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This Positive Life: An Interview With Bernard Jackson

May 14, 2012

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Do you mostly date other positive people, or are you not exclusive about that?

I'm not exclusive about it. I find it easier. Like I said, the disclosure issue is not so difficult. We have something more in common to talk about. So I think mostly the people that are involved in my life right now are people who are positive, because that's pretty much the circle that I'm in.

As far as dating, do you just date women, men, or both? Has that changed over time?

I lived my life primarily as a gay man, growing up. That's a subject that we might need another interview to take care of. But that is one of the things that I talk about in my presentations.

I am a gay man. And through some bad experiences, I prayed about it -- and that's why I said earlier that my relationship with my wife was a gift, designed especially for me. I was alone for quite a period of time, because I was trying to understand what I wanted in life, and what I needed in life. My relationship with her made me really start questioning myself.

"We have a tendency to put people in categories, as far as their sexual preference. But my relationship with her was much more than that. ... I had prayed for someone to love me, and someone that I could love; and it just happened to be sent to me in the form of a woman, and a person."

We have a tendency to put people in categories, as far as their sexual preference. But my relationship with her was much more than that. Basically what we want is to be loved, and have someone that we can love. And I found that in my wife. She was aware of my lifestyle when we met. But we knew that the chemistry that was there had a value to it that I didn't want to walk away from. I knew that I had prayed for someone to love me, and someone that I could love; and it just happened to be sent to me in the form of a woman, and a person. I accepted it, and it was truly one of the greatest experiences that I have ever had in my life. In fact, she was the first woman that I'd ever been involved with in my life.

I never stopped being the personality that I had. But in that relationship I found out that there were some things about myself that I wasn't aware of. I didn't think that I could love a woman. But I think that I could love. And that was the most important thing.

I'm not going to stop my blessing from wherever it comes from, at this point. And that's something that I'm really struggling with right now. It's just the love. I don't know where it's going to come from, what gender it's going to be. But I just want love. So I look for it in anybody that I'm talking to, on that intimate level.

I travel mostly in the gay community at this point, as far as socializing. But I'm around all kinds of people, all kinds of backgrounds, all types of lifestyles. And I have had a few people say, "I know that, to a lot of people, you identify as being gay, but I know that you were married. So what do you consider yourself?"

I just say, "I'm human, and I'm looking for love." I only had maybe that question once or twice. I don't remember how I responded to it, except for the fact that I think that wherever you find love, you find it. And I think that if you turn down that opportunity to know love from anybody who's offering it to you, then you're missing out on something wonderful.

Since you were living as a gay man before you met and married you wife -- and one of the most popular misconceptions that people hold about HIV is that it is exclusively a gay disease that heterosexual people don't transmit to one another -- after you and she tested positive, were there ever people in your life who believed you'd infected her?

I've had that come up. I was actually tested prior to my involvement with my wife, because I knew where that relationship was going. That was one of my big issues. It wasn't just about a sexual thing, but I didn't want to involve her in my life if HIV transmission was a possibility. But I received a negative diagnosis.

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I'm understanding this virus a lot more now. I know that I did get tested outside of the window period in which a test might come back negative when the person is actually positive. Because I had been in a gay relationship for 17 years, and that relationship had ended about seven years before I met my wife. There were no issues in that relationship; we had both been tested.

People have asked me, "How do you know that you didn't infect your wife?" But because of the medical reports, the blood work: All those things tell me that because of her being in an AIDS diagnosis so early on, that she had been living with her virus before we met. In fact, her ex-husband had died a year prior to her dying. So we know where the virus came from, as far as she was concerned. She had contracted it from her ex-husband. So there was some confirmation to where she had contracted the virus from.

Can you compare your feelings about having HIV now to when you first found out you were positive? It sounds like you've been on quite a journey since then.

When I first found out my diagnosis, like I said, my wife had just died from complications of AIDS. I now know that life is wonderful. I have a lot of confidence in the medications and the medical advice that I get, by the lives that I see that are still wonderful, people are still just happy with their lives, and where they are right now. Right now I know that I still have a lot to do. And I know that HIV is not going to stand in the way of that.

"I'd been involved in health care, in working with people with different illnesses that I didn't understand exactly what they were dealing with. But now I'm doing a type of work where I understand what it feels like ..."

In fact, because of the HIV I'm a better person today. I'm doing work that I never thought I would be doing, but it's still in the same line of what I was doing. I'd been involved in health care, in working with people with different illnesses that I didn't understand exactly what they were dealing with. But now I'm doing a type of work where I understand what it feels like for a person to get a diagnosis of HIV, understand what it feels like for a person to be dealing with the side effects, understand what it feels like to lose a loved one because of this virus.

In so many ways, because of the people that I've had the opportunity to come into their lives, and touch their lives, and just become friends with, I think that HIV has enhanced my life in such a way that I didn't believe that this virus had an opportunity or possibility of doing. It's put me in a place -- mentally, spiritually and socially -- that I never thought I would be in.

I don't hold HIV accountable for anything that goes on right now. It's just what you do with it, how you use it, and I'm able to use my diagnosis in a way that helps encourage people to remain negative, and not be exposed to this virus, and to encourage those that have been.

It's been a very enlightening diagnosis, as well as one that, at first, was a very discouraging one. I've learned so much. I look at it now as opening another door -- to a life that, as I said, I didn't ever expect to experience. Since I've been positive, I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful, inspirational people -- people who I might not have ever met without being involved personally with HIV -- who encouraged me to just live life. So the virus has not been a hindrance to me in any way.

Is there anything else that you want to share with our readers and listeners over here at TheBody.com before we close?

One of the things that I would like to share is that we need our parents to get as educated about this virus as possible. We need our youth to be able to openly talk about their thoughts and their experiences with their parents, or to educate the parents to a point where they will realize that their children are going through some of the same things that they've gone through.

Sex is something that ... I always think about the old Chaka Khan song: Once you get started, it's hard to stop. And I think that we have to continue to just educate society as a whole on this virus. We just have to open our eyes and understand that this virus is still very prevalent in our lives. It's still going to be a part of our lives, I believe, until the end of time, in some way. There may be cures for it coming in the future; but there are so many people who are still undiagnosed.

Getting tested is a wonderful thing. I always tell people that the positive thing about getting a positive test result is that now you know where you are. Now you know what you must do to remain healthy, to be aware of your actions -- how they involve and affect other people.

I just want people to get tested and get educated -- mainly educated. Because there are so many people that are being turned away, so many youth on the street today because they're gay and maybe positive. Or, because they're gay, people assume that they are -- they connect HIV with homosexuality.

And that's one of the things that I'm working so hard on, is to keep people from associating HIV with homosexuality. Because I did not contract my virus through a homosexual act -- as far as the medical doctors have told me. I contracted it through a heterosexual relationship.

We need everybody to open up and be aware of the risk. I don't think everybody is really that open right now to learning that much about HIV, and get away from some of the stigma that's attached to HIV.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.


Copyright © 2012 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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