How have your relationships with your family and friends changed since you were diagnosed? How were they at the beginning, and then how are they now?
My mother and I, our relationship is much better. We still don't talk about it -- which is cool, because I know that takes time. But the fact that we are talking and she says she loves me -- that's a big step. I know that for her it particularly affected her. Because it's one thing to have friends. But in your backyard, it's totally different.
I've lost some friends. But they weren't friends; they were dead weight. And the people who remained and stayed, they're meant to be. You know, they're here. They're like, "Girl, you took your medicine? OK. Sure you're all right? Good." My best friend, who posed with me during the campaign, has always been a big supporter of me. I mean, we've been through thick and thin. He literally was watching me die on a deathbed at the hospital. I actually watched our president being inaugurated from the hospital.
So those friendships that I have instilled and planted years ago are still here, alive today. It's been more positive than bad.
As far as dating goes, that's a totally different animal. But, for the most part, I've gotten more good than bad.
When it comes to disclosing to people that you are dating?
Is there a length of time that you wait to tell someone? Or is it like on the first date, "This is me"?
Yeah. Because I want you to know what you're getting -- what you're paying for, per se. There was a time where this guy I was getting to know when I first got to Atlanta, I had to tell him. And we hadn't talked about sex for three months. It was great.
I invited him over for dinner. Started kissing on my neck. I'm like, "Oh, shit." We're going to have to have this conversation.
When I told him, he literally said, "I can't date a disease. I didn't sign up for this." Gets up. Walks out the door. Don't even shut my door, child. He just leaves. That was like so heartbreaking. Because I was honest.
But it taught me, "OK, you were honest with him. You did your job. You did your part. You were responsible for not only his life, but for your own. And you loved yourself enough to disclose something so personal. So, hey, you win some, you lose some." And guys are guys. Give them a Snickers bar; they'll be all right. They'll be OK, child.
Are you in a relationship now?
I am happily single -- not just single, but happily single. I'm in a relationship with Madison, my iPad. And we're just good Judys. But as far as dating-wise, I'm not looking, but I'm not pushing away. I'm open, and I just want it to happen.
This is a loaded question, but tell me a little bit about what it means to grow up living in Florida. And then about being black in Florida. Do you think that being black and gay and HIV positive in Florida is harder than other places?
OK. Being black, gay, young, HIV positive in Florida: oh. It's a red state; that says a lot. For me, it was difficult because, not only was I gay, but I'm this black kid in the projects who likes to read books, and who speaks proper English, and doesn't function and operate the way it's expected to operate and function. So that was a dynamic on its own that was difficult.
And then adding HIV into the mix: it's like, oh, girl. Fuck three strikes -- I've got five! So it's difficult. And honestly, I had to get out of there. Because I knew Florida was not going to be the place that could cater to me. I'm not bashing my home state. I love Florida. I mean, you know, that's my bitch. But I knew at the time it wasn't a conversation to be had about HIV at all. And it needed to be. I knew I needed to go to a place where there were people who looked like me, going through the same thing; and there were places that provided services and support -- treatment.
I have a great, great doctor: Dr. Tejani. He's awesome, not judgmental at all. We talk about his kids. It's very personal. And it's important to have a doctor that you feel like is a part of your family. Because they are a part of your family. He doesn't treat me like a number. He's very concerned about my health, which is a great thing. He does what he can to make sure that I am getting the best possible treatment.
I'm currently taking Norvir [ritonavir], Truvada [tenofovir/FTC] and Reyataz [atazanavir], which at first, it was a bit of an adjustment from the Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC]. But it works. And I'm here. So as far as my treatment has grown, as far as with anything, I had to find out what works for me. And I did. I'm healthy. I'm undetectable. The viral load, she's, like, hella low. Like to the point where she's like, "Girl, we're just going to let you ..." So I'm excited.
From when you were diagnosed, how long was it till you started treatment?
I was diagnosed in 2003. Well, it says 2004 on the poster, but it was actually 2003. I didn't start treatment until like 2009. So I didn't really get on it right away -- because, again, it didn't exactly exist to me. Taking that pill meant, "OK, this is really some reality for your ass." So I had to get adjusted to that.
How do you access your HIV meds? Is it private insurance, Medicaid, ADAP?
ADAP, boo. ADAP. Them meds high. I'm just going to keep it real. Throw science out the window, the medical terminology. Honey, them pills is high. One capsule ... Hell, a bottle is a mortgage. It's ridiculous how high these pills are. But I'm grateful for ADAP. That's why we need to continue to fight to keep ADAP. Because ADAP is a program that is allowing people to have the access to the medications they need, to keep on living.
Because once you take away ADAP and these other programs that are funded specifically for us, we're going to die. I hate to put it like that. But we will die! That's why I need the government to stop chirping about ADAP. And I said it.
You said you were undetectable.
Do you know your CD4 count?
My CD4 count is 450.
What else do you do to try to keep healthy? Do you exercise? Do you have a diet?
I exercise. I dance a lot. Dancing really helps me stay focused, spiritually and physically. Diet: Girl, you are what you eat. No, but I do try to stay on a consistent, not-so-much-fried-stuff diet. But I definitely like to eat.
What kind of work do you do now? Can you say where you're working now?
I actually am the CEO and founder of my own company, called Bows & Arrows, which is an international approach to the arts, and HIV awareness, spreading it across the world and inspiring young people to become powerful.
I'm an artist, musician, dancer, visual artist, literary artist. I wear so many hats: Google me. And not in a bad way, but really it's a lot that I do. Mainly the umbrella is: I'm an artist.
Do you ever get sick of talking about HIV?
Yeah. There is some fatigue at times. But at the same time, I know that it's needed to be talked about. Because, although we do talk about it, I don't think we talk about it enough. And I don't think we go to the places that need to hear it; I think we, a lot of times, preach to the choir. We need to go to a lot of these heterosexual communities and talk about this, from our perspective -- to show them we're really not that different.
And, quite frankly, you all need to listen up. Because this is serious. It's not like a sexual issue. This is a human issue. So, as human beings, we should be able to be receptive to what HIV has to say.
How do you think having HIV has changed you?
It's changed me a whole lot. It's given me a purpose, and it's allowed me to build a platform, not only just for myself. People who look -- and don't look -- like me can say, "There is someone out there who really is taking on this fight." I just want to be able to fight in a very creative way, that I can leave my mark on here, when I do leave -- and say that I fought the good fight, and I left some color for the world.
Last question. What advice would you give someone who had just found out that he or she is positive?
Baby, it's not the end of the world. It's not the end of the world. Find a support system. And if you don't have a support system, if you don't feel appreciated where you are, leave. Find people who are going to appreciate you, who are going to nurture you, and who are going to want your success to be flourishing. Just don't give up hope. Because this is not a death sentence. ... I know you're freaking out. But just breathe, take a second. Breathe, take a second.
And you're going to be OK. Put on your heels and keep walking.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.