Grant Miller shares his story of being diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in the early 80s, being told he had about 6 months to live. As he talked about the negative stigma and rejection that went along with being HIV+, combined with a non-supportive family, his story brought tears to my eyes twice during our conversation. He talks about a time when he really believed he had nothing to live for, yet there was the small quiet voice in him that guided him to keep going. For anyone who has not walked in these shoes, this episode provides great insight into what so many men in our community have lived through. This is how one very brave man overcame unbearable shame so he could stand proud and truly love himself.
Grant has been an elementary school teacher for 29 years.
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Coach Maddox 0:03
Hello, Grant Miller, and welcome as a returning guest to The Authentic Gay Man Podcast. This is Grant's second time to be here, if you have interest in seeing, hearing his first guest appearance that can be found in episode number seven. So Grant shared one big life challenge with us in his first guest appearance. And today he's back because he has another big challenge that he wanted to share with us. And it's a unique one in that not unique necessarily in our community, but unique in that it is the first time it will have been talked about on this podcast. So I'm really excited because you know, it's we've had an abundance of coming out stories, and this is, this is something that we don't have, and it's really, it's really valid even still, in this day and age. It's really, really valid. And so I'm just going to let you take it away, Grant and tell us what tell us your story.
Grant Miller 1:07
Well, thank you Maddox. First of all, I wanted to honor you for giving me the opportunity to come and talk about the stigma around HIV and AIDS, and allowing me to tell my story, and how things progressed through my life as a result and how HIV changed my life. And a lot of people might think that it's changed my life in a bad way. But in reality, it's something that has changed my life in a really great way. And I'd like to kind of lead into that, as we go through my story and how I came out the other end, which is the side of it.
Coach Maddox 1:41
Well, and I would imagine there's a little bit of a double edged sword there, you know, it probably had both there were early on, it was probably some really tough stuff. And then, but that's true of a lot of things in life. You know, I look back in my own life and can see some really challenges that kicked my ass. And we're really bad. What we would quote bad in the early days. And now in retrospect, I look back at what a gift it was in my life in so many ways, I wouldn't want to relive the bad stuff. But yeah, I mean, each of our toughest experiences, they forged us into the human being that we become, and we wouldn't be the human being we are if we hadn't had those experiences. So I'm, I'm excited and eager to hear your journey.
Grant Miller 2:31
Thank you. You know, we were we were kind of talking about how we face these issues. And I mean, even just this week, I had to deal with telling someone that I was HIV positive and that those old ideas came to the surface again. So as I go through the story, I'll be saying that it's getting easier and easier to talk to other people about HIV and being HIV positive. Because way back then it was one of the worst things that you had to do. Because there was it was one of the biggest possibilities of rejection. So anyway, so here we go. The story. I'm going to start by going back as a child, no, I grew up in a rural town in southern Ontario, Canada. Very quiet place. And also I was as quiet as the place I lived in. I was very shy, very introverted. And I knew around the age of five that I was different from the other boys. And it wasn't until maybe eight or nine that actually put my finger on it was that I was sexually attracted to other boys. And knowing that caused me to really turn in on myself and not show who I was to other people. I had the idea that if you're quiet, and if you're invisible, people won't notice you and they won't take the time to pick on you. And I know we've through the podcasts that you've had Maddox, you've talked about how we've been bullied as as children. It was a nightmare for me. For some reason, the other students knew that I was gay. And they used it as an opportunity to let me know that I was an outsider and that I was something to be picked on. And so for most of my teenage life, I kept my head down low and tried to keep myself as small as possible so that people would notice me as a gay person. And it wasn't until I was 17 that I came out. And when I did come out, it was the time where I basically ran away from home, because my parents didn't understand me being gay, and I felt the best thing I could do was to wash out there on my own and I ran away to a large city here in Canada. And I went from that tired are quiet because we quiet kind of sensitive person to this person that was in like a guy in a candy shop. I came out as gay. I was out in the gay scene, and I had sex with Oh my god, it must have been at least 300 men in the first year that I came out at the age of 17. It was like, there was a big turnaround from first being so inhibited to actually becoming less inhibited. But I never really stopped to think that there were other issues that were, I hadn't dealt with. And I'm sure some of your listeners have had that issue where we think about the sex that we have as as gay men. And you think about well, what do these other people out there think of us? You know, they know that gay men often take their penises and stick them up the assets, somebody else, or they suck each other's Dick, or all these horrible, you know, eerie theory, things that gay people do. And it was always sort of in the shadows for me, and becoming HIV positive and moving through all that actually helped me come to understand that sex is a very natural thing. So I know I'm jumping back and forth. But one of the reasons why I think it's so important to talk about HIV and being HIV positive in the 80s, is that there was a, there has been a fundamental shift from back then to now on how people deal with HIV.
