The first thing that came to Justin B. Terry-Smith's mind when he was diagnosed was that his chances of being a dad were gone. Now, as the father of a nearly 18-year-old boy, Justin discusses how his determination to be a father led him to where he is today. The winner of Mr. Maryland Leather 2010 also discusses how being a father has made him more "careful" in his life -- depending on your definition.
This interview was conducted along with Ferdinand van Gameren, executive editor of Gays With Kids. TheBody.com is proud to present this interview as part of a series of interviews with HIV-positive dads done in collaboration with Gays With Kids for World AIDS Day 2014.
Mathew Rodriguez: Justin, had you wanted to be a father, growing up?
Justin B. Terry-Smith: I felt that [as a young child] I had a really close relationship with my father. Then as I grew up it was a little temperamental because of teen angst and wanting to be my own person, and not wanting to follow the rules, and wanting to do my own thing. But I realized that, yes, that was one of the things I've always wanted to be, is a father.
I always wanted to be a father -- in my head, and in my heart, and in my soul. So that's always been there, on the back burner, for me.
Mathew Rodriguez: When you were first diagnosed as positive, and after you kind of dealt with everything that comes with being newly diagnosed, did you think about what that meant for your hopes of becoming a parent?
Justin B. Terry-Smith: Yes. That was the first thought I had in my head. I thought: Oh, my gosh; I'm not going to be able to be a father now. My second and third thoughts were: My parents are going to be very disappointed in me, and I'm going to die.
If you look at it, that's not really the order a lot of people think of things, when it comes to being diagnosed with HIV. They don't think of fatherhood the first thing. I think that's because I was so uneducated as to the different methods that we have now -- that, yes, I still can become a father and, yes, actually I can biologically become a father, as well, if I wanted to go that route. Being diagnosed, I think it gave me a stronger drive to adopt, or to foster, or to even do surrogacy, in some sort of way.
Mathew Rodriguez: When do you remember first hearing that there were options for positive men who wanted to be parents? When did you move out of the "oh, my God, I'm never going to be a father" mindset?
Justin B. Terry-Smith: I started doing some research. I wanted to know if there were any other options out there. Actually, first, what I was looking for were the laws in the state of Maryland -- that's where I reside. I wanted to see, if I'm positive, can I still be a father some way. And how.
And then I found that there's a surrogacy agency that specializes in this, and there are other agencies that specialize in sperm cleansing and different methods like that. I told my partner about it. (I've been with my partner for about eight years now.) That was one of our options. And I said, "Wow, I still can become the, quote-unquote, bio dad."
We looked at the price ranges and things like that. We decided to, at that time, hold off on it. But that's still there as an option for us.
Mathew Rodriguez: What would you say to other HIV-positive men who want to be parents?
Justin B. Terry-Smith: Go for it! Let nothing stand in your way. Especially since you are already HIV positive and you already know the detriment, and the depression, and the giving up hope that you might have felt when you first found out you were positive -- don't let this be the second wave of that. I would say stay strong. Make sure that you get informed and get educated about what your options are. And just go for it.
There's nothing wrong with being a foster parent, or adopting, or doing surrogacy. And don't let anybody tell you anything different.
Mathew Rodriguez: Do you talk to your child about your status, and what it means to live with HIV?
Justin B. Terry-Smith: All the time. When he came to us, I looked at him as just a little boy. Because that's what, honestly, mentally he was.
The first night that he came to us he had a nightmare. I was downstairs making pancakes, and eggs, and bacon, and all that stuff. And he --
Ferdinand van Gameren: Can you tell us how old he was when he came to you, and how old he is now?