the past few years the walls that have surrounded this topic have been slowly crumbling down. The education on these diseases, how they are contracted, and what we can do to prevent them have been key to making this an issue that people can talk about. HIV and AIDS are no longer death sentences, and I feel so empowered when I hear stories of both straight and gay people who have these diseases and are living full, long lives. It reminds me how far we have come--- but there is still more education, research and awareness that needs to be done.
That is why, in honor of my uncle and all the other amazing souls that are living with or have died from these diseases, BodyArchitecture will be participating in several events this year to support and fundraise for the continued education and research on HIV and AIDS. Our first event was the PREP 5K run in February, and our second will be ‘Hill Country Ride For Aids’ in April in Austin Texas. Follow us on social media where we will post these events and others. And, if you’d like to join us, please feel free to reach out. The more people that help raise awareness for these diseases, the closer we are to a world without them.
Even though he wasn’t around to take me out to my first nightclub or meet the love of my life, my uncle has taught me more than I could have ever imagined. His bravery to live the life he wanted despite facing rejection for it, his passion for creating beautiful pieces of art, and the love he had for his family is what I admire the most. I love you Uncle Manuel, I hope I’ve made you proud.