How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?
The first people I told were my pastor, my mother and my daughters. They were very loving and supportive, especially my mother. Years before I was diagnosed, she had a goddaughter who was diagnosed with HIV when she was 23 years old. My mother never changed her behavior to her goddaughter in the house, and she went and visited her in the hospital. Then, who would have known it would be her daughter years later?
My eldest daughter was sad for my suffering when I told her, but I said to her, "Yes, but it's OK, because I have Christ too now." My daughters have grown up well-adjusted considering what I've been through. They were raised largely by my mother and didn't learn of my drug addiction until they were in their mid-teens -- and, perhaps because my mother always believed I would eventually come around, they feel only pride that I've finally pulled through. They laugh and say, "Mom, you scared us straight. But we wouldn't ask for any other mother in the world. If we had to choose, we would take the same mom, with the same former addiction and current diagnosis."
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
I am very open about it. God's spirit gives me courage to say it to people in the street. He has given me that freedom, and saying it gives me the freedom to accept it. There are some people who are HIV positive and work in the field of HIV/AIDS, but they still won't say it openly, because they fear what people will say. But I say, "If God accepts you, I accept you."
What is the best response you have ever gotten from telling someone?
Last summer I spoke to over 100 in the park -- little kids and teens. We went through a little scenario of how you can and cannot get HIV -- like you can't get it from a comb, or eating off the same dish as an HIV-positive person. The highlight of that was when a 7-year-old girl said, "Do you have AIDS?" and I said, "Yes." She said, "Can I give you a hug?" So she came and gave me a hug and then all the other kids came and hugged me too, in a big pile.
What is the worst response you've gotten from telling someone?
I am fortunate that I have not had any negative responses. My pastor, my mother, my siblings and my friends have shown great love all along.
Do you feel accepted as a person with HIV?
I do. I know God accepts me. And I was honored to receive the Martin Luther King Award on January 16, 2006 at the Emmanuelle Baptist Church for my work. People call me to ask for me to pray for a family member who has HIV or AIDS, and to be able to open up and say it. My own church also presented me with the Martin Luther King Award in 2003, and named me Woman of the Year in 2002. And I was given a Governor's Citation from the state of Maryland on World AIDS Day in 2004 for my art and activism.
I feel accepted within the church. But I think a lot of that acceptance comes from within. If you accept yourself, people will treat you with the same respect.
How has your sex life changed since you became positive?
I have not been interested in sex. Because of my restored belief, I practice celibacy. Twelve years ago, I was so deep in drugs I didn't have a sex life. Now I live a holy, consecrated life. I would have to be married to have sex.
Do you feel that if you practice safe sex, it is necessary to tell a sex partner that you are positive?
I think that sex belongs in marriage, but everyone you have sex with has a right to know. I don't think it's fair not to tell a sex partner, because they need to know. The condom can break.
Did you make any New Year's resolutions?
Not to procrastinate! I want to get my driver's license. And I always hope to follow God's direction and walk with Him.
What's the biggest adventure you've ever had?
From no hope to hope. From depression to loving life. Life is an adventure -- now that I've been clean from drugs for 12 years.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
To be all God has planned for me to be and do, so I can serve him. And a cure for HIV. And for youth to hear, and change their behavior.
What books, movies, music or TV shows have had a big influence on you?
I love to study the Bible; it shows me how to live. I also enjoy listening to gospel music.
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