You were talking about your gay father, Luna. And you were talking about dating in the ball scene. Can you talk about your involvement in the ball scene and if that interacts with being HIV positive in any way?
So, my inspiration: He's been in the scene since he was 14. He was diagnosed at the age of 14 with AIDS and he is a very strong individual. He's been in the ballroom scene -- can't remember what houses he was in, I think it was Pendavis -- you know, he comes from that, back when it first started. Back when there was Paris is Burning, all that good stuff. Luna, he is now the overall Father of the House of Khan, and I also am a Khan. I was actually brought there not through him, but through one of my ex-friends, ex-sisters I will say, and she introduced me to him.
What really caught my attention was he told me how beautiful I was. He was like, "You're gorgeous. Have you ever thought about modeling?" And I was like, "No." At that point, I was really insecure about myself. We had more side conversations, and he really helped me build my character to let me know that I have a look. And that I am dark and lovely, that's what he calls me; I am his "dark and lovely baby."
Ballroom scene? I will say it's not the majority of the ballroom scene that got me here; it's really just him. I love being a part of the ballroom scene, because it's a great way to relieve stress. I come up with these different ideas when it comes to walking the category that I walk, and I walk runway, which is European Runway. And it just takes extravagant affects, and I just love to walk, most of the time. It's a stress reliever. My walk is my main focus. I could care less about the affect and how the image looks, I just care about the walk. So, that's basically it. I really, really liked it like two years ago, but now, the way it's going, I'm not really entertained by it. I go out every now and then, but it's more like the "kiki" scene, rather than the mainstream now.
Overall, you can talk about both being at Harlem United and being in the "kiki" scene, but what has being in your community as a young man of color taught you?
Being in the ballroom scene and this community has taught me that you can really influence a lot of people. By that one card that I did two years ago, I influenced a lot of people to the point where my card is completely sold out. [As part of his days in the ballroom scene, Christopher produced a postcard about the persona and name he carries while doing runway -- Afrika Khan. It was produced and distributed by Gay Men's Health Crisis, and is one of their most successful postcards to date.] Like, there are no more cards. Honestly, I can't even find that card to put in my collection. It can be overwhelming, because there are so many people who you can inspire and they won't even let you know that you inspired them until months and months down the line.
That's been happening to me lately. I have some people who hit me up on Facebook like, "Your story and what you do really helped me out with what I'm going through." And a lot of people always say that like, "You came out of nowhere -- literally, out of nowhere -- and look what you've accomplished in the past three years." Stuff that I've been struggling to get myself into, but like I explain to people, it's about the connection, meeting new people, it's about expressing yourself, letting people know what you want to do, not just sitting there and pondering and plotting what you want to do; it's about actually physically getting out there and doing it, and that's exactly what I did. There were days when I would go up and down Manhattan with one Metrocard swipe just to get back home, and I'm able to get all that stuff done. I came up here determined not to fail, and I'm still that way -- I refuse to fail at anything.
What do you think are the biggest issues in the HIV community today and what do you think people can do to change the situation?
Right now, it's the generation that's coming up; they have no education. And they don't want the education. It's so sad, because you have leaders who have come up in the field, and it's like they get to a certain point where it's like, "Well, I've done enough to get my name in this and I'm going to let it go." Prevention is a 24/7 job. I've learned that. I deal with things outside of work. It's not work-related, but I still deal with stuff that has to do with prevention. And it's like, people with the generation that I'm supposed to be in, they're not taking it seriously anymore. It's like everyone's on a different path, and you have people who look up to you and they're young. If you don't give these people the right education and the right knowledge about what to look out for and what to say about certain things, how can you accomplish something? You can't come in, do a half job, then leave. You have to complete it. And I'm about completing it.
Everyone has their ups and downs, their mood swings, but it's all about dedication to the work, and I'm extremely dedicated. But it's like the generation that's coming up ... it's kinda awkward. Because you sit there and listen to some of the things they say, and how they look at people who are HIV positive and the nicknames and the things they say, it's just like ... wow. If they only knew.
How do you think having HIV has changed you?
Having HIV has made me more mature. I've become an extremely stronger person than I was before. At one point, I was a little weak-minded individual. But I'm able to think for myself, maintain my own life. There are a few things -- I'm a work in progress, still working, still growing -- there's growth every day, when it comes to me. But it's actually changed a lot.
I'm very grateful for things that have happened to me, and very humble. There's no other way I can say it. I'm very grateful and blessed to be where I'm at. I'm here in NYC -- from a small town to this big area full of different populations and different boroughs and trains, and all this stuff is so new to me. But I live my life like I'm down South. I just go to work and go home now. It's amazing living in New York, to actually say that I live here, and I'm doing work that's actually something to remember and to put a stamp on.
What advice would you give to someone who was just diagnosed as HIV positive?
Take a deep breath. And know that your life is not over. It hurts me when they find out and then they go into depression -- it's normal to go into depression, but it's not normal when you stay in that depression. Take that, what you just heard. Take care of yourself. Take it as a lesson learned, like, "OK, now it's time for me to clean my act up. Now it's time for me to focus on me." That's when you focus on yourself; focus on you and nothing else.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mathew Rodriguez is the editorial project manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.