I Cyril converted in 1983, I didn't know until 1986, when I had the first HIV test. But I traced it back to a bathhouse in Toronto, Ontario, where I'd had unprotected sex, because at that time, there really was no one out there that really knew too much about AIDS or HIV. There were these rumors of that gay cancer that was happening in San Francisco in New York. But you know, as a young person of round 23, it wasn't something that really crossed my mind living in a smaller city in Canada. So we really didn't have any concern about it. And there's where I actually, you know, I overrode that idea that we're invulnerable. When we're younger, we always think that we're invulnerable. And here I was having sex in Toronto in 1983, thinking I was involved in trouble. And it turned out that I wasn't. And I carried the HIV inside me, unknowingly, right up to about 1986, when I was tested, and that included my first major partner of my life, which he also comes into the story a little bit later on, on how we dealt with HIV. Now, most people would know that when you get an HIV test, you go into a clinic, you get the test, you come back, and someone sits in front of you and says, Okay, we've got your results, we just want you to know that you're positive. Well, that didn't happen for me. I went into a clinic because I was sick. My family doctor wasn't there. And I told her, Well, you know, I'm gay. And I'm really kind of concerned, it's, oh, you're gay, I must test you for HIV. So I said, Okay. And she tested me. I went back to work. And two weeks later, she called me at work. And she said, we have your results. And she said, you're positive. Is there anything else I can do for you? And so I'm sitting in my office in absolute shock. And I basically said to her, no, that's okay. And hung up the phone. And that's when the world really come crashing around me down. Literally. I can remember walking home, from my office to my apartment where I lived with my, my partner at the time, being in an absolute fog. It was like it was such a surreal experience that how could this be happening to me, this didn't happen to me, this happened to people elsewhere. It didn't happen to young guys like me. And so I got home to my apartment, and I walked in and he said to me, what's up what's going on? And I just started bawling. And I said, I got a test back today, I'm HIV positive. And he was very silent for a while, and then came over and put his arm around me said, we'll get through this. And I thought, wow, okay, I'm, I'm not alone.
For him, I think it was probably one of the hardest things for him to hear. He wanted to help me but he had his own issues around HIV. And he was petrified of it. And through the time that we had, remaining in our relationship, he got to the point where he wouldn't kiss me. We certainly wouldn't have any sex, because he didn't feel that he liked condoms, and that he was basically afraid to catch it. He never said that directly to me. But it got to the point where he wouldn't even kiss me. And ultimately, I felt like a leper. And this kind of takes me back to where I was as a child. Here, again, is the message that what you're doing sexually is a bad, a horrible thing. And this is what God if you like, is telling you, you're a bad person, you've got AIDS, because you did something you shouldn't have. And that feeling, I carried that. For most of my life, I mean, I'm now 59 years old. And I can honestly say that I never really got over the trauma of being HIV positive. Until maybe two or three years ago, there was always some issue that I carried forward with me that I hadn't addressed. And they would I would be triggered and things would pop up. So here, I have a five year relationship with my first partner, no sex. So what did I did? Well, I went out to the dirtiest bathhouse possible. And I would have anonymous sex. And, of course, this is behind his back, I didn't tell him these things. And I think in my mind, I was saying, he doesn't want to have sex, he's afraid of me. And I'm diseased. So I have these needs, I'm going to just go out and find them myself. And of course, that played on that idea. Well, you're a bad person, you're horrible. You're You're cheating. Now you're cheating on your, your partner. But you're doing dirty, despicable things in a bathhouse. And it just kind of continue that cycle of I was something that was dirty, I was diseased, I was wrong. I didn't deserve to be here on the third. I want to let the younger people listening here that back in the 80s, when you were diagnosed as HIV positive, you were told that you probably had six months to live and that you're going to die.
Coach Maddox 12:23
Yeah, it was definitely considered a death sentence back then.
Grant Miller 12:27
You would hear it everywhere on the radio on television. I can remember driving home to my parents, and you know, this, this interview on on one of the radio stations saying, Well, if you've got HIV, you're gonna die is literally in those words, you're going to be debt. And it was just that it was like a death sentence just reiterated over and over again. And it was such a scary, scary situation.
Coach Maddox 12:57
Well, and at that time, we also because I'm close to your age, I guess I'm six years older than you. I'm 65. And I came out in 1981, right after we discovered HIV, and our generation was the generation that was hit the hardest. There were men all around us that were dropping like flies. Yes. Death all around us. And that lasted for? I don't know, at least a couple of decades.
Grant Miller 13:32
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean, if I had a real black book of all the contacts that I had, and all the friends that I had from the 80s I would say that 85 to 90% of those, those men are now gone. A lot of them did exactly what they predicted in six months, they literally just keeled over and died. And for me, that was a another sense of guilt for me. Well, why am I still living? Why shouldn't I die? Because I'm a bad person. I'm guilty of having that horrible sex. And, you know, you see the sign inside, you know, written on the bathroom wall got AIDS yet, you know, for the for the acronym of gay and, you know, it just felt to me that was my future. Got aids. Yeah, yeah, I got it. I'm, I'm a gardener. And as a result of that, there was the demise of my relationship. I couldn't deal with it any longer. I came forward to him and told him I cheated on him. I had anonymous sex and it was just boom, gone. And he was out of my life. And it was just about that time that I lost my job, too, because I couldn't maintain any semblance of normalcy when I was working. And so I lost my job. And then he and I split. And here I was in a big city. I'll say it I was In Toronto, and I was in a big city with virtually no resources, no money. It was a horrifying time.
Coach Maddox 15:11
So So grant, you're, you're telling the story, you know, from a vantage point of everything that was going on in your life. What was going on inside of grant during all that?
