Interview with Tom, a gay male sharing his experiences dealing with HIV. 

Anyone who knows me well will know how much I love the channel four dating show First dates.

It is a programme that clearly wishes to show diversity as well as challenge issues.

Last season Thomas Lange appeared on the show. He stood out not only for his warm personality but his courage to talk about his HIV status.

When I got the opportunity to interview Thomas, allowing him to share important messages I jumped at the chance……

When did you discover about your hiv status? 

I was first diagnosed in November 1985 (I was 18).

Can you explain the climate at the time back in 1985 towards Hiv and aids patients?

There were two sides I will never be able to erase from my mind: On one hand I saw how close friends already hospitalized were being treated either with total devotion and compassion or the exact opposite where patients and us visiting friends were treated like one would now treat Ebola Virus suspects.I would recommend to younger readers to watch The Normal Heart (2014), it’s of course a Hollywood Film but there are some scene’s especially the hospital food scenes where patients are left without food because staff wouldn’t enter rooms,  that I have personally witnessed.

How did you cope with the psychological and emotional side of discovering your HIV status? 

To be honest I myself felt deeply embarrassed as well as hurt immediately after having been diagnosed because, I was as much as prophesied by my Father that I will catch ‘Aids’. So I never told a living soul until my partner J died from HIV related illnesses six years later in 1991. What I could have done with at the time was bereavement counselling. Loosing J was truly the most heartbreaking time of my life and still is to this day. It took some 24 years for me to realize that I needed some sort of Psychological help, which I finally received in 2007 for the very first time,  in the form of counselling from the Terrence Higgins Trust. I never hid my HIV status, but decided to abstain from Sex altogether for nearly 20 years. 

Most of my UK followers will remember you from the TV show first dates. Do you feel that making people aware of your status helps to fight against prejudices? 

I took part in First Dates on the Condition that I was allowed to mention my HIV status. HIV is hardly ever talked about or mentioned in the mainstream media. I wanted to show that it’s no biggie to encourage others who might be scared to go on dates. However I find it Important to be honest about one’s status from the word go, because if one hides this and both have already fallen madly in love and the other person then finds out much later but can’t cope with it, it will only mean heartache. (It’s something I have seen happen to quite a few Peers).The general public for instance people that saw me after the show in my local supermarket all came up to me and thought I was brave to come out as HIV+ but I really didn’t think it was a big deal myself as I have always been open and honest about my status.

What would you say to today’s youngsters to help them understand the risks of unprotected sexual practices?

To youngsters/teens I frequently say (I get invited quite frequently to give talks to groups of teens and their parents) Before you even consider having unprotected sex with anyone for the first time ask yourself this: How well do you know him/her, have you discussed any previous sexual experiences? Respect your Partner & Yourself and come prepared and NEVER have Unprotected Sex unless you have known each other for a longer period and you can be absolutely sure that you are BOTH SAFE! 

Do you feel that the stigma and climate towards hiv and aids is changing,  and how can we further this fight?

Personally I have experienced a lot of Discrimination when it comes to finding a job especially in my past career in the luxury Hotel business. I do think that we have still a lot of work ahead to dismantle pre conceptions about HIV and people need to be more educated about HIV. I am now taking part in a Work Positive Program by the Terrence Higgins Trust which is specifically tailored for long term unemployed people living with HIV and hopefully will lead to me finding sustainable employment at the end of the program.  

Do you think there is more to be done in order to help people understand the dangers of HIV and if so what can be done? 

ABSOLUTELY, first of all more people must be encouraged to go and get tested and also more information must be made available in the waiting rooms of GP Surgeries especially in areas known with a high prevalence of HIV but who also have the highest estimated yet undiagnosed HIV population like for instance in Lambeth-Southwark & Lewisham and compulsory Sex and Relationship Education in Schools. This is why I support the campaign by the Terrence Higgins Trust

So you went on two first dates, the second guy seemed more compatible. Have you continued on seeing him? Have you met anyone else? 

Craig was a really Charming and Lovely Guy and I could have seen myself with him for the long term, however sexually we were not a match at all. So be both decided it would not make any sense to continue, plus I had asked the researchers specifically for a potential partner to be either based in London or close to i.e. the home counties in order to be able to commute between each other.

Thank you for taking part in this interview

Thank You for asking me! 

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