How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?
When I was first diagnosed, when I told my dad and [step-]mom, my dad sent me flowers and a "Get Well" card. I sat looking at this card, and I thought, "Hey, I'm never gonna get well."
More recently, my [step-]mom has got more involved, she knows a lot more about it now that before. And my sister has even worked with people with AIDS. They come out and support me when they hear me speaking or doing some kind of engagement. I do a lot of publicity now. I do commercials. I have done magazines. Lots of speaking engagements in colleges. I try and stay visible and put a face on it. As much as I can. I'm sick a lot, in and out of the hospital for one reason or another. But for the most part I have a lot of support. I don't hide it -- I can't!
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
Usually I ask them first, "What do you know about HIV?" And if they seem to be a little savvy, then I'll go a little bit further. If they're not, if I feel like they're totally ignorant, I'll educate them. Then I'll let them know.
What is the best response you have ever gotten from telling someone? What is the worst?
The best response was when someone said to me, "It is not unto death," and I carry that to this day. While I live on this side, maybe I have this disease, but when I get to heaven, I won't have any disease.
The worst response is I lost a job because of it. My supervisor wanted more intimacy than I was willing to provide. So I revealed my status, to deter him. But instead of just leaving it alone, he publicized my status, and I ended up walking away from that job and getting in a big mess about it. But it was resolved amicably. That security business closed.
How has your sex life changed since you became positive?
Well, I don't sell it anymore! I am very careful about who I allow into my life. I am very much a one-man woman.
Have you faced rejection from potential sex partners? How do you deal with that?
I've been married and divorced since diagnosis. I've been single since 1998. In 2000, I got engaged, but chose to end it. I'm single right now. I have to say that I haven't found rejection to be such a problem since I was diagnosed, but I do tend to hold myself back from the guys I really want because of fear of rejection. That guy may even be walking to me on his own, but I'll turn and walk away rather than take that risk. I'm getting better with that, though, and I don't think that challenge is any different for any other woman.
For the most part, I haven't found guys to be afraid of HIV. For example, I was dating this guy I really didn't like so much, but it got to the point where we were going to get closer. So I told him, and he was like, "And?" I thought that would be my out, but it wasn't!
But I'm learning that I have choices, too. Most guys don't know a lot about HIV and I find myself educating them, and that irritates me. I tell them, "Go get a test, ask them all the questions you want to ask, and then get back to me." Most of them are not really afraid of getting HIV. They say, "All we gotta do is use a condom, right?" But they don't seem to get it that there is a person beyond that condom.
Some of my girlfriends have other stories. I think it depends on how you approach it. You have to learn how to read people -- you have to take care of yourself. There are times when you can let it roll off your back like sweat, but you have to think about your own attitude and how you're coming off to other people.
Do you have a policy about if or when you tell a sex partner that you are positive?
I tend to tell a partner up front, "Take it or leave it."
Do you feel that if you practice safe sex, it is necessary to tell a sex partner that you are positive?
Yes. Nothing is a hundred percent except abstinence.
What books, movies, music or TV shows have had a big influence on you?
My favorite movie is probably Crooklyn with Alfre Woodard. It reminds me of my own life growing up. I listen to gospel, R&B, and the blues -- I'm old school. The book that's had the biggest impact on me is the Bible, which of course has many authors.
What's the greatest adventure you've ever had?
Flying in a helicopter.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
To find true peace for the world.
Anything else you'd like The Body's readers to know about you?
I try and live so that my outside matches my inside. I'm honest to a fault. I am who I say I am.
Click here to e-mail Regina Brandon.