Grant Miller 15:31
You know, to even say that Maddox, because I've done so much work on myself it, it just feels so foreign to say that I was dirty, I was flawed. I was guilty for having gay sex, I deserve to die. I deserved what I got. God was condemning me. Those were all the things that were constantly in my head. And that's what I lived my life had no meaning. It was just existence. And it was getting through day by day. And, you know, as I'm telling the story, I'm not seeking, you know, I don't want people to think that I'm just saying this so that people will feel sorry for me, but the things that I experienced because of HIV. It was rough. As I said, I lost my job. I had a few contacts at the AIDS Committee in Toronto. So I at least had somebody to talk to, but they couldn't very well help me find an apartment, they couldn't help me find food. They couldn't find any resources other than just information about HIV and AIDS. And so I'm going to tell the story about leaving the it's coming to Toronto one day, after chatting with a counselor and I was walking down the street, and then I cut through an alley to go to the subway. And I was I was in a real sense of fog. I was just saying, what, what is my purpose in life? Why am I here? Why am I supposed to suffer all this. And as I was walking up the, the alleyway, I saw this bird Starling. And it had a broken leg. And it was limping along the street. And as I was trying to pick through the garbage to try to find food to try to do something to survive. And at that point, I just lost it. I said, I'm that ERD I've got more than a broken leg, my life is broken. I don't know how I'm gonna get through this. What am I gonna do? Am I just to die. And it was one of the darkest excuse me, it was one of the darkest periods of my life. I mean, here I was in my mid 20s by now. And I had no reason to live. I didn't have a partner, I didn't have a job, I didn't have a home. I had a few friends, but they were all HIV positive. And they were just as scared as I was. And I had no direction in my life. It even got to the point where the government said, Okay, you're, you're HIV positive, you're gonna die in six months. So we're going to put you in subsidized housing, housing, excuse me. And I'll be damned Maddox. They put me in an old folks home. So here I was, in my mid 20s, living in an old folks home, because they said, Well, you're not gonna be around long. So here's an apartment available for you. You can live there until you're gone. So now I had another thing hanging over my head. I know I'm going to die, but I'm not important to society. They're just dumping me in an old folks home. Of course, there was no interaction with the old folks they would shuffle down the halls and stare at me and glare at me because why is this young guy in our place? And so it was just another thing on my on my plate that said, you really don't have a reason to live. And, you know, my life could have ended right there and I don't think I really would have cared about and then you know, I have a tendency to use metaphors or or cliches but there was a light at the end of the tunnel that appeared one day and it came in the form of a membership to the YMCA. And as you know, Maddox, I've I'm a weightlifter. I've weight lifted since well All righty at just just about the time that I came home, and I had given up weightlifting and this person gave me a pass to the YMCA. And I, you know, there's really nothing else in my life, I don't have a job, I have nothing else. Maybe I could just go in and do some weightlifting and do a little bit of cardio things. And it changed my life in the sense because it was a catalyst three becoming an aerobics instructor because they needed volunteers. And I joined
their volunteer program, someone had to pay for my course to take it because it costs money. And of course, I had no money, I couldn't even pay my rent. But somehow the money just magically appeared. And someone paid for my, my tuition. So that could become an aerobics instructor. And that was the beginning of the turn from having no reason to live to having a reason to live. All of a sudden, I was relating to other people in a dance room, doing high low aerobics later step and all these things. And it was like 180 degree turn for me, because here, I'm thinking back to the young kid that was shy and introverted, and was horrified that anybody, anybody might know who I really was. And then all of a sudden, being in front of sometimes 20 3050 100 people teaching aerobics, none of them knew I was HIV positive. But for me, that didn't matter at the time, but it was the first thing I grabbed on to that actually gave me reason to go on.
Coach Maddox 21:43
Well, I was gonna say a few minutes ago, when you said you had no reason to live. And I thought, Well, somewhere along the way, you must have found a reason and because here you are.
Grant Miller 21:56
Well, you know, we didn't I had mentioned earlier about how HIV has changed my life. I wouldn't have probably wouldn't have become an aerobics instructor if it hadn't been for HIV, because that was just what the universe gave me. And it was it was a message to say, you've got something to contribute. Maddox I taught he, I taught aerobics right up until 2013. So it became a mainstay in my life, it was something that gave me a reason to go on.
Coach Maddox 22:29
Something like 30 years, you're talking? Yeah.
Grant Miller 22:36
That was about the time where the medications were coming in. And most people do know that in the 80s, there were really no drugs to take. The first medication I took was AZT, and I'm sure people are listening to this really, anyone who knows of AZT, it is a drug that is so toxic. In fact, it's more toxic than the chemotherapy I took three years ago for my cancer. It was so toxic, it made people anemic. Dizzy, fog in the head, you couldn't think straight, you couldn't work you were throwing up. It was horrendous. And for three years, I took aids a tea. And I think, again, the aerobic saved me because here I was bouncing around in the aerobic studio, but pushing through all those side effects of that nasty drug. And if I hadn't had the aerobics and had that opportunity to teach, I probably would have stayed in my apartment, taking these a T and then I don't know, to this day, Maddox, I might have to try to take my own life. I don't know.
Coach Maddox 23:52
So, I want to know what you're feeling right now as you recount this story. Because being an empath, I can feel all of your feelings. And I know what it feels like to me, but I want to, I want to hear from you. And I'm sure the listeners do too. What what's going on there. Now you've talked about what went on in there, way back then. But as you recount the story and have still quite a bit of emotion around it.
Grant Miller 24:25
There's the inner child inside me, I think, who never really healed was thrown into the world of HIV. And that inner child never got a chance to heal. And it's only been in the past couple of years where I've become more in touch with the inner child. And this motion is the inner child. It's that little boy inside of me that says I was hurting. Nobody knew nobody understood me. No But he knew what it was like. And so here I am a 59 year old man, I'm crying like a child because my inner child hadn't had the time to heal. And he didn't heal until just a few years ago. So I'm crying because there's this upheaval of motion that just comes from the middle, and it just pushes up into your chest. And it just comes out.
Coach Maddox 25:30
Well, and it sounds like that inner child is still in process of healing. It is,
Grant Miller 25:36
you know, you and I recently talked about trauma and how we deal with trauma. And I have to say that dealing with HIV all those years was traumatic for me, it was a trauma. And when you say I'm still dealing with it, it's true. The trauma of HIV has been on, it's been consistently there in the background, sometimes more apparent when the health issues or something, but it's always been there. And it's only recently that I'm starting to address the trauma.
