How have your relationships with your mother, stepfather and sister changed since you were diagnosed?
My relationship with my family has really gotten much better. I choose to not be a part of my family because they are still skeptical about my lifestyle in addition to my status. Sometimes you have to pick your fights, and sometimes I just choose not to pick the fight with my family. With my sister, I've always had a great relationship. That's my baby. ... It's always been good because she was always able to talk to me. When I first told her my status and told her what I was doing for a living and where I worked, we were close, but that brought us even closer. She shared some things she had been thinking about: having sex, wanting to know this, wanting to know about condom usage and what about birth control. We really had an adult conversation that she wasn't afraid to have. We were never afraid to talk about sex or anything of that sort. She explains to me often, "No, I'm not having sex right now but I've been thinking about it." All I want to instill in my sister and other people is that it's OK to talk about it. It's OK to think about it. You're young. We are sexual beings. We don't want to advocate going and having sex, but in the event that you do, know what you're doing. Know what to look for, and be quick. I'm just giving you the tools, necessary in your toolbox, so that when you go out you'll have the tools to face society. That's all I instill in young people and [that's] what I told my sister.
My mom, on the other hand, we talk more now, where we didn't talk at all at first, so our relationship is getting better. As far as my stepdad, we still don't talk at all. We're not going to try to talk at all. I just leave that where it is. My brother, I don't really talk to him at all, mainly because we never really had anything in common. He's eight years older than me, so we never really talked or exchanged words. We just know we are brothers because we have the same mom and same dad. We know we're brothers, but we don't really have that bond, or any type of bond established already. It's something I plan to do later in life. Right now, I don't foresee it happening.
I do talk with other people in my family all the time that I'm very close with, that I've always been close with, like my cousins and aunts, whom I shared my status with before I shared my status with my mom. We talk all the time, and we have a great relationship. Everybody comes to me when they have questions about sex or STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] or they want to get something clear that they heard about HIV. That's really cool because it lays some groundwork, and it lays a foundation. Through my HIV status I was able to build that bridge to information they probably never would have [tried to] get. They [may not] have known to ... get [the information] if they hadn't known I was HIV positive. I'm glad of that.
Tell us about your son.
My baby! I think Pierre has been a motivating factor for me to continue to persevere. I have my times where I want to give up, but when I think about his face, or think about him smiling, or he calls and says, "Hey, Daddy! Let's go watch Spiderman today," that really keeps me motivated to go on. At the same time, he has been one of the things that brought me and my mom closer together. He's my mom's only grandson. When I do get him [as part of the custody agreement with Pierre's mother], we're over at grandma's house. [My mom and I] may be sitting on the porch watching him ride his bike and me and my mom will [strike] up a conversation, something we haven't done ... Now that I think about it, I can't remember us ever just [striking] up a conversation and talking. She may call me and say, "Hey, you got Pierre this weekend? Is he coming over? I want to see him. Can you go get him and bring him over? I want to barbecue and you all come over and let's talk and have fun." My mom never really invited me anywhere since we had not been living together, since the whole ordeal with foster care. My son has been really the bridge that brought me and my mom back together, as well as the bridge that keeps me going on, keeps me connected to life. ...
I had him at a very young age. I was 17 at the time. [This was] during the same time when I first came out. I was going through a lot of things at that time with my sexual orientation. Because of society saying that it's wrong for you to like men, it's wrong for you to be homosexual, I didn't know which way to turn. I didn't know if I wanted to be accepted by society or ... be a homosexual black man, or what to do. Then, a lot of people said, "You can't knock what you haven't tried." I tried the heterosexual thing, and in the process I had Pierre. People often ask me, "Was he an accident?" Initially, I thought it was a mistake because we were so young but ... [the] teaching and that upbringing to be responsible at an early age really played a big factor in how I brought him into this world. Now that I look at it, I regret ever feeling like he was a mistake, because he's been such a light in my dark corner.
How old is he now?
He's five now.
Was his mom your girlfriend at some point?
