`Breaking The Surface' -- An Abusive Relationship, Then The News: Hiv-Positive

Last of three parts

Although his performance at the 1984 Olympics earned him two gold medals, when it came to feeling good about himself, Greg Louganis couldn't get to first base. How else to explain the abusive relationship with "Tom"? In this final excerpt from his book "Breaking the Surface," Louganis tells of that relationship and of the diagnosis they both received: HIV-positive.

After the 1984 Olympics, I moved in with Tom (not his real name), whom I'd been seeing for about two years. By then, Tom was also my manager, and we would be together for the next four years.

During the first several months of the relationship, Tom made things so easy and was so agreeable that we didn't fight a whole lot. Everything changed one day, in the fall of 1983, over the fact that Tom wasn't the only man I'd been sexually involved with during that time. We had been seeing each other for about a year and we hadn't made any sort of commitment yet, so I just assumed that it was OK to date other men, which I assumed he was doing as well.

I can't remember exactly how Tom found out, but I think he asked me about someone whose name I'd mentioned, and I told him that it was someone I'd gone out with a month or two before.

Tom got very angry. He. . . . went off on a tirade, calling me all sorts of names.

Tom demanded that I tell him the names of other men I'd dated. He made me write down their names and telephone numbers. I wrote down the names of five men. I really thought I was losing my mind.

Tom made me call each one of the five men and tell them that I was sorry, that I'd been in a relationship, that I hadn't been honest with them, and that I couldn't see them again. It was humiliating.

After I made the phone calls, Tom grew even more enraged. I was paralyzed with fear. All I could do was stand there and take it. Then he said, "I'll show you!" and he went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. I was terrified.

Tom grabbed me from behind, held the knife to my neck . . . Then he raped me.

It never occurred to me to go to the police or stop at a hospital or tell anyone what had happened. In fact, I didn't tell anyone for five years.

We saw each other the next day, and he didn't say anything about the rape: no apology, nothing. It was as if it had never happened. I didn't expect him to apologize, because I thought I was the one who was in the wrong. I felt grateful that he wanted to see me again, grateful that he didn't tell me again that I had deserved it.

I've since learned that my behavior is very like that of battered spouses, primarily women in heterosexual relationships. But abuse occurs as well in lesbian and gay relationships. I wish it didn't, but it does.

Tom always claimed that he was true to me, and I believed him. But Tom held those five men over me long after that incident, bringing it up whenever he wanted to remind me how I had betrayed him. It never occurred to me to remind him that he had raped me.

Tom and I moved to a wonderful house in Malibu in May 1985. We bought the house jointly, using my down payment. Tom didn't put up any of his own money toward the new house.

Before Tom started working for me, as my business and personal manager, he didn't seem to have any kind of steady job, and I wasn't supporting him. He told me that he had put away some money from his real estate investing, but I wondered why he'd want to live off his savings for so long. During that time, he'd occasionally go away, explaining that he had work to do. He led me to believe that he had to do paperwork associated with his real estate investments.

I learned a lot in life too late, and it hurts to learn too late. What I learned about Tom, years later, from people who knew, was that his "work" was hustling on Santa Monica Boulevard. Tom was a prostitute.

It was shortly after we started living together that Tom began managing my business affairs - he took care of the checkbooks and all my financial matters. I was convinced that Tom had my best interests at heart so I had a contract drawn up, giving him 20 percent of everything I earned. But to me it didn't really matter what percentage he got, because we were keeping it all under one roof. In my mind, we were a team.

The subject of AIDS

You would think that because Tom and I were a gay couple, the subject of AIDS would have been something we talked about early on in the epidemic. But we didn't. The way I understood it, you got it from having sex in bathhouses or public restrooms, and you had to have a thousand sex partners. I was in a monogamous relationship, and while I'd had relationships before Tom and dated several men along the way, I never had that many partners.

I started getting more scared when some of Tom's friends got sick and died and then when Kevin (my lover prior to Tom) wrote to tell me that he was HIV-positive. He urged me to get tested, but somehow I managed to stay in denial. When Tom came down with shingles in the summer of 1987, I convinced myself that it had nothing to do with AIDS, despite the fact that shingles is often the first sign that someone is HIV-positive.

Tom got over the shingles and we went back to life as usual, or at least usual for us. We talked about getting tested for HIV, but we didn't do it. We were also in denial about safer sex: When we did have sex, we continued not to take any precautions.

In early 1988 while we were away on a trip, Tom started to have trouble breathing. After Tom got home, he got worse and worse. He was having high fevers and night sweats and he could barely get up and down the stairs.

We hadn't planned it, but it turned out that Tom and I were tested on the same day. Tom got his results back first. He wasn't just HIV-positive. He had PCP - pneumocystis carinii pneumonia - which is a very serious kind of pneumonia that people with AIDS get.

John Christakis, my doctor, called me up at home and said, "I've got your test results. How about if I come by your place after I make rounds?" I said, "Fine." There was nothing in his voice that led me to think this was good or bad news. Nevertheless, I knew.

We started with some informal chit-chat, but I didn't let too much time pass, because I wanted to know. I said, "Well, what are the results?" He said, "It's positive." And that was it. I nodded my head. I felt strangely calm. He had just confirmed what I already knew. In a way, it was a relief. But what came next was a shock: My T cells were 256. I didn't know what normal was, so I asked. He said that people typically have about 1,000 T cells, although the normal range is from 600 to 1,200. According to the latest Centers for Disease Control definition of AIDS, when your T-cell count falls to under 200, you're considered to have full-blown AIDS. John told me that he wanted to draw more blood to run some tests to see how much of the virus I had in my system. He told me that he wanted to "treat this very aggressively."

All I could do was nod my head, because by this time I could hardly hear anything except the pounding of my heart.

(Copyright 1995, Greg Louganis. Published by Random House. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate)

---------------- LOUGANIS IN TOWN ----------------

Greg Louganis, Olympic gold medalist, autographs "Breaking the Surface" on March 29 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Bailey/Coy Books, 414 Broadway E. Information: 323-8842.