Coach Maddox 26:08
Well, and that that may be a lifelong process. The healing process may may go on. And and that's okay.
Grant Miller 26:18
That's okay. I mean, we originally, were going to talk about stigma, I mean, take it back. I mean, in the early 80s, there was the big stigma about being gay. You know, you couldn't be gay out there. If you were gay, you were, you were pointed out and you know, you were people were disgusted by the fact that you were, you were gay. And then you add the HIV on top of it. And then you've got suddenly, oh, he's gay. And he's also got HIV. So, you know, we don't want anything to do with them. And that kind of was the idea I had about the gay community, too. I was HIV positive, I was flawed. I was diseased. Who would want me?
Coach Maddox 27:01
Well, and you're right, the stigma back then was it was very much considered a dirty thing. Oh, it was, you know, I can remember for years on the dating sites, men would state, you know, if they didn't have HIV, they would state that they were clean. Right, which further implied that if you were HIV positive, that you were dirty?
Grant Miller 27:27
Yep. And it was, it was one that joined all those other conditional things that you that people would have, you guys would have about, you know, the certain type of man, they were looking, I'm cleaning, you must be too
Coach Maddox 27:39
well, and I have through my life dated several men that were HIV positive. And every single one of them told stories of unbelievable rejection, where they had been rejected again, and again and again, merely for their HIV status of being positive.
Grant Miller 28:06
I mean, I was like, everybody, everyone else, I wanted to partner I wanted somebody that would love me and, and I felt, well, I'm going to die of AIDS. So who would want me? So I, it was a really difficult situation. I mean, I could go back to that old way of just going to the bathhouse and have anonymous sex, but something in my head said, No, you, you have to start moving forward, you have to start being honest, you have to protect yourself, you have to protect other people.
Coach Maddox 28:35
I know there was a period of time where there were literal groups, for HIV positive men that were designed specifically for them to be able to meet and date among themselves. I also know that when we first early on started into the online dating thing, that there were online dating places for positive men, where you could go and not have to worry about the rejection, because everybody on the site was positive. I don't know whether that still exists or not. If it does, I haven't heard anything about it in a long time.
Grant Miller 29:12
No, I think HIV is becoming like being gay, more mainstream. You know, it's
Coach Maddox 29:19
also no longer a death sentence. That's and I think we don't think of it necessarily as dirty anymore. I mean, maybe there's still a little little bit of that. But I think there's much, much less than there once was.
Grant Miller 29:38
You know, I was telling you earlier about is that t they came up with a succession of drugs like DDI and DDC. And every time a new drug would come along, my doctor would say, well, here, let's put you on this. I can remember taking DDC and I had these massive craters in my mouth. They call As these just like literal sores everywhere in my mouth, so much so that I couldn't eat. So it was a search for something that would help keep HIV at bay, and not kill me by taking the medication. And that was the scary part in the 80s. In the 90s, there really was nothing that could keep you alive to drugs sort of did, but it's damned if you do damned if you don't, you know, if you don't die of HIV, maybe you're going to die of taking this blasted medication. And that was the reality for so many men at that time. Take the drugs or die, and maybe take the drugs and die to. And that was the reality.
Coach Maddox 30:44
Well, and you know, after everything that you're describing all the varying different drugs that you cycled through, and here you are still standing and not just surviving but thriving. That says a lot about you on so many different levels.
Grant Miller 31:03
Thank you for saying that Maddox. I have a tendency sometimes to gloss over some of the things that I've accomplished in my life. Because of this. I mean that that old voice in my head says that you're worthless, you're dirty, it can creep in so easily. Even today, even then, in this day and age, it can still creep into me. You know, when I told you earlier about the aerobics that was one of the reasons why I went back to school. I hated school in high school because I was beaten up and, and harassed in high school so much that I hated school.
Coach Maddox 31:46
I had exactly the same situation from for the entire 12 years, and then even one year of college where the boys and then eventually the young men were horrible to me. All through high school. I never ever went in the bathroom. I would I would pee before I went to school in the morning. And I wouldn't pay until I got home at the end of the day. Because if I went in the bathroom, I got the shit beat out of me right there in the bathroom.
Grant Miller 32:16
And then there was the horror of PE class in high school where you had to shower with the other guys. That was one of the most horrendous parts of me, you know, I mean, here it was that more of a well, not more of a fascination with other men's or boys bodies. You know, here they are teenagers. And I'm like, out of the corner of my eye watching and seeing them. Of course, anyone caught wind of that it was just hell would break loose. Like you said, you'd be beaten you'd be you know, abused verbally. And it was just horrendous.
Coach Maddox 32:46
Yeah, I actually had a a coach in I believe it was high school that Yeah, high school that kind of took pity on me. He could see how bad it was. And he did what he could to protect me during all of the PE stuff and and some years later, I always wondered, you know, because that there were there was another coach that just absolutely terrorized me. But this one kind of looked after me and I, I always wondered why why he did that. And some years later, I found out that he had a son that was younger than I am. That was gay. And even though the sun probably had not come out at that time. He knew dad knew Dad, Dad saw the signs. And I think it that knowing must have made him compassionate. Because he certainly did look after me. There was never anything ever mentioned or said about it. But he would give me privileges he would he would let me skip going out into the yard where the boys would terrorize me. And he would let me hang out in the locker room and help with laundry or, or you know, doing some odd jobs around the the locker room there the gymnasium where I wouldn't be where the other boys were.
Grant Miller 34:13
Yeah. You know, you were so blessed to have that Maddox. I mean, for me, there was no one like that for me. My parents didn't even know that I was being harassed. I never told them I never told them that I had been beaten up by by gay men or by men because I was a gay man.
