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This Positive Life: David Robertson on Looking Good and Choosing to Live

June 21, 2013

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Very much after you were diagnosed you were vocal. You started speaking out. And so what was that like? And did people try to tell you not to be out?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You know, "You don't want that. You don't." I have such a strong relationship, you know, just in my faith, that parishioners would tell me, "Move on. It's going to get better. Just live your life." Or if people wanted me to choose sides: "Well, if you go this way, it would be this beneficial. If you go that way, it would be beneficial."

In what way? If you what?

Well, because I contracted HIV by having a threesome. It was, you know, me and my homeboy and a female. So it wasn't like I ... I've never denied having sex with a man. Duh. It is what it is. But I've never put myself in that category. Because I was just: a hole was a hole. And you know, I'm ... I mean, I never categorized myself. I'm in college; I'm having fun.

So you didn't categorize yourself as being gay?


You were just having fun.

Yeah. I still don't consider myself as being gay. I consider myself as being a young man who, at that time, experimented heavily with a whole lot of things other than sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.


But being told that I shouldn’t speak out: that was often. But I realized it wasn't because people didn't want to know the truth. It was because people were afraid of the truth. And there are hundreds and thousands of David Robertsons, pre-HIV, that are going through the same thing. But I think for me, and where I was at in my life, I didn't know what I was going to do. I just knew that I had to make something, at least -- if not for anyone else -- at least to show my family that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence, like we saw for so long in my brother. Or that teeter-tottered.

It was like a seesaw. It was HIV. We saw, I mean, it was just, what? Literally, the boy had no T cells. And that's always been my motivation: to make sure that if anything ever happened to my family, or my siblings, that they would know that HIV was not the thing that took our whole family structure out.

Did you ever confront the two people in the threesome with you?


And what did they say?

So, my homeboy who, directly after all this happened, in the intermediary, I called him. I'm like, "Yo, man. You know, I just left the doctor's office." I knew. I wasn't that promiscuous person who did not know who I didn't sleep with. Even though I was drunk and high some of the times, I was very well aware. And I also knew that we didn't, at all times, use condoms. I mean, what's the point? You fine. I'm fine. You know, you look good. I look good. It is what it is.

I called and I'm like, "Man, what's good? I was at the doctor's office."

And the first words out of his mouth were, "Oh, no."

What does that mean, "Oh, no?"

That's my exact reaction. I said, "Well, what do you mean, 'Oh, no'?" And it got quiet. And he was, like, "Man, you know, I thought I was good."

I'm like, "Well, can you please elaborate?"

And he went on to say, "You know, man, I was diagnosed about a year before we all met. And it wasn't nothing gay. I got it because I was injecting OxyContin in my toe."

But he still never said anything?


Why did he think he was good? Because he was on medication?

His rationale was, "My doctor told me that I was undetectable. So to me, I couldn't give somebody something if it really wasn't in me."

I wasn't educated at that time. I didn't understand. I barely understand now. But I get it. Facebook is a mug. I didn't know what happened to the young lady, but found her on Facebook. This is in 2007. Found her. Reached out to her. Casual conversation: "Hey, what's up? How you doing? How your mama doing? How your daddy doing? How you doing?"

She said, "Good. Good." It was that awkward, like ...

Like someone's hiding something.

Yeah. So I'm like, "Have you talked to So-and-So?"


I'm like, "Well, I got HIV. And I just talked to him." And she broke down, and was, like, "I have it. I can't do anything about it. My life is a little different now. I'm getting married. I've got a kid coming. I'm glad that you want to do something about this, but I'm not there. I'm not in that college stage anymore."

I just want people to understand that the college mentality is not sexuality; it's fulfillment. It's just like, you know: the best example I can give someone is, when you go to college they ask you what your major is. And the majority of people circle undecided. And that's what we were. We were undecided individuals having fun. And because we were undecided, we now have a definite. Because we didn't decide.

I haven't spoken to either one of them since the fall of '07. I've never ... if I ever even harbored anger or resentment, it was for about 30 to 40 seconds. Because I had to get me right. I knew I wasn't right -- emotionally, spiritually, and even physically -- to allow for myself to look at someone as if they were an object, and think that I knew everything about them. You know, we always assume that if a person can't hurt you, then they can't harm you. And that was my assumption, that, oh, you know, if you're attractive, you know, you can't harm me.

So what are some of the things that you've done, in terms of speaking out? Now, you do live in Chicago.

I do.

And so what are some of the things that you're doing here?

