When Asked: Do Tell


People know when they are hearing a Lie.

They know.

They may not know that what they are hearing is a Lie, but they know something’s amiss. At a subliminal, virtually pheromonal level, something just doesn’t seem to fit.

The longer the Lie remains told…the longer the absence of Truth extends and the more woven into the teller’s tale that Lie becomes, the more undermined becomes the credibility of the teller.

Thus, now is a good time to eradicate a fundamental Lie for which I am responsible.

The Real Reason I Left Dubai.

In 2014, when the company under whose auspices I was consulting for Meraas in Dubai parted ways with Meraas, I was offered an excellent, Executive Position at Meraas in order that I might continue with the project. And by “excellent,” I mean pretty darn good.

I declined the job.

In the face of the resultant chagrin, consternation, confusion (and ultimately rancorous burned bridge) of the Powers that Be at Meraas, the reason I gave them – that I’d love to do the job, but remain as a consultant to the company rather than become an employee – just didn’t make sense.

It didn’t make sense; because it wasn’t true.

More money, health insurance, living and travel allowance, all the benefits of working for one of the biggest companies in the UAE were offered me and I declined; saying I wanted the “freedom of consultancy” and the “security” of position and reporting structure inherent in a consulting  contract.

(I know: that sounds like bullshit…because it is bullshit. Yet that is the story I attempted to sell.)

Ultimately, my sense (since confirmed) was that the declination was taken personally and I was dismissed as any sort of viable option; subsequently and repeatedly rejected for subcontracting opportunities for having taken action that was nonsensical and offensive.

I remained in Dubai for another 18 months or so, seeking to build a freelance business with Show and Event agencies; a few of which opened conversations with me in exploration of full-time positions.

Again, my response was that I’d rather remain freelance and only take on projects for which I am especially qualified; therefore circumventing the perceived need to do work I didn’t particularly like in order to justify my part of the overhead.

Again with the bullshit.

The fact is that; in order to work for a company based in the UAE, one must apply for and receive a Resident Visa. Part of that process is a blood test.

It is illegal to be HIV+ in the UAE.

Not only would I not be granted said Visa; I would have immediately been deported due to the status of my blood, once the results were in.

Having HIV is a Very Big Deal in Dubai, and flying under the radar on successive 30-day tourist visas is not only illegal in and of itself; but exerts an insidiously powerful stress on an individual. Knowing that a visit to a doctor could result in deportation – thus fearing everything from car wrecks to kitchen accidents – offers a deep-seated unease and distressing absence of simple security that can be profoundly draining and affect simple day-to-day activities and relationships…and attitudes.


That’s another thing. One cannot share this extremely important and personal fact with one’s closest friends, with people who care for one and for whom one cares, as the knowledge begets responsibility to report said fact. Far too much unfair pressure to put on a friend or on a friendship.

Ergo, one carries all this secretive pressure inside. Alone. Fearing even to email or SMS to anyone anything that could possibly alert Any Conceivable Censors (not that emails are scanned or anything, over there) to the fact of one’s illegality.

Then, there is the problem of obtaining one’s meds. Once my contract with the US-based company for which I was working was gone, so were my quarterly trips to the US; rendering me unable to pick up my quarterly supply of the critical drugs that had kept my status at Undetectable for so many years.

These drugs can’t be mailed or shipped and are technically illegal to bring into the country; they can only be smuggled. (Fortunately, middle-aged white guys don’t find their bags being searched, so often.)

As it unfolded, I had to go without my meds for the final six months I was in Dubai. I could not monitor my blood, of course, and had no idea what the effect of ceasing the protocol might be on my own health.

You want stress? I’ll give you Stress…

So, I came home.

[Note: Fortunately, within six weeks of returning to San Francisco and access to medicine, I am again completely undetectable; a testament to a foundation of years of rigorous attention to the protocol.]

So now, the previously-unasked “…how come everyone who goes to Dubai makes a ton of money except for you” question has an answer.

This is why I came home; for access to full health care and to work from here. Still working everywhere but necessarily selective about where I can work and to where I can travel while so much of the world still operates under archaic if not draconian laws – based in fear and ignorance.

Whither a solution?

This anecdote, though personal to me, is of importance to our entire industry.

I dare say that there are scores if not more expat employees faced with similar dilemma throughout the world.

This is an issue that I believe the officers of our industry – operating as Global Business Citizens – are beholden to employees to address.

Recently, I was offered a dream job. A massive spectrum of responsibility for a set of IP’s that I heartily embrace – work that speaks to my barely post-adolescent fanboy id as well as my type-A Creative Producer / Project Manager self.

