June 4, 2013
One in a series of articles about Black people living with HIV/AIDS who are considering treatment, successfully adhering to their regimen and/or getting to undetectable.
Guy Anthony is a walking reminder that no matter what cards life deals a person, he can turn tragedy into triumph.
Sexually molested by several family members when he was a child, the now 27-year-old retail clerk was also date-raped six years ago, an assault that resulted in his HIV infection.
"I met a guy online and he invited me over," explains Anthony, who currently resides in Washington, D.C. "He offered me Ecstasy and I took it. It was my first time ever taking one. Then he forced me to do things," he explains. "Afterward I immediately became sick for about a week. When I went back home to Detroit for Thanksgiving, the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with me -- even though I was vomiting everywhere and stayed in the hospital for a week. A year later I moved to L.A. and decided to get tested," says Anthony. "That's where I found out that I was HIV positive."
The news threw him into an emotional tailspin. Unable to cope, Anthony -- who did not have health insurance -- shut down emotionally.
"I went through this period where I was just kind of numb to it," he says. "I went on a downward spiral that involved drugs, being promiscuous and partying. I was just focused on coping and finding a way to not think about the HIV. I did everything besides look for treatment."
But when two people Anthony knew began dying of AIDS-related complications, Anthony snapped back to reality.
"That was the turning point," he admits. "One was in Detroit and another was in Atlanta. I was one year older than the guy in Atlanta. I was just like, OK, this is it. I want to live. I have nieces and nephews and I have a family that I have to be there for. I'm smarter than that."
And so the self-published author, who recently penned (Pos)+itively Beautiful: A Book of Affirmations + Advice + Advocacy, about his life journey, decided to connect with community organizations filled with other young, Black gay men for support.
"I found an organization in Atlanta called the Evolution Project," he said. "I started volunteering there and realized that you can not only survive but thrive with HIV. I was around people my own age who were going through the same thing that I was going through. They put me in touch with different organizations, people who could help me get access to treatment and copay-assistance programs. I surrounded myself with young, Black gay men that were willing to help me."
The help could not have come at a better time. Anthony was actually on the verge of potentially becoming very sick.
"When I first got tested, my CD4 count was 272," he shares. "That's why they put me on meds, although I didn't stay on them. If you drop below 200, you have full-blown AIDS, so the doctors were very, very worried about me. But now my CD4 count is 680 or something like that."
That's right -- today he is undetectable.
Now employed and insured, Anthony can afford medication, and for two years he has committed himself to staying under a doctor's care. Anthony is currently on a regimen of Norvir, Prezista and Truvada. (He started on Norvir, Truvada and Reyataz, but the Reyataz resulted in excessive diarrhea and jaundice.)
He has also enrolled in a university program that helps him keep up with his treatment.
"I've been doing a lot of studies through the University of Connecticut," he says. "They've been instrumental in keeping me undetectable because a counselor or someone will call me every month to make sure that I'm on track with my meds and that I've ordered all the ones I need. Plus they send me a gift card or a debit card uploaded with $25 each month. It's an incentive to say, 'You're doing great with your meds and your plan.' "
Anthony is also enrolled in therapy -- something he calls a godsend.
"I hadn't told my parents or anybody I was HIV positive until last year," he says. "My therapist helped me figure out what I was running from. I told my mother about two weeks after my first session with him. She and I still have a rocky relationship, but therapy has helped me to open up more and be okay with the process of healing. In the Black community and especially in religious families, it's always, 'God can take care of it.' That is true, but God also puts people in a position to help us. Go to therapy, it's okay."
Now Anthony has turned his attention to advocating for others.
"I profile myself and two others in the book," he says. "We're young, Black, gay and HIV positive, but HIV doesn't define us. We're also educated, savvy and smart. I just wanted to give a different perspective on what HIV looks like today. Yes, we still get it the same way we did 30 years ago, but we can live with this disease now, and we can live well."
Tomika Anderson is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has appeared in Essence, POZ, Real Health and Ebony magazines, among others.