It's Still A Movement
In 1988, when I got diagnosed, there was not a lot of information on AIDS. At that time, AIDS was for gay men. That's just how I remember the media hyping it up. A gay man's disease. The plague for being gay. I tried to gather more information after my diagnosis. I was also in a chronic addiction, so the idea I had when I found out was that I was going to die.
I dove deeper into my drug addiction and remained in denial about my diagnosis. I started my first treatment regimen in 1994. I was taking like four different pills. I still, because of my addiction, didn't really believe that I was going to live through this. I thought that these pills were just going to sustain me a little bit longer. There wasn’t education about how to stay healthy living with HIV. All that stuff wasn’t available at the time. It was “take these pills and you'll be fine.” I remember too, that there was hope, you know, but I couldn't distinguish between hope and the desire to live.
I'm in great health today by using condoms, and doing a little abstinence every now and then, and engaging in self-pleasure. That's always safe. The partners that I had after my diagnosis were HIV positive as well. It's easy to talk about it to someone who's already HIV positive. We discuss medication and follow up on doctors’ appointments. I ask questions like are you taking your antiretroviral meds? Or are you on a regular regimen?
People around me, after the fact, I found out died because they had AIDS and I never knew they had it. Like we were friends, but we didn't disclose. Shame and guilt—that’s why I didn’t disclose. I had family support. I heard other peoples’ families kicked them out and wouldn't have anything to do with them. My mom's the one that urged me to go get tested. I wouldn’t have known— I would have just kept going. I never would've gotten tested, not back then. When I got the diagnosis, I called her immediately and told her. I was supported. She didn’t overreact and have separate plates and glasses for me like I know other people dealt with. She didn’t have those stigmas, or she covered it well, if she did. Because it was a “gay disease” at the time, I believe my family had nothing to worry about.
When I decided enough was enough, regarding my addiction, I went to a friend who worked in HIV care. She put me on this roadmap that offered me different things including treatment for my addiction. She told me about Broward House. That's where the change happened for me. When I came to Broward House, I was overwhelmed with care, concern, and love. I guess it was just the path that I was supposed to be on. I believe in God, and I just believe that this is where I was supposed to be.
Did I do any activism or fight stigma back then when I was first diagnosed? No, because I was an addict and that was more important at the time than anything. If I had not been addicted to drugs, I probably would have been out there kicking, screaming, fighting, and holding signs. It's crazy that after 30 plus years, all this stigma and misinformation can still exist. Back then, I didn’t experience it. I kept it to myself. My family knew and they created no type of stigma, but I saw others go through it.
Now, I work in the HIV field. I run into people that have no idea how HIV is transmitted. People still think that they can get it from casual kissing or from drinking after someone. Thirty years later, people still have these ideas. As much education as there is now about HIV—you can hear about it on the news, you can Google it, you can get educated if you want to get educated—and people today still really think that they can get it from casual touching or kissing somebody.
I didn't get involved in any activism back then, honestly. I would watch it, cheer them on, you know, from TV or whatever, but I never went to the functions. My addiction was more prominent than any of that. Today that's who I am. I'm out on the fight for HIV—to end HIV, to educate about HIV. I just try to carry on what was started during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I want everybody to know everything there is to know about HIV. Any information I can give you, I freely give it. Everyone needs to know. I'm just grateful that I get to be a part of this movement. Thirty years later, it's still a movement and I get to be a part of it.