Coach Maddox 34:35
I told my parents not not because I was a gay man because we didn't you know, at that point where I was we didn't have language for that the boys called me a sissy. We the gay word wasn't even on the scene at that point in time, but I did tell them and I can't even you know, they did everything they could but looking back, I can't imagine how helpless they must have felt To know that their son was being picked on as badly as I was, and to not really be able to do anything about it. You know, they went to the school board, they did everything they could do. And at one point, they signed me up and put me in karate classes. So hoping that it would give me some confidence and helped me learn to take up for myself to stand up for myself. And it didn't. And I won't go into that story. But it didn't work. But they certainly did. Everything they could think of, to try to support me through what to date has been the hardest part of my life, that bullying through school was absolutely the hardest thing that I have ever endured in my 65 years on the planet.
Grant Miller 35:55
I totally can relate to that. I mean, I mean, think about that, a young boy that struggling with all that turmoil inside about being gay and being harassed. Well, I carried that on into my adult life, then I got hit with HIV, and it just all got rolled into one. And it was like a big snowball going down a hill, it just got bigger, and bigger and bigger, add the A's AT T, add these other medications, add the rejection of wanting to have sex with someone that won't want to have sex with you, because your HIV, it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. You mentioned about talking to your parents when I actually went to my parents and told them that I was HIV positive. Oh my god, I was so nervous about it. I told them and my mother turned to my dad. And she said, See, I told you. And I just went Okay, what else do I say about it? How long do you got? I said, I don't know. And this is the late 80s. I don't know how much time I have. But it was a Oh, see, I told you he'd get it. That was the attitude that I got. And again, so if there's no support at home, where do you go to for support. And that was the issue. It wasn't until I got the pastor the YMCA until I got the confidence to start teaching aerobics. And I started making friends there. And then I took the big step and went back to school. I said, I told myself, look, you may still die. But if you could go to school to become a teacher, and you could teach for one year before you died, you could say that you actually accomplished something in your life. I went back to school, I finished my first degree in French to become an ESL and English as a Second Language teacher for francophones in Quebec. So I got my first degree in Quebec, I became a school teacher. I taught one year of English in college. And I thought, okay, maybe I've, I've made it. And then something in my head said, don't give up. This isn't done yet. So I said, I've got to start making plans for my life, I got to start thinking, where I'm going to go, if I'm going to be around, I've got to start planning my life. So I took another big step. And I moved to Vancouver, and I got my second degree. And I became an elementary school teacher. And I have taught for 29 years now. So when I go back 29 years, I was thinking that first year, Grant, if you can survive and teach for one year, you can die happy, knowing that you've accomplished something. And you know, it's still we still you know, when it sinks in you realize, oh my god, I got through it. I'm still here I'm teaching 29 years later, I'm still here and I'm still teaching
Coach Maddox 39:02
Well, and what I know because of some of our previous conversations that the audience the listeners do not know is, well what an amazing teacher you are, and the impact that you've had on lots and lots of kids.
Grant Miller 39:24
Thank you, Maddox. It's, again, the old Mead wants to not accept that compliment. No, no, that's not possible. You're not a good teacher, Grant, you're diseased. You're, you're, you're wrong, you know, you're a horrible person. So, believe me Maddox, for many of my teaching years, I carried that baggage along with me, Grant, you're not real, you're fake. You're just faking this. And one of these days somebody's going to really notice that you're faking it and you're gonna lose your opportunity. And it wasn't until I got my fourth degree is a master's in This is 2010 When I got my master's, my thesis, well, we didn't have to really do a thesis was my voyage as a teacher. And I did a graphic novel and did a video about my path. And included and I spilled it all to my cohort, the HIV, the abuse ever, they knew everything. And this was the first time I had actually come out to anybody in the education system, about being HIV positive. And it was one of the most liberating things that I ever did was to say this to someone in the education system, I'm HIV positive. I'm still here. And I'm going to keep teaching. And so here I was, you know, I mean, 2010 is only about 12 years ago. I've been teaching for a lot longer than that. So for all those years before that time, I really believed that I was a phony. Because being gay, because I'm defective, because I'm HIV positive.
Coach Maddox 41:00
So what do you know to be true now?
Grant Miller 41:05
Well, I'm not much of a singer, but I could sing I am what I am. You know?
Coach Maddox 41:11
Well, and and the truth of the matter is, you were never a phony. That was all in your head. You know, I want to
Grant Miller 41:21
know, what, what was it?
Coach Maddox 41:26
I mean, I know that what it looked like externally was the membership to the, to the why, and to start to make some friends and to become an aerobics instructor. But what was it? Because I can even in the midst of that story, I can still feel the shame and I can still feel the dirtiness and in the wrong in the worthlessness.
Grant Miller 41:48
Coach Maddox 41:51
was it that you summoned from inside of your from deep inside of yourself?
That allowed you to keep going, and here you are.
Grant Miller 42:08
Four decades later,
Coach Maddox 42:10
still going strong? What it what did you find deep inside of yourself that enabled you to against all odds? When you saw so many of your peers falling all around you?
Grant Miller 42:26
You kept going? That's a really tough question to answer Maddox, I think there was just this this little voice that was often being overwritten by all the other voices saying, You're a phony, you're sick, you're you're diseased, you're not worth it, all this stuff. But there was this little voice in the background of the inner child that was trying to speak over all that noise. And every once in a while, he'd pop up, and I'd hear him and say, I got you. And I think it was that little voice the little inner child of me that said, keep going, keep going. You could do this
so I'm sorry, I'm just I kind of lost for words about how
Coach Maddox 43:22
no take your take your time, your your I mean, what you just said, took my breath away.
