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Coping With a Friend's Diagnosis -- and a Race-Blind Virus

By Terri Wilder

April 9, 2008

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
March 10th was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Out of curiosity, I went to the awareness day website to see what events were going on -- what posters they had available, fact sheets, etc. I was shocked! The poster actually had a white female on it, but ... there were no fact sheets on white women and HIV.

Before you accuse me of being something that I am not, hear me out. I am sick of seeing posters that associate this disease with one race. Are we not all at risk for this disease? Why do the majority of HIV prevention posters, videos, etc. only target one race?

Yes, I know what the statistics say, and that we should target our messages to specific communities so that we are being culturally sensitive. However, no one ever targets my community (read: white, straight, female). Personally, I think we are doing a disservice to everyone by constructing posters that represent/target one race. Creating posters that represent EVERYONE seems to be the most logical way to get the message out that EVERYONE is at risk for HIV regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I mean ... isn't that what we tell people? It is not who you are, it is what you do. Everyone is at risk for HIV, you can't tell who is "sick" by looking at them, etc., etc.

I am sorry if I am coming across as angry, but I am pissed off. One of my girlfriends just tested HIV positive and I am beyond furious. Perhaps one of the reasons she got infected is structural (i.e., no system in place for her to receive the message, no programs set up targeting her, etc.). Maybe she got infected because she has never seen a poster with her face on it and never internalized her risk. Maybe she got infected because in her 39+ years of living NO ONE has ever offered her an HIV test, thus no one has ever talked with her about HIV risk and sexual/drug-using behavior. Perhaps it is because no one has ever explained to her that lambskin condoms do not protect her from HIV ... or because no one has ever talked to her about how heterosexual white women are at risk.

Can you believe it?? The other day she actually told me that she had NO idea that lambskin condoms were ineffective against HIV. And, of course, she and one of her ex-boyfriends used lambskin condoms when they had sex because they thought they were being "safe."

I could not believe it when she contacted me. We have not talked in several years and it was a nice surprise to hear from her. Little did I know that she was contacting me for no other reason than to tell me that she had tested HIV positive. All I can say is thank GOD for The Body website, for without it she would have never found me.

But there is more to the story. My friend doesn't just have HIV, she has AIDS. Her T-cell count is 55 and her viral load is 600,000. I have been beside myself for over a month. I cannot stop crying.

I know I have worked in HIV for 18 years, but this diagnosis has been particularly hard for me. Most of my friends with HIV came to me through volunteer work or employment at an HIV/AIDS organization. They already had HIV when I met them. This is the first time in my life that one of my friends tested HIV positive outside of my AIDS work world.

Twenty years ago, this girlfriend of mine and I would go out to the bars. She was a couple of years younger than me so we got her a "fake ID." I know. I know. ... Anyway, people were always drawn to her. She has such a great personality and a great laugh. She is absolutely gorgeous and I often found myself jealous of her. For whatever reason, we lost touch: She got married ... I went to graduate school ... she had children ... I had many failed relationships ... she got divorced ... and then I got this e-mail.

I cannot stop crying. Every time I think about this it breaks my heart. I can't get over it. After we initially talked, I begged her to get her children tested. Ironically, her ex-husband questioned this decision. I got pissed off at him for being so irresponsible as to question the validity of getting their children tested. I also got pissed off at him for delaying his own testing. Fortunately, the children are HIV negative and the husband says he is negative as well. Three out of four ex-boyfriends have been contacted and we are working on notifying the fourth.

She is on Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC] and Kaletra [lopinavir/ritonavir] and has seen about a million doctors in the last month. It will take about six months to figure out if her body is responding to this medicine. In the meantime, I send her every announcement for every HIV-related workshop I can find. I am sure I am driving her crazy! She told me that I am not but I don't believe her.

She is such a beautiful spirit and I can't imagine this world without her. All she ever wanted in her life was to be a mother. I want her to be there for her children. I want her to be there for, well, all of us.

Please dear God, let this medicine work ... Please dear God, let the scientist find a cure ... I just don't think I can take it!

To contact Terri, please e-mail twilder@thebody.com.

Stay tuned for monthly additions to this blog!

See Also
Terri Wilder Blog Entry #3: Remembering a Great HIV Advocate
Terri Wilder Blog Entry #2: How We Talk About HIV
Terri Wilder Blog Entry #1: An HIV Fighter Tells Her Personal Story
Working in the Frontlines of the HIV Pandemic Since 1989

 

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Working in the Frontlines of the HIV Pandemic Since 1989


Terri Wilder is a social worker who has worked in HIV for nearly two decades. She has written numerous articles about HIV, and has presented at HIV conferences around the United States. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in sociology at Georgia State University.


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Articles by Terri:

Are We Thinking About HIV and Older Adults?

Twenty-Seven Years of Women Living With HIV: Past, Present and Future (January 1, 2008)
To read PDF, click here

The Hidden Epidemic: White Women and HIV (September 2001)
From AIDS Survival Project

For the rest of Terri's articles, click here.


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The opinions expressed by TheBody.com's bloggers are entirely their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of TheBody.com itself.

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