Credit: HealthCentral/Guy Anthony
I met health advocate and author Guy Anthony at the HealtheVoices conference for health advocates in Chicago and found myself in awe of his story about living with HIV. The theme of the conference was thriving while living with your illness or diagnosis, and that is exactly what Guy has chosen to do. From the outside looking in, it seems as though he does this effortlessly. However, when I had the chance to interview Guy over the phone recently, I learned that he doesn't always have it as easy as it may appear. During our conversation, he discussed life as a gay black man, living with HIV, and dealing with his difficult past as a sexual abuse victim. Four years ago, he decided to turn his struggles into inspiration to advocate for others like himself.
HealthCentral: What inspired you to become a HIV advocate?
Guy Anthony: I've been HIV positive for 12 years and diagnosed for 10 years. I went and got tested when I lived in Los Angeles after being sexually assaulted two years prior in Philadelphia. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know much about HIV. I just knew I didn't look well, [and] I didn't feel well. So after being tested, I went in a downward spiral -- drug abuse, cutting, depression ... all types of things. I ended up in Atlanta, and one night I hosted a dinner party for seven of my closest friends. I remember standing there and being in that space -- all of them were HIV positive, yet they weren't talking to each other about it, and they weren't talking about it to other people. So at that moment, I decided to write a book called "Positively Beautiful." I wanted to tell the stories of young gay black men from a place of vitality and not morbidity.
All I had seen in the news about HIV is that "you're going to die." I didn't want to accept that narrative for myself; neither did I want to accept that narrative for my friends. So I literally wrote that book and raised $1,300 for my community within a month. I am encouraging people living with HIV, especially young black men, to take ownership of their status and to advocate for themselves in terms of policy and local agendas.
HC: What differences do you see in yourself pre-HIV diagnosis versus post-HIV diagnosis?
GA: I have not changed much. I do have a new lease on life after being diagnosed with HIV. It did put a fire under my butt to make me accomplish my goals a lot quicker and be more driven. But for the most part, I'm still the jokester, I still don't take any crap from anybody, and I'm still loyal. These are the traits that made me who I was pre-diagnosis, and they still remain.
HC: Talk to me about your dating life. What are the differences prior to your diagnosis versus now, if any?
GA: There are no differences; I'm still messed up in terms of dating, if I must be honest. I was molested as a child. The way a person who has been molested is introduced to sex and sexuality is completely different than a person who has not been sexually compromised. This is something I deal with a lot. I'm often frustrated at myself because I'm not really able to connect with people on an intimate level. When it comes to intimacy and dating, there is always an issue for me, and I've just not been able to get it right. I go to therapy for it, [and] I talk to my friends about it. I've been trying to figure out how to date [in a] healthy way, and if I'm honest, that is something I've never been able to do. A lot of people don't necessarily talk about the dualities of being successful yet suffocating, and that's sort of where I come from in that respect. Yes, I am successful -- that doesn't mean I have everything together, and that's why I'm really honest about my issues with dating and intimacy. Broken crayons still color ... and that's how I like to empower people: You can be successful in one regard and completely failing in another. Dating is where I'm failing.
HC: What are your hopes for your love life in the future?
GA: All the guys I've dated in the last four years have been madly in love with me, and they are great guys. They will make someone tremendously happy one day. But my issues won't allow me to be there for them in that way. It's really sad in a sense, because something that happened so long ago has definitely altered the trajectory of my love life in so many ways that I've unfortunately been left to pick up the pieces and to figure it out all on my own. My hope is that one day I can genuinely fall in love with somebody and reciprocate the love that they show me.
HC: What advice would you give to those who have been sexually abused?
GA: Your hurt and your pain doesn't have to stop you from living a full life. Talk to other people who have gone through what you've been through will help you. It won't solve all your problems, but it definitely puts things in perspective.
HC: What advice would you give to those who are newly diagnosed with HIV or going through similar difficult experiences?
GA: When I can't figure out where I'm going, or when I'm lost and sad, I write. And it doesn't have to make sense -- I just write, and I get it out. Own your life, and get it out in some way. If your therapy is dance or writing, it doesn't matter, just get it out, or go talk to somebody. However you need to connect with your true self is what you need to do.
Interview edited lightly for clarity.
"Owning Your Life: Guy Anthony on Becoming an HIV Advocate and Dating After Sexual Assault" originally appeared on HealthCentral.com.