Grant Miller 43:34
To have a life where you think there is nothing, there's no reason to live is one of the most horrendous places to be. And I think there was this belief is inside the little boy that kept saying, look, you see you can teach aerobics now. Keep doing it. Look, you went to school, you became a teacher, you could do it. And then when it came time to say, well, I like to meet this guy. And I'm maybe I'd like to date him. But the little voice didn't have an answer for how do you tell this guy the reach of your positive because a little child never dealt with that he never got over his shame for being gay and being dirty and you know, all that stuff. Cymatics for me to move ahead and say, Okay, I meet some guy, I want to meet him. I'm talking the 80s 90s it was like I was being traumatized all over again. I mean, just break it to this guy. Look. I think you're really attractive. He says, Yeah, I think you're really attractive too. I'm HIV positive. And then the silence would come. And you just wait and you'd say, all right. Did you hear what I said? And most of the time they were just kind of push away, and you never hear from them again. The ones that did stay, and they didn't seem to matter, or it didn't seem to matter to them. So I started seeking out gay men that were that way, and that it didn't seem to matter.
Coach Maddox 45:20
And you found them, didn't you?
Grant Miller 45:22
I did. I did. The more I started seeking people that would accept me for what I was, and when I started to start, really try to believe that, that there must be someone out there that wants a man who is HIV positive. He wants me the he must be out there somewhere. And it was that belief that keep moving forward, I'm going to meet somebody that will accept me for being HIV positive, they will accept me for being who I am. And the more I believe that the more often people would show up,
Coach Maddox 45:55
you know, we've all heard the term Seek and ye shall find,
Grant Miller 46:01
I can't say what
Coach Maddox 46:03
verse that's from or what, you know, what part of the Bible that's from, but seek and ye shall find. And I've heard throughout my life, you know, be careful what you ask for, because you might get it or you know, what you look for, you will find, most of the time, what you look for, you will find and your story completely validates
Grant Miller 46:23
all of that. You know, Maddox, I've had several major relationships in my life. The first one, he was negative, obviously, the next relationship I had was he was positive. And so it wasn't a major issue. The next man that I saw for five years was negative, but he had no issue around the HIV and then the next two relationships, including my ex husband, and then the one after they were both positive, so it was not really an issue. So there was only one person in the after my first partner that I lost out of over the fear of AIDS, there was one man who didn't care that I was HIV positive. And it was one of the most amazing relationships I had. It really wasn't something that was at the forefront of our relationship. And it showed me that there are people out there, whether they're positive or negative, that can accept you for who you are. Love
Coach Maddox 47:33
salutely. And there always will be. And I know when the online dating came on board, you certainly did see a lot of men putting it up front, right on the very top of their profile, HIV positive. And I wondered, in the very beginning, Wow, what's that about? You know, and then it really kind of sunk in and dawned on me that it eliminates the rejection. It eliminated eliminate the people that read your profile, and that that's a problem for them, they don't reach out, and they don't respond, if you reach out. When somebody reaches out, you know, that it's a non issue, because they already know it gets out of the way. You know, I took on an approach. Because I, I, I came out one year after AIDS was discovered. And
Grant Miller 48:30
Coach Maddox 48:33
I was in a relationship for a couple of years in the mid 80s. When that relationship ended, my mom, she came to me and she was very worried. She said, I'm just so afraid, you know, for you to be single and back out on the streets again, in the midst of this AIDS epidemic. And I said, Well, Mom, I'm not worried about it. So you shouldn't be there. You know, I, I, God has given me a brain. I have been thoroughly educated on cipher six practices, and how you can catch it and how you can't catch it. That's no guarantee. I'm going to do my part the part that I'm responsible for. I'm going to do all I can do and beyond that, I'm going to leave the rest up to God, higher power, whatever you want to call it. And I decided that in when my dating life, I never asked anybody what their HIV status was. I would meet somebody and enter into a dating whatever it was, whether it was just what we call a one night stand back then, or it was dating or even a relationship. And I just
Grant Miller 49:55
Coach Maddox 49:56
that everyone was HIV positive Yeah, I assumed that every single man was HIV positive. And I just acted accordingly.
Grant Miller 50:09
You know, that makes so much sense. But then I look back at me during that time, and I wasn't capable of seeing that. It to me, it was 100%. My, my responsibility to tell that other guy, Maddox, I lied a few times.
Coach Maddox 50:28
Well, and I, I just from you from your end, I see it differently. You know, I mean, I see I see it the same way you do I see it differently than what I just said, you know, I, well, I haven't been tested recently, because I haven't been active in a while. But as far as I know, I am HIV negative.
Grant Miller 50:48
Coach Maddox 50:51
me, just assuming that everybody was positive, and acting accordingly was my way of keeping me safe. It didn't mean that I didn't participate, it just meant that if I participated, I was going to take all the necessary precautions I have, which is, I can look back now and clearly see that that was a form of self love. But if, on the other hand, if I had been HIV positive, I don't think that I could have in good conscience been sexual with someone else? Without telling them first? I don't. I don't, I don't know. You know, we never know 100% how we would react until we're actually in the situation, this is my, my thought about how I think I would have handled it. And that would have been to be upfront about it. But then there's this part of me that thinks, you know, if they don't ask, then they're not too interested. And once again, I would have just taken the necessary precautions and made sure that I practice safe sex when I was with other men, not to protect me, but to protect them.
