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Personal Story

Finding Myself in the Ballroom and the HIV Testing Center

Part of the Series Day One With HIV

March 27, 2016

Martez Smith (Credit: Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba)

Martez Smith (Credit: Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba)

I was spearheading an HIV prevention effort in Columbus, Ohio where we actually went out into the nightclubs and we conducted testing and condom distribution. I got my ass handed to me a few times. Ohio is conservative for the most part. So you know there was a couple of times when I was standing outside of the club, I would hand out a condom package and I would get cussed out, "Oh we are not for that that. We are here to have fun."

I thought to myself, "I just saw you grinding on that guy in there and I saw that you exchanged numbers you know. You are probably going to go home and have sex. Be safe."

So yeah, that was an introduction into this work and to HIV testing in general. I think the defining moment in my career as an HIV tester was the first HIV test I ever conducted by myself. This was in 2011.

I was completing an internship at an AIDS service organization as a case management intern and they required all the case managers to be certified in HIV testing. I shadowed eight testers, read the manual, and took the test -- I did a dummy test.

Then I got a phone call that I was to come in and conduct my first test. I am like, "OK, cool."


I came into the room where a young black guy was sitting. I saw myself in him. We were the same age and everything. I was asking him about his sexual history, I proceeded to go with the pre-counseling session and I administered the test. The results came back and they were negative, or so I thought.

I copied the sheet with the result on them and I was just about to hand in the results when my supervisor called me back into the lab and she pulled the test out of the trash can and she held a black light up to it.

She said, "See that little faint line there? That means it is positive. It is hard to see because you are new, but I wanted to make sure I was able to show you the correct procedure."

Excuse my French, but it fucked me up. I had to tell him he was HIV+ and golly that was ... (even to this day, I still do testing, I don't do it as frequently as I used to because it is not a full time job for me anymore) talk about trauma, I left early that day. Because originally I thought I had it together, thought I was handling, I got this. But then the counter transference kicked in. And damn, this is me. This is me. At the time I was HIV negative.

But three months later I seroconverted and I was HIV+.

I ended up in NYC nine days later after that positive diagnosis. And I think that time to myself I was able to dig deep and really get real with myself. I had to face some things about myself, face a lot of things. Like, what if I die? How am I going to tell my Mom? I was covered under her insurance.

Throughout the process learning that you are HIV+ is a series of moments over a lifetime.

When I was about seven or eight, I saw a BET special -- like a World AIDS day presentation -- and of course there was a straight guy who was really promiscuous, a black straight woman, and a really flamboyant effeminate gay guy. And I was like, "That is me, the third guy, the effeminate gay person." I knew at a young age I was gay and based of what was being shown to me on TV I concluded in my mind that I would become HIV+.

Delivering that first test result confirmed that.

This is an edited excerpt from a discussion about the role of doulas in the care of newly diagnosed people with HIV.

Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.

Related Stories

After I Cried All My Tears: Learning to Accept HIV
When I Learned I Had HIV, I Told Myself Life Has to Go On
Day One With HIV: "Coming Out of the Second Closet"
Day One With HIV: "A Shadow Came Over My Head" (Videos)
Day One With HIV: Finding Out Your Status, in Your Own Words's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed
More "Just Diagnosed" Stories

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