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Félix Garmendía

Félix Garmendía

"I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 60s. Living in Puerto Rico, and growing up there was a bumpy process. I was very aware of my homosexual identity at a very early age, so fighting the stigma was a very intense journey in my native island.

I love art. The Ponce Art Museum was my shelter since I was in high school. As my first job ever, I guided bilingual tours for locals and tourists from all over the world.

In high school, I was introduced to music and theater, after that, I chose to pursue a B.A. in theater at the U.P.R. ( University of Puerto Rico ). Rio Piedras campus.

In college, I discovered many things about myself. My sexual identity became established, my religious beliefs changed dramatically and my awareness of my role in society became the first and biggest challenge of my life. I became a proud gay man, an atheist and an activist. The political climate in Puerto Rico was very far away from recognizing any kind of gay rights so I knew that I needed a community that I could call my own, and be myself. After several years in Puerto Rico, in my twenties, I moved to N.Y.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Education and Art Criticism at New York University. I decided to stay in Manhattan. Here I found myself. I discovered my passions, causes to fight for, and the strong community that I always dreamed of. I became a passionate man with strong convictions.

After graduation I became a N.Y.C. school teacher. I taught art in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and Upper Manhattan for 15 years.

Sometime in my twenties, I was exposed to HIV. I tested HIV-positive and after a serious depression, came out strong and victorious. I became an AIDS activist. My passions in life became the gears that fed energy into my existence.

Very early in my N.Y.C. years, I became a staunch liberal. All my causes were related. I was trying to survive in a world where not everybody cared if I did or not. Politics made clear who cared for me as a human being.

That’s why I’m very vocal about my postings. Not because I want to convince anybody, but I do it for those who, like me, once needed some direction in life. I want to share the "real" me with those friends with similar beliefs or at least respect for my beliefs.

Today, I still live in Manhattan. I’m legally married to my husband Denis Beale and I’m disabled. My life is not easy, I have several health related conditions that are a real challenge these days. This bring me to another one of my causes. From personal experience, I believe in the legalization of cannabis (marijuana). 

I consider myself a loving, compassionate and spiritual person. I have no patience for bigotry, especially the kind of sanctimonious bigotry that wraps itself in prayer and fake compassion.

This is a synopsis of who I am. It would be really helpful to start introducing myself with my favorite warning. Warning: I’m human, far from perfect, passionate about life, the pursue of difficult answers, and the conviction that we are all equal."

Felix has been featured in The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices; see the piece here.

You can follow Felix on Facebook here or here and on twitter @PozHeart.

  

May07

My HIV story

Thursday, 07 May 2015 Written by // Félix Garmendía Categories // Social Media, Activism, Gay Men, International , Living with HIV, Media, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific , Félix Garmendía

New York poz guy Felix Garmendia returns with .his story. "HIV struck me like a lightning bolt but it also helped me validate the wonders of life, friendship, love, and compassion.".

My HIV story

It was December 19th, 1989. After being celibate for three years, I decided to get tested to give my then boyfriend the nicest Christmas present I could think of. We were decorating our Christmas tree when the phone rang. My boyfriend answered and his words were, “They are calling to give you your HIV test results”. 

I grabbed the phone and a cold voice that I will never forget said, – “ Mr. Garmendia your HIV test came back positive”. I became very confused, How could it be possible? After three years of celibacy I was pretty sure I was going to receive a negative result.

My boyfriend hugged me tight and I fell apart. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. My whole life passed in front of my eyes like a fast forwarded tape. In those days HIV was a death sentence.

I immediately decided that I needed to see a doctor. I lived in Manhattan so I headed to "The Village" and managed to get an appointment with the only doctor that could see me that afternoon. I arrived at his office on time. Very nervous I filled all the necessary papers and my name was called. When I saw the doctor, I told him, “I just tested positive for HIV”. To which he responded, “What do you want me to do about it?” My world really fell apart! I couldn’t believe his answer and I exited the office with tears in my eyes. I have never been so scared in my life!

I have seen countless people die, many families destroyed by the deep anguish that AIDS spread over Manhattan. The lack of support from Ronald Reagan and the effects of a deep depression threw me into a hopeless state of mind. I decided to hide, not because of embarrassment but because, like a wounded animal, I went to the dark cage of guilt, hopelessness and despair.

There I remained until one day, after a gay parade, I ended up sharing a joint with five other guys on the piers. We were sharing personal experiences and I decided to share my HIV status with them.

To my surprise, one by one they all told me they were HIV-positive. That was a healing moment. I wasn’t alone, I realized then where I belonged. There was an HIV community out there that needed my help as much as I needed them.

I became an activist, and my sadness was healed. From then on, I started to grow from my own pain.

****

It’s been 25 years since that news hit my head like a hammer. With my rudimentary math, I realized that I was infected as early as 1987. Of course, there’s no way to know when exactly I was infected  - but it doesn’t matter anymore.

Today I still stand on this Earth, proud and committed to spread a word of hope to everyone that is still in that dark place that I once lived in.

Yes, HIV struck me like a lightning bolt but it also helped me validate the wonders of life, friendship, love, and compassion.

Proudly, I can say with peace in my heart that HIV, made me a better person.

Thank you all for taking the time to read my story. If I can educate one person about HIV, this comment will serve it’s purpose - to break the news that there is life after HIV.

Thjsi artcile was originally posted on PositiveLite.com when Felix was a guest writer, in February 2014.

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