Grant Miller 52:06
Yes. And to echo that, there were times Maddox, when I didn't tell my partners that I was HIV positive. And that would keep on a whole nother level of guilt onto my life. But you know, as I've said, earlier, I had so much guilt over so many other things that would often be heaped on top of that. Now, granted, I did not engage in unsafe sex with anyone. At that time, you know, I would, if the relationship continued, I would come and tell them and I think there were a couple of negative reactions. And there were actually a few saying, okay, that's okay, I can, I can live with that. So I think the inability to tell my partner that I was HIV positive, goes back to all that stuff that I was carrying my baggage, was, if I have to tell them that I'm HIV positive, I have to tell them that I'm broken, I have to tell them that I'm diseased that I'm a horrible person.
Coach Maddox 53:05
And grant, I want to be clear here that I said, You know what I think I would have done. But I will never know what I would have really done. I have not walked in your shoes, so I can't know what you've gone through. I can know it intellectually through the story that you're telling. I can know it a little deeper than intellectually because I'm an empath I have the ability to, to know more than a person that's not an empath, because I can feel as you tell this story, but even still, you've walked in shoes that I haven't walked in. And so I'm speculating on what I think I would have done and
Grant Miller 53:53
well, you know, I mean, I could have painted a positive picture to sort of project that, you know, I was capable of being 100% honest about being HIV positive. Well, it came down to there were times when I wasn't, but I was always safe. And that was one thing that reduced the guilt in my, for me was knowing that I was being as safe as possible. You know,
Coach Maddox 54:19
if you were taking responsibility, and the truth of the matter is, you know, I kind of see it in that. Largely, if they're going to engage in a sexual act with you. That's really their responsibility, not yours. That I mean, if the fact that they don't answer tells me that they're either in complete denial and avoidance or
Unknown Speaker 54:46
they don't care.
Coach Maddox 54:49
One or the other.
Grant Miller 54:50
But the voice in my head said, You're the one responsible, you're the one that's HIV positive. You're the bad one for not telling these guys that you're HIV positive. So you better damn well play safe than I did. Yeah.
Coach Maddox 55:06
You took every precaution to keep them safe. Yeah. That says, once again, a lot about you, my friend. Take a deep breath and let that in, please.
Grant Miller 55:21
You know, even today, that's hard to hear Maddox. I mean, the guilt that I carried forward for so many years over this. It just, it's so insidious. It is something that I have to remind myself over and over again, that the shame that I had for myself, that I had to let go of the shame, I had to turn it around and say, I'm not ashamed of myself, I love myself, I love for who I am. I love myself for the things that I do. And that other people will love me for who I am. And so even when you said that even now, and 2022, there's still that little twist inside that says, Grant, you know, you got to feel guilty. And it's a day to day battle sometimes.
Coach Maddox 56:16
Is that true, though? Do you need to feel guilty for that? No, no, I believe guilt is a choice.
Grant Miller 56:26
Yes. But it took me almost 59 years of my life to come to understand that. I mean, you know, this whole process that we went through with COVID. And the self help that we did, you and I together, out there during COVID brought to light that who I am as a person that the the sex that I engage in, the things that I do, are not an issue of shame, but an issue of self expression and self love, and love for somebody else. And if that means anal sex with someone else, if someone else over there says, oh, that's disgusting. That's their problem, not like,
Coach Maddox 57:07
I fully agree with you there. I fully agree.
Grant Miller 57:11
So I let go the shame of having sex, I let go of the having the shame for being HIV positive. And the people who come to me now I say to them, Hey, do I mean should be positive. So he says, It's okay, I'm on PrEP, or it doesn't matter, we can wear condoms. And it's just a non issue in general,
Coach Maddox 57:39
well, but that's a reflection, once again, have you grant, when you made it a non issue, the rest of the world followed your example. All those years that it was an issue it was because you were making an issue within yourself, when you chose to let go and let it be a what I call a no thing in quotes, air quotes, a no thing the world reflects back to us who we are and what's going on inside of us. And you're validating that in saying, Now, I just put it out there. And the vast majority of the people are just like, okay with it, it's a non issue, because you've made it a non issue inside of you. Homophobia works the same way. Oh, hell yes. You know, when we're experiencing homophobia, all it is, is just a reflection of our own internalized homophobia. And you can go with a lot of other things, you know, when we feel neglected, or put upon or not, not seen or not heard. That's all a reflection of the fact that we're not allowing ourselves to be seen or heard, or we're not, we're neglecting ourselves, or where we're not even seeing and hearing ourselves. You know, it's it's a it's a real thing. You know,
Grant Miller 59:00
I kind of liken them to little demons inside me, you know, they pop up all the time. You know, I'll tell you, I'll give you an example, here in Nova Scotia where I live. I was on a web site, and this guy told me Give me this big long list of things that he wanted me to do too. And they were all unsafe. And I said to him, Well, look, I just need to be honest with you. I'm HIV positive. Are you on PrEP? All of a sudden, all that big list disappeared? And he says, No, I can't do that with you. And I thought, I'm gonna let this gentleman know whether he wants to hear it or not. So you're telling me that you were willing for me to do this, this, this and this to you? And it was all without protection? And yet, as soon as you know that, I'm positive you won't do it. But you would go out to a bathhouse or find someone else who just decided not to tell you and let you would allow them To do that, too. He contacted me about two months later, he said, I get that now, we never did hook up. But nonetheless, he did kind of get it after a while. So maybe me actually saying that to him actually made him think about it a bit more,
Coach Maddox 1:00:17
I would say. So the fact that he called you two months later, I mean, who does that unless you've had quite an impact, but you said had an impact on him. And he had to process that and it took him a while. So, Grant, I'd like to kind of wrap things up and ask you. All you've been through all that you've learned and experienced how far you've come.
Unknown Speaker 1:00:46
You know that there's going to be
Coach Maddox 1:00:49
a lot of people that are experiencing what you experienced, that are listening to this. What wisdom bombs Can you drop for those people.
