Table of Contents
- HIV Diagnosis
- Personal Bio
- African-American Identity and HIV
- HIV, Health Care and Treatment
- Disclosure, Relationships and Sex
- Resolutions, Adventures and Likes
This interview has been altered from its original format. Statements have been re-ordered for clarity, with permission of the interviewee.
How did you find out you were HIV positive?
I had gone in for routine testing at the Montrose Clinic in Houston, where I was working at the time as an HIV case manager, in 1995. I am 44 years old now, and it's been almost 11 years since my diagnosis. I had not prepared myself for a possible positive test result, so, needless to say, I was shocked! It was a difficult adjustment in the beginning, but I think I've adjusted pretty well. It was helpful that I worked in the field and had lots of folks around me giving me information and holding my hand.
How long do you think it takes to process a diagnosis?
I needed a good three years to actively process the diagnosis. Actively processing a diagnosis means finding a good therapist, joining a support group, or talking with family and friends. People should do whatever is comfortable for them, but not talking about it is not an option! If you don't talk to anyone about it, you'll suffer for it.
My diagnosis was especially difficult for me because I worked in HIV services at the time and I had to deal with a lot of self-imposed shame and guilt about "knowing better." It wasn't until I saw a guy on the cover of POZ magazine several years ago talking about getting HIV while working as an HIV prevention counselor that I realized that I didn't have to be ashamed. I've since seen the story of HIV service professionals contracting HIV being told over and over again (just recently here at The Body). Nobody has to feel ashamed.
How did you get HIV?
When people ask me how I got HIV, my usual response is that, "I got it by being a human doing human things." The question implies that you did something bad and therefore deserved to get HIV. People do not usually ask, "How did you get your cancer?" The truth of the matter is that everyone who acquires HIV got it by being human -- period.
How has HIV changed you?
I think living with HIV has made me more focused. I went back to school and got the two master's degrees that I wanted (in social work and public health) at the University of Washington. I also started traveling more internationally and have practically been around the world. My travels have taken me to some very exciting places including Brazil, Botswana, South Africa, Australia, Peru, The Netherlands and Canada. One of my most favorite places to go is Vancouver, British Columbia. I am lucky to live so close to what I consider the most beautiful city in North America. I've even developed a group of friends there. Life is good. I just stopped putting things off. I focus my time and energy on a few friends and avoid people that drain my energy.
What advice would you give someone who has just found out they are positive?
My advice to people who have just been diagnosed is to be good to yourself for a while. If you are getting high and drinking a lot, it's time to stop, because you'll die faster if you don't. Get a good support system together through family, friends or wherever you can find them. Learn as much as you can about the disease.
Tell us a little about your life.
I grew up in a small all-black town called Boley, Oklahoma. It was a great place to grow up, because it provided a sense of safety and racial pride. We were allowed to roam about freely as children, because crime was virtually non-existent and there were always other adults in the community providing a watchful eye. This town started as a racial experiment in the early 1900's and was established to prove that blacks could govern themselves. It was a very successful town, and its unique environment was the source of racial pride. It still exists today.
I am the youngest of three siblings. I have one brother and one sister, and lost another brother when I was younger. I left Boley to attend Oklahoma State University. When I graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics, I moved to Houston, Texas.
I moved to Houston seeking job opportunities and hoping to become part of a large gay and lesbian community to further develop my own sexual identity. I lived in Houston for nine years and eventually moved to Seattle, [Washington], where I reside currently. I was unable to get into graduate programs in Houston, so I moved to Seattle where I was accepted into a graduate program at the University of Washington.
I am currently single and live alone in my newly purchased Seattle condo.
I do not have any children. I am in regular contact with my family by phone, and I try to get to family events (i.e., graduations, holidays, reunions, etc.) as often as possible. I am usually the organizer for family reunions that take place every year.
What do you do for work?
I work as an engagement and adherence specialist for African Americans living with HIV/AIDS at a large public clinic. I also provide consultant services to a local faith-based organization by teaching clinicians and community members skills for providing HIV-related services to African Americans. I serve as vice-chair for the Washington State Governor's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. We meet every other month and provide advice to our governor on HIV/AIDS policy matters. I have been serving in this capacity for almost seven years under two different governors.
What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I do remodeling work in my condo, I travel, I bike and I spend time with friends.
Are you a religious or spiritual person? Do you attend a church?
I do not consider myself a religious person, but a spiritual person. I was never able to connect with traditional religions because of the negative messages that so many of them teach. I was led to my current spiritual practices as a result of my own drug and alcohol recovery. I've been clean and sober for over 20 years and learned spiritual practices through 12-Step programs. I've also been exploring Buddhist teachings. I find that spiritual practices need not be elaborate nor guilt based to be effective. I've found so much happiness through my own simplicity, which I never found in any religion.