Young people from New Alternatives (a program for homeless LGBT youth) were asked to describe some of the challenges they face in staying HIV negative.
In my generation, AIDS has become genocide that is equivalent to any war. I had a scare once. My mom told me she received a letter from my lawyer saying I had HIV. But she never took me to get tested. I found out later that she was lying because she was prejudiced against my lifestyle (I like girls). I was actually HIV negative.
Just a few days ago, I had sex with a girl I knew for almost a year -- or at least, I thought I knew her. I always distance myself from sex, especially being homeless. She and I talked over the phone for a while and eventually got serious enough to have a relationship. I would make general statements like, "If I ever have sex with a girl, I'm going to get her tested and we would have safe sex for three months until the test came back negative" and so on.
But, when things went down between us, that went completely out of my head. I figured, "Hey, I know her, she respects herself, let me stop being paranoid." A few weeks later we had an argument when I asked her the last time she had sex, and she told me it was only two weeks before we did. Now I'm being treated for an infection in my throat. Just when I thought it was safe to let my guard down for someone I "loved," I'm paying a visit to a doctor and taking medication. Although I know my HIV status, she probably doesn't know hers, and one careless step could have been the end of my healthy life. In the end, it is in our power to decide to have safe sex, so you can't blame other people.
If I look deep inside myself, past the painful shyness, the desire to be loved, and lack of self-respect, I can find the core of what makes it difficult for me to stay HIV negative: poor self-esteem. I've been sexually abused and homeless, and I lack an ability to be assertive when it comes to looking my partner in the eye and saying the dreaded word, "condom." Even thinking the word is embarrassing. We don't talk about sex at all. I don't dare ask if it is true for them, but for me, sex is dirty. The less I think about what we are doing, how uncomfortable I am as we lie slithering against each other in bed, the more I will be able to convince myself everything is all right in the mirror tomorrow. After all, I should be grateful they want to have sex with me at all. I have a voice that whispers to me that I am "damaged goods," a voice that sounds so much like my mother's.
So it starts with us lying in bed, a casual touch turning into something more because I don't say, "Wait, where are the condoms?" He does not put one on. It's a story that repeats itself thousands of times in countless lives, and it very well may be the disease of self that opens the way for HIV.
Teaching youth self-respect and empowering them are potent tools for prevention when coupled with proper sex education and HIV facts. Too often, I hear young people say, "It can't happen to me," or, worse, "I don't care if it happens to me, we all die one day." HIV just isn't about death. It's about health care, money, medications, and maintenance. The stigma of others' ignorance is still rampant. Maybe youth should be taught that the sting of rejection from a partner who does not want to wear protection will fade in memory, but looking at the pill bottles will be a daily reminder if you contract HIV.
I find it extremely hard to stay HIV negative because I personally have a high sex drive. I don't want to say I'm a sex addict, but I have been having sex since I was 12. Both genders, all ages, all races, and I can honestly say that I have probably had over 100 partners. Some coins [for pay], some just random sex acts, and some boyfriends. I don't always strap up so I am at risk for a lot of ST Is, but I have never had one. My luck could run thin and I could get infected tomorrow. It's scary. I would really hate to be another statistic in the world.
If youth would get smart, get tested every three months, wrap it up, and stop being scandalous, everyone would be okay. And I pray for the day we find a cure because I have lost too many people.
Promiscuity is something that plagues many communities. Personal decision-making skills are a major part of avoiding risky behavior. Making the best decisions for myself on a daily basis is what helps me remain HIV negative. The power of knowing is monumental. With the knowledge of how to prevent HIV and a commitment to practice this knowledge through safe sex and abstinence, one can combat infection.
Oftentimes young people fall victim to the pressure to have sex without protection. It can be hard, but we all have a responsibility to do our best to protect ourselves and our community. Personally, I have made a decision not to have sex until I am exclusively involved with someone whom I feel is ready to be a part of my life, and even then protecting myself from HIV will continue to be a priority.
When it comes to staying HIV negative, for me it's difficult. I identify as heterosexual, yet I've done things with men to survive. I became homeless at a young age and I didn't believe in selling drugs, so I was introduced to sex work. I learned to swallow my pride along with other things. Men would approach me and offer me excessive amounts of money, yet I would never let anyone penetrate me nor would I allow myself to penetrate anyone else. I thought oral sex was cool because I went through sexual abuse in my early childhood.
I needed the money and I felt secure enough that no one could make me feel "less than" because of what I was doing. Then I experienced gluttony and greed, when a man offered me a huge amount of money to allow him and his friend to come in my mouth. At that moment, it was a life-or-death situation. I'd never done anything that unsafe, yet we were talking about so much money. So I made a decision that took me in a whole new direction. After that, I was offered even more money to have oral sex with seven men, and extra money not to use a condom and to swallow. I was thinking about it, when I came to a shelter called Sylvia's Place, and learned how much danger I was putting myself in. So I let go of the excuses and the easy way of making a living.
To date I am HIV negative and am certified to teach others about the importance of knowing their status and respecting their bodies and themselves. To help those who aren't aware, it would be highly beneficial to open up more resources for homeless youth, and allow them to be themselves without restrictions. I feel if it weren't for Sylvia's Place, I could have been another young person caught out there.
I didn't find it hard to stay negative, until I entered what I thought was a picture-perfect relationship. Everything was normal at the beginning, and I truly thought I had met my soulmate. We talked about our status and even spoke about getting tested together. As the relationship progressed, I began to see his real character. He was not only emotionally abusive to me, but also verbally abusive to me in public. I tried leaving him so many times. He would show up at my job (which led to my termination), harass my friends in trying to get hold of me, and even threaten to take my life. Once all ties had been severed, I could finally breathe. I couldn't believe I ever allowed a "man" to treat me the way that he did. I had finally forgiven him when I found out about his infidelities.
Then I found out I was HIV positive. I have had only three sexual partners in my life, so I know who I got the virus from. I was absolutely devastated. I felt stupid for not using protection. I supposed that because he told me that he loved me and cared for me, that was reason enough. Wrong answer!! The struggle I now face is confronting him or moving on with my life and forgiving him. I chose the latter and have made a conscious decision to not let this experience or virus leave a sour taste in my mouth for life.
For more info: www.newalternativesnyc.org.