How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?
My relationships with my family have changed tremendously, and all for the good! One, I have educated my family to the extent where my family knows now that if Michelle is around, at some point, we are going to talk about HIV and AIDS. It's part of our family discussion. It has also brought me closer to family members. It all really helps me to embrace and get other people to embrace who we are, and be able to just learn, love and share.
When did you disclose to them that you are positive?
I decided to disclose my HIV status because I was just so angry at seeing what discrimination and being stigmatized has done to us as a community. I said, "I'm just not going to take it anymore!" Oprah Winfrey did a show with me back in 1996. I did a show with Ricki Lake. I was just featured in Marie Claire magazine. And it's like, I'm mainstream. We need to have HIV and AIDS again mainstream because it is here and it has not gone away.
When I receive the negative responses, guess what? I brush it off. No matter what, now until the day that I close my eyes and I depart this earth, there are going to be ignorant people, arrogant people. I always say to people, "Whatever you think about me is none of my business."
What is the best response you have ever gotten from telling someone?
That I have given them a chance to save their lives. I will continue to save lives.
What is the worst response?
Someone tried to make me get deported. It was, for me, being rejected by someone whom I had a deep interest in. But again, that was the best thing that could happen because I found out after that she was a piece of work!
How has your sex life changed since you became positive?
It has become exotic! I have learned to eroticize my sex and sexuality. I disclose to people when I meet them and I give them a chance to make a choice. I teach them. I teach them how to enjoy sex, and we do it safely. Honey, I teach people stuff they never thought!
Have you faced rejection from potential sex partners?
No. That's the thing -- it's not what you do, it's how you go about it.
Do you have a policy about if or when you tell a sex partner that you are positive?
If I have a notion that you have some kind of interest in me, I let you know. I want to be able to give somebody a choice if they want to be with me because I'm a public figure! I'm out there.
Even my last partner. I met her at a club, and we're hanging out and she's kicking it with me, and then she says, "You know, let's go outside, I want to talk to you." So we get outside and I said, "Two things I want you to know. I'm a public figure. You might walk down the street and pick up a paper or a magazine and you might see me." And she's like, "Oh, really?" I said, "Well, it's because of the life that I live and the work that I do." She's like, "What?" I said, "I am someone living with the AIDS virus." And her response was, "Well, I guess there won't be no eating for me." I said, "Well, OK darling, we'll take care of that later on down the road." Just like that. And we were together for seven years.
Do you feel that if you practice safe sex, it is necessary to tell a sex partner that you are positive?
Yes indeed. Even if you practice safe sex. Because HIV is so stigmatized -- you could be just seen going into a building that provides services for people who are HIV positive and somebody would assume that you are infected. So you've gotta be able to give this person every bit of opportunity to make a decision for themselves.
Did you make any New Year's resolutions?
No. I'm just trying to lose some weight and move.
What books, movies, music or TV shows have had a big influence on you?
Movies: Imitation of Life.
Books: Maya Angelou. Autobiographies, also. It gives a better understanding of people who have gone through the struggle and how they went about it. It keeps me knowing that I gotta continue wanting more and wanting better.
And music, oh my God, jazz music, because you know, jazz is that thing that I feel to the core. It can be smooth. It can be calm.
There is a flower that inspires me also. The lotus grows through murky, dirty water and comes up to the top. It's one of the most beautiful flowers. I see myself as that metaphor.
What's the greatest adventure you've ever had?
The biggest adventure I've ever had was going back to Trinidad and picking up my son, because I was told by my lawyer, "If you leave the United States and go to Trinidad, you will not be able to re-enter." This is when I was newly diagnosed. My aunts were actually taking care of my son. And I learned that they were not giving him the best of care, so I packed a bag and spoke to my doctor and gave him my mother's address in Trinidad, where I was going to go. I said, "Look, if I don't get to come back to the United States, y'all are going to have to find a way to get medications to my daughter." And I went down to Trinidad, got my son, and came right back to the United States. It was me and God. I was on a mission, honey, and mission was accomplished.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
I wish to see an end to greed and suffering. There's a lot of suffering going on in a lot of ways. Poverty is suffering, abuse is suffering, racism is suffering. Just to end suffering.
Anything else you'd like The Body's readers to know about you?
I'm a good person. I mean no malice toward anyone. I say to my son, "I don't have enemies -- I just have people who don't understand me."
In 2005, Michelle was one of 73 people in the United States who received an HIV Leadership Award from The Body. We interviewed each of the award recipients; click here to read the transcript.
|MICHELLE'S MEDICAL UPDATES|
|CD4+ Count (May 2008): 874 Viral Load (May2008): < 50|
|Current regimen (May 2008): Reyataz (atazanavir) + Norvir (ritonavir) + Truvada (tenofovir/FTC) once daily -- she has been on this regimen since 2004, and it works very well for her|
Click here to e-mail Michelle Lopez.