Grant Miller 1:01:03
Don't listen to those demons that are inside your head. Speak to the inner child who says, I love you. I love you for who you are. I accept you for who you are. And if you accept yourself and you love yourself, you are going to find other people that will love you back. If you choose to listen to the demons, you're not going to meet, you're going to meet more demons, you're going to meet more people that will reject you. So it starts with self love. It really does.
Coach Maddox 1:01:37
Wow, that's really beautiful grant.
Grant Miller 1:01:40
You know, Maddox. It's hard for me to say this. But for 59 years of my life, it's taken me almost 57 to learn to say that I loved myself. I love myself now.
Coach Maddox 1:01:50
Doesn't that feel good?
Grant Miller 1:01:51
Oh my god. And I'm not even gonna let the regret committable Why didn't you figure this out earlier. But the fact is right now, right here right now, I love myself.
Coach Maddox 1:02:00
So my new slogan is self love is sexy. I even had a t shirt printed that says self love is sexy. It's my, my new mantra. And I want the what you just said was like, wow, and I want the listeners to know that that was not rehearsed. Grant did not know I was going to ask him to drop some wisdom bombs. That was not pre planned pre thought out. That was authentic, and, and vulnerable and spontaneous, as has been everything that has been shared. In this episode, today. What a beautiful piece of wisdom that you just dropped on everybody. And I hope that you guys listening will literally punch the Back button, that little 15 Second back button, punch it a couple of times. And listen to what Grant said it again, because it was spot on. So thank you, grant for that so much. I you, I just want to acknowledge you for the raw vulnerability that you brought to the episode today. It takes an insane amount of courage to do what you did today. And I just want to honor you for that. Thank you, Maddox. Yeah. And I got some, some rapid fire question for questions for you. If you're if you're down with that. I can do it. Let's do it. Do you have anything else you'd like to say before we do rapid fire questions?
Grant Miller 1:03:38
One thing, Maddox, thank you for bringing this forward on the podcast and allowing us to talk about this. Because I think people today they don't realize they're they're living with the pandemic of COVID. I've lived through another epidemic. And for me, this is the same thing. It's just a different way of dealing with it.
Coach Maddox 1:04:00
Well, except for we've all lived with COVID for a couple of years now. And you've been living with what you've had to deal with for four decades. Exactly. You know, and so to put it in perspective, maybe HIV, as HIV, we didn't wear masks and get locked into our house. But there were other things that were far, far more impactful in a negative way than a mask and being locked in your house.
Grant Miller 1:04:28
Coach Maddox 1:04:31
So thank you for that grant. So Rapid Fire question number one. What are you afraid of?
Grant Miller 1:04:47
There's really nothing that I'm afraid of, but I will be 100% honest, at 59 years of age, I'm lately dealing with the possibility that my device will come eventually and I'm dealing with getting I'm older. And I am currently looking at that day when I pass on and saying, right, you've got a beautiful opportunity from now until that time, get out and damn well live your life and do the things that you want to do. So,
Coach Maddox 1:05:16
Grant Miller 1:05:18
exactly. That is my slogan, you know that carpet do live my life.
Coach Maddox 1:05:23
So I love it. Love it, love it, love it. What is the one thing that you most wish you could change about the gay male community
Grant Miller 1:05:39
the ability to self love and project that to other people, and stop projecting all those the baggage that have been heaped on you by society, let go of that baggage be who you are, and accept others for who they are just as much as you should accept yourself for being who you are.
Coach Maddox 1:06:00
I love it. I did I echo that.
Unknown Speaker 1:06:04
And final question.
Coach Maddox 1:06:06
When was the last time you sat either virtually or in person in a grip of gay men and engaged in a deeper more heartfelt conversation that included authenticity and vulnerability.
Grant Miller 1:06:22
Well, it wasn't on a zoom it was in at dimsum this past weekend with a new group of friends that I have started developing now. Because I'm coming out of COVID and I'm starting to develop community. I had vulnerability with my friends we shared I shared I told them that I was HIV positive in the group. And it was just part of the conversation but they understood and there wasn't any aspect to it.
Coach Maddox 1:06:51
Well, that's because you have come full circle with it. You know when you when you accepted you for who and where you are and what your life involves. Once again, the world just follows our our example. But it all starts inside. I say that all the time. Lou Ty says all meaningful and lasting things and change both start on the inside and work their way out. And you've just told a story that so beautifully examples that.
Grant Miller 1:07:25
Thank you Maddox. I really am honored to have had this opportunity with you as
Coach Maddox 1:07:30
well and it's been an honor to have you as my friend. And as a podcast guest You're welcome back anytime.
Grant Miller 1:07:39
It's been a it's been a pleasure. Thank you
Teacher and Author
Grant is an Elementary school teaching currently working with Grade 6 French Immersion. Being openly gay in education has been a challenging experience with experiences both bad and good. As Grant reflects on his 25+ years of teaching, he has discovered that his professional life and his person life were sometimes out of sync. At school, he is a confident and outgoing teacher. He is well spoken, organized and well-suited to teach children in not only curriculum but also life skills. During COVID, Grant found time to do a lot of internal work and has discovered that his personal life could be much more like his professional life. He’s come to realize that caring for himself is an important first step in becoming an authentic man. Turning his life as a caregiver of others to one of self care and self love has been instrumental to making the changes of being more authentic.
Grant is also an author and is presently self-publishing his first gay science fiction novel. He is also an avid cook who loves to experiment in the kitchen and uses that time to relax and unwind from the trials and tribulations of teaching. Grant enjoys weightlifting and exercise as a mainstay in his life. He also gardens, bird watches, camps and hikes. He plans on expanding his repertoire as he recently turned 59 and is discovering the excitement of what lies ahead.