Nautilus

The Man Who Beat HIV at Its Own Game for 30 Years

For Kai Brothers, 1981 marked the beginning and the end of a golden era. That was the year he turned 19, moved to San Francisco to join one of the world’s largest gay communities, and met his first boyfriend. “We could walk down the street holding hands and kissing somebody in public. It really was a magical time,” Brothers says. But it was short-lived. “Right after I moved here, we started hearing about people dying.”

Brothers, 52, is sitting in his San Francisco living room with his cat on his lap. A computer technician, he has peppery hair and a carefully trimmed beard. The lines in his face are a reminder of the years that have passed, but he looks healthy.

In the 1980s, Brothers had been donating his blood to a San Francisco blood bank, and sometime in 1986, he recalls, it sent him a piece of certified mail that requested he come in for a test. The blood bank had discovered the human immunodeficiency virus in its stock, and wanted to make sure Brothers didn’t have it. He didn’t go in for the test. “It was the classic state of denial,” he says. “I couldn’t manage it.” Brothers interpreted the letter as confirmation that he was HIV positive.

The anxiety of living in doubt took a toll on Brothers, and in 1989 he went in for an HIV test. It was positive. He believes he contracted the virus from his first boyfriend, who developed AIDS in 1991, and died two years later. That was the darkest period in Brothers

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