I wanted this job; but…it represented 18 months in Malaysia.

While the rules in that part of the world aren’t as severe as those of the UAE in this respect; the fact is that the laws on the books provide for rejection of HIV+ individuals for residential visas. To be sure; these laws are selectively applied – with White and Western Privilege holding great sway. But, the laws remain in place.

It is apparently quite easy for Western Professionals to remain under the radar in Malaysia, as long as doctors are selected carefully; but it is still against the law. With such laws on the books, any change in local or international political relationships could alter the level of enforcement.

Again; absence of security begets absence of freakin’ security.

So there’s that: and the legal / logistical obstacles and hurdles inherent in actually, dependably obtaining meds in Malaysia.

I was completely open with the Director for whom I’d be working, who was offering me this job; candid about my experience in Dubai and the concern I had for security of job, residence and medication. He was aggressively supportive and bent over backward to make this work.

The problem being that ultimately, despite all conceivable workarounds, it is technically illegal.

And babe, “technically illegal” remains illegal. I simply do not want to “go there.”

Further, were I to have taken the job, I would have had to:

  • Carry an additional (to the company policy in Malaysia) insurance policy in the US in order to cover and obtain my meds in the US. My protocol are not even yet available in Malaysia. This could cost me as much as an additional $600 or $700 a month.
  • Get myself to the US at least every three months, if not every 2 – depending on what my insurance would support – in order to get the meds. This is not something for which my employer would (or should have to) pay.
  • OR
  • Have a friend pick up my meds, get those meds to someone who works for my employer and is traveling to Malaysia to carry and smuggle through customs. Illegal.

See where we’re going, here?

The hiring company, the LGBTQ organizations in Malaysia and HIV communities in that country all were encouraging to me in that there are ways to “make it work.” None of them are entirely legal.

This, IMHO, is a conversation to be had at Corporate / Government levels. This is not a problem for individual employees, prospective employees and the informal local networks of hiring officers, managers and co-workers to manage via some sort of Underground Railroad.

It’s a big deal. There’s no telling how many employees or prospective employees throughout Asia, Arabia and beyond are working with, through or under this anxiety-producing dilemma…or are simply not taking the jobs due to the risk.

Money talks. 

As business is growing exponentially in these parts of the world, we call upon our business leaders to not only be aware of this but to address it in negotiating contracts with foreign governments; right there on the list with taxes, sanctions, land and water rights, and all the other little legislative favors that are effected at city, state, regional and national levels.

There is plenty of research, plenty of data and there are plenty of doctors available to accompany your accountants and lawyers and executives to these meetings. Take some along with ya. Get this cleared up.

So. That’s why I came home. Certainly willing and still seeking to continue to work all over the world; just not willing to flout local laws in order to do it.


[As it happens, “IMHO : Creating Compelling Experience” is still a free download from the Apple bookstore and iTunes. Free. Read it. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/imho/id555219645?mt=11 ]


12 thoughts on “When Asked: Do Tell

  1. You know… I wondered how you were coping with all that vile cultural crap over there. It sounds like you weren’t so much coping as you were merely surviving, and postponing the inevitable departure.

    I left the business for such ‘optional’ reasons. I felt like it had lost its spirit, its optimism… that we’d gotten to the point where we’d sell anybody anything if it paid the bills. The things that drew me in were gone. All sheer principle, really. I pouted my way out the door.

    Meanwhile, you’re dealing with medieval stigma that should have no place in the modern world, just to make a living. It’s amazing you were able to get as much done as you did while still technically a pariah.

    The fact that you hung in there for so long is a testament to your sense of purpose.

    I often lament the far-too common slide back into intolerance that many economically and culturally challenged Americans have embraced in recent years. A slide encouraged by politicians and preachers who make a living selling people their own fears.

    Then I read a story like yours, and I’m reminded just how good we have it in the US. Let’s hope your experience elsewhere creates opportunities here.

  2. Since you were so open about things left unsaid, here is ours.

    As you know, when when Margaret and I saw you at the TEA mixer in Orlando, a reasonable person could have thought of us as overjoyed to see you. What I did not say at the time was that, on my part, that joy was in fact, relief. We worried about you a lot that last year because one of our jobs was working with a team to get an American colleague out of Al Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi.

    I won’t talk about how it was done, but the team did – literally – the perfect job. It was what we call a “swan” – all smooth and sleek and beautiful on the surface while underneath everyone was paddling like fuck. And we were just plain lucky to find the right intermediary who knew the right person in the right family in the right position at the right moment. I wouldn’t like to compute the odds of doing that a second time.

