Spirit of Strength — Meet Octavio

Center on Halsted
Dec 24, 2019 · 6 min read

Hi, my name is Octavio Antonio Campos (he/him), and I am a gay, Cuban American man with beautiful and challenging story.

I was born in Miami, Florida to a mixed Cuban family who had to work extremely hard to survive in this world. I am the child of refugees — both of my parents were imprisoned for years leading up to fleeing our homeland and moving to Miami. In fact, my father was not a part of my life until years following my family’s time on American soil, as he was still imprisoned when they left.

I spent a lot of time alone in my childhood. My mother, grandmother, and anyone of working age in my family spent most to all of their time at work, leaving me to raise myself with the help of friends like [insert tv shows here]. Even in kindergarten, I was walking around with a key around my neck because I was responsible for getting to and from school. I’d come home, watch endless hours of television, play dress-up in my mother’s clothes, and dance around the house until it was time to prep for dinner by chopping ingredients so that, when everybody got home from work, those ingredients were ready to be cooked. Little did I know that one day, cooking would be my salvation.

Early in my youth, I found love for music, dancing, and art. I was chosen to sing in a boys’ choir that toured internationally and, by age 7, I was touring all over the country and globe. I quickly evolved as a singer and performing artist — but my little piece of stardom did not come without privilege. I was the white-passing, blonde haired Cuban in my family, and my identity and privilege was often times leveraged to push myself and my family farther — as if I had to conceal my Cuban identity just enough to be acceptable to white-centric standards, only to reveal that this piece of myself could never be replaced.

I knew that I was queer from a very early age, and unfortunately, at the peak of this realization, my father returned from prison and came to the United States where his toxic machismo and sexual abuse plagued me and my family for years to come.

In 1985, I left Miami and became a dancer in New York City. My family very strongly opposed this move and tried putting me in hospitals and Christian conversion therapy programs. At 17 years old, in the height of the AIDS crisis, I escaped my family in effort to create a life for myself. Shortly after I moved to NYC, my father died of AIDS complications, and we never were able to have a conversation about either of our identities, sexual wellness, or our tattered relationship.

While living in New York, I watched as the dance and arts teachers died of HIV/AIDS at an alarming rate. My boyfriend at the time was an art student, and it truly felt that we were being chased by this virus and fighting for our lives. Soon enough, a woman discovered me and took me to Munich to perform for three months, and I ended up staying in Europe for 14 years total. I was a hired as a soloist across multiple European countries, and it was the best time of my life… until I got injured at 27.

Image Credit: Marta Garcia

This injury led to a decline in my dance career, which only plummeted further after my mother’s worsening health, and my increasing age. I ended up leaving Europe entirely and moving back to Miami where I started teaching dance and theater while taking care of my mother. While back in Miami, I continued to carry the façade of thriving in my community while my trauma encompassed me. I started my own non-profit, was running a circus on the side, was teaching at Universities, and was the artist of residence in Miami at their newly opened opera house. Meanwhile, the 2008 recession hit, the economy crashed, my career started to plummet again, and I was diving deeper and deeper into addiction.

Then on Valentine’s Day 2009, I found out that I had 40 T-cells. I was diagnosed with AIDS, not HIV. Everything was starting to crumble. In that same year, I had major nerve damage and suffered from both colon and thyroid cancers. I quit my jobs and hid my status to everyone I knew.

The last 10 years have been extraordinarily difficult for me. I’d lost my house, my mother, the woman that discovered me for my artistic talent, and my health. I started disappearing even deeper in my substance abuse — to a point where I couldn’t even talk or say my name… I ended up leaving Miami and driving up the coast in search of a new place to call home. After a long journey entailing a few bad overdoses along the way, I arrived in Chicago.

I was living out of my car for much of that time, and most of my family and friends had no idea of my whereabouts, but then I found Center on Halsted…

The Center helped me find recovery in more ways than one. I was dealing with a lot of brain damage, housing instability, addiction, grief, and trauma. I started receiving relief through the grief and lost therapy group to process the physical, mental, and emotional loss I was experiencing. The further I struggled with addiction, the more ties that were severed. Center on Halsted helped me confront my addiction and the Behavioral Health team gave me the support to access the resources I needed to feel well again.

With support from the Center, I went through a treatment program and detox at Rosecrance, where I found stable housing after 2019’s brutally cold polar vortex. I was coming here for community group meetings, therapy groups and sessions, and, eventually, I enrolled in the Silver Fork program.

I initially thought that Silver Fork would turn me away due to my age, background, and trauma, but this couldn’t be any further away from the truth. Silver Fork staff at Center on Halsted embraced me with open arms — from the moment I joined the class to this very day. The kitchen became a place of refuge for me. Clear communication was the most therapeutic piece because I received a sense of consistency and clarity that haven’t shown up in other places of my life.

Image Credit: Marta Garcia

After the 9-week program completed, Silver Fork staff helped me with my resume and placement into a job post-program. The most pivotal piece of this was writing “beginner” on my resume in what started as anxiety and what ended in a realization that I am starting over. Center on Halsted gave me a third lease on my life. I am now stably housed in a sober-living space and nine months clean.

When I come to Center on Halsted, I know I’m coming to a grand place where I won’t ever feel like a “sick” person. Instead, I feel elevated as Octavio 3.0. I’m picking up the pieces in this humbling journey.

It’s important that you continue to support Center on Halsted because your donations allow for people to come in a raw, vulnerable state and know that it is okay… that help is here. When you make a gift to Center on Halsted, I hope you realize that you are donating to a Center of resources and rebirth.

The Spirit of Strength rings true in this Center. This holiday season, please make a gift to Center on Halsted to continue creating space for other LGBTQ people and allies to have access to life changing support.

Center on Halsted

Written by

Center on Halsted is the Midwest’s largest community center dedicated to advancing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Movement.

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