Petr had to come out twice. Once as gay, once as someone with HIV
Petr Kalla, 45, is a successful lawyer. He and his boyfriend are bringing up two children with a lesbian couple, he is a long-term member and colleague of Prague Pride and co-owner of Q Café. He came out at 25, after a seven-year relationship with a woman. He first learned he was HIV positive in 2005.
Petr comes from a small town in western Bohemia, where there was no real possibility of meeting another gay man. He didn’t know anyone in a similar position and he also had no knowledge of LGBT+ people. Nevertheless, he had known he was attracted to men since childhood. “For a long time, my sexual fantasies were about men being attracted to me. It’s what my schoolmates thought about me too. They came to tell me this after I told them I had a girlfriend,” he says, recalling life in middle school.
Petr’s desire for a large family was a major barrier to him accepting himself. He is one of five children who all have several children of their own. That’s also why he found a young lady in high school and fell in love with her as much as he could. But after Petr went to Germany on Erasmus, everything changed: at the end of his time there, he started a relationship with a man and broke up with his girlfriend after returning to the Czech Republic.
“When we split up, she asked me if it was because of another Czech girl who’d been In Germany with me. But I told her no, it was because of a man. That really upset her and she began to cry,” Petr says. Then he came out to his friends, his housemates and finally, his parents. “It was dad’s birthday. He’d had about four heart attacks, so after I told them, he went away and took some medication. Mum had hysterics and let slip some nasty reproaches. I ended up leaving the house,” says Petr, describing this sad memory. But the next day, his father called to say that he still loved him as his son. It took his mother significantly longer to come to terms with Petr’s orientation.
A few years passed and Petr got to know the world from a new perspective, but this was fateful. “I wasn’t a saint. I discovered the gay world through nightlife – parties and sex. It was a hell of a ride, but after a few years, I discovered in 2005 that I was HIV positive,” Petr confides.
To make matters worse, this was when Petr was supposed to be studying for his bar exams, which he was due to take in two months. “I was at work when a doctor acquaintance called and she told me. She said I should immediately call Bulovka Hospital and my sexual partners,” Petr continues, and immediately adds that his first thought was that his whole life was ruined and that he was a risk to those around him.
“It was like a hammer blow to the forehead. I wasn’t able to do anything. My colleague at work, who was the only one who hadn’t gone for lunch, she got a front-row seat. I immediately dumped on her what I had just learned myself,” Petr says. “I also instantly told the colleagues who came back later. The boss was the only person I didn’t tell, because I was scared of how he would react,” he continues.
Fortunately, Petr’s colleague kept his head and helped him to finish the task he was working on that day. Petr immediately called his boyfriend and told him, and he came straight away to pick Petr up from work. “The first thing I said was that I wanted him to break up with me. I didn’t want him to have to go through everything with me,” he remembers.
“I told myself that I’m essentially already dead. I totally didn’t know if studying for my exams made any sense. But the most important thing for me was being with my boyfriend. He was the only person who could make me think that there might be a future ahead of me after all,” he continues.
As for coming out a second time, Petr didn’t want to spread the information that he was HIV positive. It took him a while to tell his friends. But he says that they all took it calmly. “None of them stopped communicating with me. Only my ex-girlfriend, who heard about it from my doctor, who was by pure coincidence someone we both knew, limited her communication with me. Even today we haven’t found an opportunity to discuss the issue. We see each other only occasionally, by chance,” Petr says.
He was most afraid of coming out to his family. When Petr told his parents that he is gay, one of the things that his mum said was that he would end up on the streets and would catch something. That’s why he couldn't tell her about his HIV status. “Mum died before I could tell her and I still regret that I didn’t. Then my niece died too and after so many deaths in the family I didn’t want to burden my relatives with worry about me. That’s why I waited until last year to come out,” Petr explains, adding that his father’s reaction was that he was glad that Petr had told him.
He told his siblings by text message, also because he needed to deal with the situation as quickly as possible. Petr’s sister lives in the same village as their dad, so Petr hoped that, if the worst happened, they would be able to talk to each other about it. He also assured his father that he could tell anyone he wanted and explained how medical science has advanced. The reaction from his siblings was amazing, far better than he could have wished for.
“Life goes on and I’ve learned to live with it. Other than the tablets I have to take, being HIV positive doesn't limit me at all. As a result I have also become more of an activist. I got interested in LGBT+ rights and I was involved in the opening of Q Café. I decided that I’ll never be a biological father, but I still have two children,” is how Petr summarises his experience with HIV.
Petr would like to tell everyone who learns they are HIV positive that it’s not the end of your life and that you can still look forward to a bright future. It is important to be diagnosed as quickly as possible, which is why he recommends that people get tested regularly. “I wouldn't change anything in my life. Right now I don’t even regret being HIV positive. We live in a fantastic age when humanity has the means to limit the spread of HIV,” Petr concludes.
Author: Anna Pálová
59 % of LGBT+ people in Czechia don’t talk about their orientation and identity, because they’re afraid of the reaction of those around them. The situation is even worse in Hungary – a new law bans LGBT+ content for the under 18s, including educational materials. Support the one week in the year in which LGBT+ people can really feel that they belong and that they are free. We will use half of your donation for events during our festival week. We will send the other half to Budapest Pride in Hungary.