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On Being HIV Positive, Over 50 and Open to Loving Again

An Interview With Ronda Hodges -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

December 5, 2012

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You mentioned stigma much earlier in our talk. Do you have any sense of what it would take to break this huge stigma around HIV? I mean, it's an illness.

It's just the education of people. People need to know. It would help if our government would not be so critical on us -- then other people wouldn't get that critical version of it, too. You know, our governor needs to be more educated. Even the president of our country.

I can't tell you how I used to walk into a room and have friends that felt like they were a minority, because they were a woman of color, or a man of color, and we were all white. Today, when I walked into a room, for the first time in my life I felt like I was the minority. I felt that feeling that a lot of people have felt. It's the first time in my life that I have come to the conclusion it doesn't matter what you look like, what color you are, whether you're male or female, bisexual, straight, gay. God put us on the Earth to be us. And if it just takes me the rest of my life to get that point across, to even 10 people that I pass in my life, to make a difference, then I'll be happy.

That's the point I want to make. That's the total point.

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That's interesting. Talk a little bit more about being in the minority for the first time in your life. Did you mean because of HIV?

I'm not working and I don't have any income coming in. I'm affiliated with a hospital that gives you quality care as if you had insurance -- you know, where I can get free care, to a certain extent, and I get a discount on my prescriptions.

Of all the meetings that I've been to in the last two years, I have come across five white women. That's it. I can count five white ladies that I have met that are HIV positive. Everybody else is either white men that were straight, or gay. I've met men of color, too, or women of color. And I felt like the minority. Here I am, a white woman. I was raised from a, not religious, family but I was raised to believe in God, be a lady, don't act trashy, don't do drugs. I'm just the girl next door.

And here, I have HIV because I loved somebody. This whole two years has been a lot of depression, a lot of crying. Because I feel like I'm the only white woman out here that's got HIV. What am I supposed to do? Now Ralph's gone, and I've got it all by myself. And every conference that I go to, or try to educate myself, every magazine I read, it's a "people of color" thing.

And I know there's counts out there: More women of color have this; it affects the African-American community. When I walked in today to the conference, there I was, again. I'm looking around the whole room, and there are beautiful women of color at every table.

I see two white women. And these are out of the five that I've already seen. These two other women make my five people that I've seen. I felt like a minority. I have worked in the public all my life. Have friends that are women of color that are my best friends. If I need them, they're right there. But I still felt like the minority -- not just because I was HIV positive, but because I was a white woman.

I feel like that needs to change, too. You who don't mind holding your head high and going to a charity hospital because you're divorced, or you're single, or you're widowed, and you don't have the insurance, you don't have the job, because you're too sick to go to work -- if us few that are out there don't speak out, who's going to speak out for us?

But even in feeling like a minority, did you feel as if you've been able to connect with other women in the community? Or do you feel as if it would be easier to connect if there were more white women who were willing to be out about their HIV status, and open about their status?

I feel like I can connect now with anybody. I really do. I just feel like there needs to be more people coming out and being open about it. Because us few that are out there speaking about it: if something happens to us down the road, which, you know, anything could happen to anybody, at any time, just like this disease could happen to anybody at any time, any disease. If we're not out there to speak out, who's going to speak out for our kids' kids and our kids' kids' kids?

We've got to educate now. We've got to get past the stigma of we're bad people. We're not. God made us who we are. It's healthier to be open and honest about it. Because being alone is the worst thing you can do. It's not healthy and more women need to come out about it. They do. Because they would get more help. And the more we speak out, the more we can spread the word to our government and our councilmen and even our president and his wife, and their kids.

I mean, this could happen to their kids. There is not one person that is not vulnerable to having this. Anybody can get it. No one's immune to getting it. So we just need to open up and let people know.

Thank you so much for that. Do you have anything else you want to add? Anything you want people watching in the studio or reading your words to know?

Just educate yourself. Educate those around you. And if you don't know the answer, don't be shy to ask. There are people out there that know that answer. Just be open and honest about it, like anything else. And stick by each other. Because nobody wants to do this alone. Nobody having cancer, nobody having an eating disorder, alcoholism -- that's a disease, you just can't see it, and you can't see HIV, either. All you can do is feel it. It makes you tired, but it also can make you strong.

I say just, education: educate, educate.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.


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