It started with his vision. An infection made itself known in and around Matt Schiermeier's eyes, leading a doctor to suspect he had AIDS. Like many in the decades before him, when the disease ran through a series of titles—G.R.I.D., gay compromise syndrome, gay cancer—Matt's heart sank at the news. Rather coldly, says Matt, the ophthalmologist mentioned that the last time he had seen this specific infection, the patient died within two weeks. A few blood tests later it became reality: Matt was HIV positive. And his T-cell count had fallen below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood—the cutoff point, where HIV becomes full-blown AIDS.
After the diagnosis, Matt was as certain in his future as he was of the source of his infection—he'd only been in one relationship with a man before contracting the disease. "I cried and was pretty upset for about a day. It didn't take me long to snap out of it and realize there was no way, shape or form that HIV was going to kill me," Matt recalls, his voice bearing the weight of the memory. "It was the end of the fear." That was in 2000.
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Ten years later, 33-year-old Matt's vision has improved, but HIV/AIDS remains in his focus. "I want people to look at me and see that this is what being HIV positive can look like. I have a dream to show people that I'm positive, strong, healthy and in a great relationship," he announces for the first time to the world.
Read more about Matt and Cam in our July/August issue, out now!