    We often thought of – and worried about – you because, in the Islamic world, you are illegal simply by existing – HIV is just a another complication. I doubt if I have to explain the cultural aspects of this to you – which you violated big time when you turned down their job offer. You are safe only so long as your sponsor pretends to not know what he doesn’t want to know. You were vulnerable from the first day you set foot in Dubai. As you would be in Malaysia. And China.

    Like every contractor, there are times when there is never enough business. But there are also situations when you learn that the conditions are just not worth any amount of money.

    You are the best experience designer I have ever seen. Every job is a beautiful swan. That’s what we admire about you professionally. But what we like about you is your strong sense of integrity in a business that has a big huckster component, your level of empathy – the way you think from the guest’s perspective, your sense of humor, and your love for what you do.

    So, if we were a bit over-exuberant in Orlando, it was because we were glad we didn’t lose you.

  3. Moving, illuminating, and courageous. So upsetting to hear what you had to go through, and really appreciate your sharing it. Your decision to do so can only be beneficial to the many others in similar situations unable to speak out, and start things moving towards a future where no one is subjected the unjust ramifications of such archaic, ignorant stigma. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Matthew, for reading and responding so positively. I do want this to help inspire awareness, conversation and action at the highest levels of my industries (and all global businesses) to address this insidious situation; borne of fear and ignorance, but outdated, obstructed and destructive…Not that I have an opinion…

  4. Kile…

    Kudos for coming clean..
    But by my standards you did not lie.
    If a tree falls in the forest, and no one heard it, did it really make a sound?

    You did what you had to do to survive, and as a contractor, preserve the only integrity you had to keep your profession… your credibility.

    You did no harm to anyone, and you avoided possibly doing great damage to yourself if the issue became a legal one as a willful misrepresentation to the legal authorities.
    I support your decision as well with Malaysia…. it is not worth the risk or the stress..
    You do not need another feather in your cap to impress anyone, not at that cost!

    In 1984 San Francisco,I was about to go to Kuwaiti Oil for some IT work, and was getting medically prepped. Shockingly, I lost my Blue Cross Health Care and almost my job because of a routine blood test that showed ITP (chronic bleeders syndrome), which was then considered an HIV/AIDS precursor. The California law at the time demanded anonymity in HIV testing, yet I was going to lose everything because I could not be forthright and honest about the HIV test!

    I simply ordered an HIV test through my Doctor, and had it sent to Blue Cross, explicitly breaking the law. I got NO HELP from the so called kumbaya politicians, doctors, & lawyers of San Francisco who were so quick to march in PRIDE Parades, and were so PROUD of the HIV anonymity law. But as usual, they did not think it through. That law was repealed soon after.

    Ditto for these international government/commercial business contracts… not thought through..
    When our politicos and their big business friends make these deals to sneak people in and out under the draconian laws of these ISLAMIC States, they put us at real risk because they cannot/will not help us if needed.
    This cowardly diplomacy enables these tyrants to institutionalize homophobia.

    You at least were smart enough to have planned accordingly, and made the right choices.
    But where was all this political leverage and influence that our government had with the UAE to get these laws changed/waived?

    Especially on this horrible day in Orlando, I am one of the few who is not happy with this administration’s blind eye policy to ISLAMIC states because they are too big, and have too much oil we need.
    Both the Democrats and Republicans are too tight with these countries, and our community suffers in many ways by indulging these horrible regimes.
    To be facetious, I wish our government would pursue these ISLAMIC states with the fervor that they pursued the TG Bathroom issue in NC.

    Respectfully, Gino

    • Thank you, Gino; for your candor and support – I really do hope that this can inspire conversation – and action – by corporate heads and government leaders to address this stuff head-on. Circumventing the laws that are in place doesn’t help; as when the wind changes – and it will – said corporations and leaders will likely find themselves impotent in the face of these laws. There is a responsibility to current and future employees to evolve this. IMHO.

  5. Its so nice to hear from you I have missed your anecdotal observations /stories. I am so sorry that we still live in an age where honesty doesnt appear to be the best policy but completely agree with you that it should be. Continue to stay healthy and bringing your huge talent to the party wherever that may be!!! Hope to see you soon.

    • Pauline! How great to hear from you, and thank you for such warm and supporting words…Muchly appreciated… Glad to know you read me!

      I do believe our paths’ll again cross.


  6. Pingback: CAGED MEN (and why they matter to experience design) | ThemedReality

  7. Pingback: Conscience, Cash & the Moral Compass | imho

  8. Pingback: Cash, Conscience, and the Moral Compass – Motivational Moments

Leave a Reply