PETER BUSSE: One of the many primary reasons is (that) when I was diagnosed 20 years ago the idea then was if you’ve been diagnosed HIV-positive you were going to develop AIDS and die within a very short space of time. So, if you would have said to me in ‘85, ‘you’re going to be around in 20 years’ time,’ a lot of people would have thought that you were a bit crazy. So, one, was reaching the 20 years. But the main purpose of the party was that I’ve asked myself often: What has got me through this 20 year period? The main thing for me has been an incredible amount of love and support and care from all my friends and people that I’ve come into contact with during that period’¦ In essence the party was me saying ‘thank you’ to all my friends and colleagues and family for supporting me and loving me and caring for me over the last 20 years.
KHOPOTSO: Peter Busse remembers the days leading up to the discovery that he had HIV in 1985.
PETER BUSSE: I was living in Swaziland at the time that my doctor mentioned to me, ‘Oh, we’ve got the facilities for testing’… I thought as somebody who had done Psychology and having been sexually active many years before, it would be interesting just as a curiosity thing to test and just experience what it felt like to go through that process. So, I actually had the situation of actually testing ‘ and testing negative, which is almost what I expect(ed) having had no physical symptoms whatsoever, and having been in a relationship for two or three years up to that time. I also felt that likelihood was very low.
KHOPOTSO: But six months later the sense of security and commitment that long-term relationships can bring changed.
PETER BUSSE: It was just that something had shifted in the relationship. It was an issue around trust and truth and honesty that I felt that I wanted to go and test again. And then I tested the second time and that test was positive. So, I can actually date my infection to a six-month period and knowing that there was no other way that I could possibly have been infected during that time other than through my partner’¦ What my HIV diagnosis said to me was that: My partner had been unfaithful, essentially, and that I’d been infected by the one that supposedly loved me and cared for me the most in the world. So, that was the shock.
KHOPOTSO: The turn of events caused Busse to question the ideals of honesty, trust and faithfulness in relationships. But Peter continued his relationship with John for eight more years until he left after realising that he could never get a reciprocal commitment from his partner. John eventually died ten years ago in 1995. A decade later, Peter Busse is glad to be alive. His celebration in grand style two weeks ago to mark 20 years of life with HIV with 250 friends, family and colleagues was a life-affirming gesture ‘ not only for him, but for others too.
PETER BUSSE: The one person wrote: ‘Dear Peter, this event is very critical for me. You don’t know me, I’ve come with a friend of yours. And I was diagnosed three weeks ago and so, it’s very new and very frightening for me. But just being here tonight has really given me amazing encouragement and hope and strength to live with this disease in a positive way’’¦
There was another incredibly moving piece from a black woman who was a lesbian who just said: ‘My experience of HIV has been that I became HIV-positive as a result of being raped because I was a lesbian and this was sort of seen as being a way to kind of cure me… I want you to understand that it’s been a real inspiration and hope and encouragement for me as a black lesbian who’s HIV-positive to be here and to draw strength and meaning and hope from your experience’.
KHOPOTSO: Besides the love and support from those around him, Peter is fortunate to have had access to antiretroviral therapy, which he began taking in the late 1990s. But, he says, in addition to his meds, attitude also counts.
PETER BUSSE: It’s just having a very positive attitude. From the day I got diagnosed, I thought this has happened. You can’t change it. You can’t go back. There’s no room in this for blame and recrimination because it’s not going to make it go away. So, I’ve always had this sense of moving forward and there are a lot of things that I still have to do – both in my work and in terms of my personal growth as a human being’¦ I want to see next Christmas, I want to do that next holiday, I still have to fall in love one more time, I’m looking forward to the next kiss. All these things (are) kind of pulling me into the future’¦ and I’m not ready yet to say: ‘Alright, I’ve done it. I’ve had it. It’s enough now, I’m ready.’ I don’t think I will ever be ready to die’¦ I’ve obviously thought about death and dying a lot. So, if it happened it wouldn’t be something that I’ve put into a little secret place’¦ If it happened I’d be ready, but I’m not ready because I’ve got things to do.
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