How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?
I've come out about my HIV to just about everyone in my immediate family. My family has been very supportive, and not much has really changed in my relationship with them. My mom asks occasionally about my health; since I haven't really had any health problems associated with my HIV, there just hasn't been too much to discuss other than medications, T cells, and viral loads. All of my closest friends know about my HIV status, and they are all very supportive.
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
I don't consider my HIV status a secret, and I've talked about it publicly before. I don't talk about it much professionally because I work with people with HIV, and I want to keep the focus on them and not me. The people I work with are a lot worse off than I am, and I want to give them as much of my attention as possible because, for many, I am the only person that they can talk to about their HIV. It's a terribly isolating disease in the black community.
How are you better off than the people you work with?
I'm better off because I'm educated, which affords me a good job; with that comes medical insurance and housing. Most of the patients that I work with do not have those things. They have access to care but many are not housed, which makes accessing care a challenge.
You said that HIV is an isolating disease for African Americans. Why?
HIV is an isolating disease for African Americans because of the stigma. I believe that black people are more tied together as a community because of cultural similarities, and to escape racism. You do not want to be disassociated from your community, because that is where you get support. So, to be stigmatized because of your HIV, you risk being disassociated and that can be isolating. Black people have so many other issues to deal with that adding HIV to the mix is challenging.
How has your sex life changed since you become positive?
One of the most difficult things about living with HIV is dating. No one likes to feel rejected. In the beginning, there were a lot of guys that never called me back after I disclosed my HIV status to them. It hurt a lot, but I was able to put it into perspective once I realized that, before I had HIV, guys wouldn't date me because of my race, or the way I combed my hair! I disclose to anyone with whom I plan on being sexually active. Dating other HIV-positive guys is a preference since it makes things less complicated, but I don't limit myself that way.
What are the best and worst responses you've gotten from telling someone your HIV status?
I can't really remember the responses that I've gotten over the years, but my last relationship was with an HIV-negative person. I guess that was a good response, since [my HIV status] didn't matter to him.
Will you make any New Year's resolutions?
I rarely make New Year's resolutions, because my motivation to change a habit or behavior does not always come precisely at the beginning of each year.
What was the greatest adventure you ever had?
The greatest adventure I've ever had was traveling to Botswana. I already knew that blacks are capable of self-governing because of where I grew up, but it was just nice to see it on a larger scale ... and to be so close to those diamond mines.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
My only wish is to find a cure for AIDS and to make it available equally throughout the world. OK, that's two wishes.
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