Well, no, actually, we were friends. Just friends. We just ... tried something.
How old was she at the time?
She was about 19.
Do you two have a good relationship?
We've always had a great relationship. She's my friend. We still have a good relationship, [but] it's not the best. ... Sometimes she doesn't agree with my [sexual] orientation, and sometimes she kind of throws that in my face. When it comes to taking care of Pierre, which is all that matters at this point, that isn't an issue.
How do you share custody?
Well, we alternate times. She might have him for three months, and then he'll come stay with me for three months and go over there on the weekends. Sometimes my mom will take him for a month or so, and he'll stay with her. I don't really have all the responsibility; we kind of share, alternate and give each other a break. My mom really steps in a lot, because that's her only grandson. Between me and her, we're often fighting for him. It's always a battle for who can get Pierre this time. "It's my turn! It's my turn!" I'm really thankful for that, because I still have a chance to be myself and be young, which a lot of young people [who have children] don't.
How do you decide whether or not to disclose your HIV status to someone?
Well, it depends. It's really at my discretion, a judgment call, basically. It depends. [I'll tell them] if I'm counseling and in the midst of our conversation I feel like the person might be kind of nervous or scared of a result or getting a test done themselves -- which a lot of the time they are -- and they're relatively close to my age and I feel they can really benefit from hearing, "Hey, it's not the end of the world. I'm HIV positive, too." I'm HIV positive and giving you this information. It's not as bad as people make it to be. It kind of gives them some level of comfort and kind of eases up the level of tension in the room. It kind of depends on who [they are].
If I'm dating, I kind of engage the person by bringing up topics about what I do for a living, which is a great thing because sometimes I might not want to tell this person or might not want to talk to the person after this conversation, so I didn't divulge any personal information that they can later take and divulge or use against me at a later date or something like that. I really gauge their take on HIV, assess if that's something they can handle. Of course, I don't tell them right off the bat, but I give it anywhere from a month to three months depending on how "interactive" me and this person have become. What I mean by "interactive" is how many times we go out, how much conversation we have when we do talk. When there's the vibe that I'm really feeling this person and vice versa, then I choose to disclose my information. Sometimes if I'm dating, [I] just give information when people say things like, "Well, I can tell if someone's HIV positive. I can look at their hands." It's just my duty to prove them wrong. So I play along with it and say, "Well, look at my hands. Can you tell if I'm HIV positive?" A lot of time if they're ignorant about something like that I really don't tell them. I kind of let them go and try to give them as much information as they're willing to accept and let it go.
What were the best and worst responses you have gotten from telling people you were positive?
The best response that I have gotten --and this was the reason I was kind of unsure when you asked whether I was dating anyone -- was [from] someone I'm talking to now, involved with now. When I first started working in the HIV field, I really wasn't too comfortable about my status and was nervous about whether people would accept me as an HIV-positive man. I was nervous because of the law and things like that.
Because of the law?
Right. We have a disclosure law here, that basically says that any person who is HIV positive, from the time they find out they are positive, they must inform all future and/or present partners of their status before they engage in any form of sexual penetration, for example, finger in the ears, finger in the nose, whatever sexual penetration. It's open to your own interpretation. An HIV-positive person must disclose his status to any and every future partner from the time they know they are HIV positive. I was kind of nervous about that law because it is a felony here in Michigan. I really felt like this person would be a really good friend and at the same time I was really unsure. I told the person that I was HIV positive, and the person immediately grabbed me and hugged me and wouldn't let me go. I think that was the longest hug, ever, in the world. For about two and a half, three hours he just hugged me and wouldn't let me go. He told me, "I think you're so brave to tell me that, because if the shoe was on the other foot I probably wouldn't have told you." I said, "Really?"
He said, "I probably wouldn't have told you. I probably never would have told you. So, for you to tell me that ..." I think at the time I was about 21. He was like, "For you to be so young and confident and share that with me, I really take my hat off to you." He gave me a lot of affirmation and praise for that. I think that was the best experience. I think that's why we're still friends now. We're not dating, but we are working on it. [Laughing.] That's what makes it even more special or makes me anticipate the day we officially say we are a couple.