I work with the University of Chicago, for Comer Hospital. We have a program called Living Positively. So we work with high schools, elementary school, colleges, faith-based institutions, giving STI, STD and HIV information, but then also correlating with our story. I'm also a recruiter for South Side Health Center, which ... I never really wanted to focus on one demographic. But having the honor to be a part of the White House HIV/AIDS Panel in Chicago, hearing the numbers of young men being infected, who are disproportionately being affected with HIV were young MSM men ... I couldn't turn my back on them.

And I work with Rush House. I mean, I realize working in HIV that everyone needs help. Every hospital needs a voice. Every organization needs a voice. It's a desert of people wanting to tell their truths because of stigma. But it's been an amazing, amazing journey, rich in specialists, youth specialists, with our church's Identity Youth Group, [in] which we correlate biblical stories with our common-day issues.

So my desire is to talk about the behavior, and not so much the sexuality. Because if you put 180 men in the room -- gay, straight, tri, bi, open, queer, whatever the gamut is -- if you put a bag over their head and you put on some Timberlands on their shoes, everyone has the same thing. So everyone has to get the same message. Because everyone has this thing that is giving everyone else a thing.

So what has been some of the response to your work by people? Do they identify with you?

I think ... I make sure that I have a holistic message. Because it's just not about HIV.


HIV, for imagery reasons, are the leaves on the tree. The roots are: How did you grow up? The roots are: Were you loved as a child? Do you love yourself? Do you affirm to yourself? How do you feel?

It starts mentally, and when the individual isn't mentally attuned then they're not going to have a great interpersonal skill set to help give that off to anyone else. So for me, HIV is it. But it's not the thing that I connect the dots with. Because I don't ... you know, I've said in many, many speaking engagements -- and I knew I was losing people because I was giving HIV statistics. But the moment that I began talking about depression, the moment that I began talking about suicide, the moment I began talking about how ... Don’t look at this today, but this is the same individual who was homeless. This is the same individual who walked the streets. When people begin to see those markers in their own lives, it kind of offsets them. And, if not bringing them back to the HIV message, my hope is to awaken them on: Do you know your truth?

Speaking of truths, let's talk about your health. What's the truth of your health? Are you doing better, or ...?

It is un ... it's not unfortunate; it's a crying shame. As a black man, it took me to contract HIV to know more about my body without being in college, but sitting down with my physicians and saying, "I know I got about 20 minutes on your books, but you're not leaving here until I understand the gamut of what you're telling me."

Mine is amazing. I've never felt better. I think most important, for me, HIV, my diagnosis, made me really be attuned to my body. Stress. I know what I can deal with, and what I can't. I know that I'm not invincible. I know when I have to say no. My eating habits have definitely changed for the better. I can't ... You know, in Chicago, it's called Harold's Chicken?

Oh, I'm from here. I know. Harold's Chicken, I definitely know.

Can't kick it at Harold's, you know, too often; Shark's. But I'm OK with that. I'm a young black man living in a community of individuals that have myriads of issues other than HIV, and obesity is one of them ... which is directly connected to healthy eating. So for me, having this platform, I have to dispel as much as possible, and as soon as possible, to do the correlation of ... OK, this is about HIV; but this is why I'm healthy.

Do you want to live, or do you want to die? Like your mother said on the phone.

But the reality is, those two are very easy decisions: to give up; or to go higher. And it all started, with me, with I hated the way ... I hated myself. I looked in the mirror and I remember saying to myself, "I never want to see myself ever again. Because I got myself into this. I did. I did. I did. Not who I slept with. Because it doesn't matter anymore. I got this girl. And she livin' in me. And it is what it is."

Have you forgiven yourself?

Yes. I don’t believe that people who can talk about forgiveness can ... if you can't forgive yourself first. I think, for me, it was, "Be horny and get it on; I'm still a man." I'm not your diagnosis. I'm not the world's viewpoints. Yeah. I'm having flashbacks of ... it's a progress. It really is. Even thinking about how I got here: it wasn't because it was someone who was negative telling me I was going to be OK. It wasn't someone who was completely way off field. It was the people who have this disease that ... And they're the same people who were going through the same thing I'm going through. And they were ... it was like in a figure 8. It was just, they had a little hope, and they were spreading it through. And they got a little more hope, and they spread it through.

I look back now and I'm like: I can literally point to three people who poured into me to where I can literally look at myself in the mirror and say, "I love you." Which many people ...

... can't do.

Cannot do.

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This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.

See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More Personal Accounts on African Americans and HIV


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