What about the worst disclosure experience?
The worst experience for me was when I had to tell my stepdad. It was really terrible because I didn't want to tell him. I thought that he didn't need to know, but the situation was that around the time I began to be [treated], I had to come home. I had nowhere to go. I had to stop working and things like that. I didn't want to be in an apartment with my ex, so I was looking for alternative places to go, one being my mom's house. So I explained to my mom what was going on with me, my health and things like that. She welcomed me with open arms, but out of respect -- because she's not the only adult there and [not] the only one paying bills -- she had to talk it over with her fiancé, which is understandable. Well, she explained that she wanted me to come there, but she didn't exactly tell him exactly why I needed to come back home.
[When I got home] she was looking at me and tears were running down her face. I was looking at her and tears were running down my face. She said, "Just tell him. Tell him what's going on." So, I told him, and he kind of jumped up from the table and snatched my glass out from in front of me because I was drinking some water or something. He took the glass from in front of me and threw it on the ground and said, "We need to sweep this up." He bleached the table and everything. I think that was the worst experience. "You mean, you got AIDS?" he said, really loud. He really took everything I had touched and bleached or disinfected it or smashed it so no one else could ever use it. When I would go over, it just really started happening where he would only let me use certain utensils or disposable ones. He had a section for me, when I would come over. He would say, "This is your glass." I think that was the worst experience. Now I can laugh at it, because he was so ignorant. At the time it was really, really, really painful to endure that.
Did he stop doing that?
Yes. About a month and a half ago.
[Laughing.] Unbelievable. Let me ask you, how has your love life changed since you became positive? What about your sex life?
My sex life has gotten better since I've known. Like I said, I really didn't have much of a sex life before. It's gotten better. I really don't have too much of one now, but the option is there if I should need it. It's not hard to come by if I should need it. [Laughing.] What was the other part of the question?
How has your love life been since you've been positive?
Well, dating for me has really been better, because it helps me to weed out people who won't be good for me later in life. I'm looking for somebody for the long haul. They need to know certain things about me. So sometimes when I divulge information it kind of scares some people away, which is a good thing because if you are just scared of HIV, then that ain't nothing compared to my attitude and my mood swings. If you're scared of HIV, it's probably best that you go your own way.
What's the greatest adventure you've ever had?
Being HIV positive has been the greatest adventure I've ever had. I kind of want to say it's like being on a rollercoaster. You know how it takes you up and down and round and round. By the end of the ride, you get off and you're like, "Yeah! Let's do it again!" On some levels, I'd do it again, but at the same time I wouldn't. I mean, I don't wish to have HIV all over again, but HIV has really brought me a lot of people who have been very beneficial to me and my life. It's helped me to take the most out of every day and not be upset and complain about everything and every situation, because I'm still living. Knowing where I came from and knowing where I am now, I can be thankful. If I hadn't ever gotten the HIV test, I probably wouldn't be living right now. So I'm thankful for that and everything it has brought into my life. I have had more positive experiences than I have negative ones. I have had more positive experiences since I have been HIV positive than I had before I knew I was HIV positive. Before I got tested, life was a bitch to me, but since I've been positive everything's been better, much better. I wouldn't exchange it for the world. I wouldn't exchange these experiences for the world.
If you were granted one wish what would it be?
Oh! One wish for me would be ... I don't know, because I can't narrow it down to one. [Laughing.] One wish for me would be, for me to be able to continue what I'm doing, healthy and positive and positive about it. I don't want to change that aspect of me, ever. Like I said, that part of me has been the most beneficial experience I've had throughout my life. I haven't been living that long, but long enough to have good experiences. [Laughing.] I think, one wish for me would be to be able to continue to work where I am and continue to do the things that I'm doing for many, many, many years.
Well, I hope you do. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
I just want to let people know to think positive, be negative and get tested.
D'Jaun, thank you so much.
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