This Positive Life: An Interview With Enrique Franco
November 11, 2009
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You mentioned your community. Have you come out to them in terms of being HIV positive?
Yes, I have. One of my friends from Texas forewarned me, saying, "It has to be the right time and you have to find the right moment to tell and everything."
My mentality is: I'm not going to have my being HIV positive be like a secret or anything. What if I went back home and I wanted to wait for the right time and something happened, like I'm playing basketball with my boys and I accidentally cut somebody's eye or something and all of a sudden it's going to spill out that way.
No, wrong answer. If I have to take the bumps and the bruises initially, I'd rather take it that way than in a situation.
When I came out, I just immediately came out and said it. There's no sidestepping with me. I'm pretty much brusque when it comes to telling something.
What about the guys that you used to play basketball with? What did you tell them?
It's funny because I don't try to get mad at them. Some of them are still doing the same things that they've been doing since high school. [Laughs.] Talk about not ever maturing. Still living with the familia. I bring that up if they want to start ragging on me about the gay thing -- it's not even about the HIV, it's the gay thing.
It's just weird to see people's reaction when you tell them. They don't see it because they can't see it, but I see it.
When I tell somebody -- one of my friends or somebody -- that I'm a homosexual or that I'm HIV positive or both, I can see that change in the look in the face. I transform from Chico to "this guy." But I'm still Chico. If they ever try to rag me about it, I just always mention, "Well, look where you're at. You ain't all that, you know."
We all have problems. There's a warm blanket of denial in the Latino community over there. I was reading on another site that the percentage of HIV [in the Latino community] is growing. It's not even stabilizing or dropping. It's actually increasing among Latinos because they're in denial. They don't want to talk about it, don't want to know about it. It's on the other side of the fence. It doesn't exist.
Yeah, homie, it does. It does. But I was that kind of person. I was one of them. I was like my homeboys. I didn't care about HIV. I hardly knew about HIV. I just knew you got sick and died. What about them? I don't care about them. But now that I'm a part of it, it's very different on the other side.
I'm still the same person. I just understand where they're coming from because I used to think like them.
You feel they treat you a little differently now?
Right. It's like transforming into Frankenstein or something. [Laughs.] I can see the expression on the face. Even my doctor -- my infectious diseases doctor -- when I first met him, he knew I was positive already, but when I say it or talk about it, I can see the transformation in the expression.
This is more the gay aspect rather than the HIV?
As far as the homosexual thing, I can't break through with them. I'm not going to force it. I'm not going to go out and say every time I go see them, "Hey, remember I'm gay."
I'm just going to live and demonstrate through my actions that not all gay guys try to hit on guys, or think about sex all the time, or talk about girly stuff. If I can demonstrate that through my actions to my friends, then they will think obviously it's just Chico.
You said you saw their expression change. Did they say anything? Was there any verbal reaction?
No. It was just a look or, with my friend Paolo, it was just a look and a shrug of the shoulders. Then we don't talk about it anymore.
They don't seem to be able to talk about it directly.
Right. It's a blanket of denial. I honestly believe that. It's a blanket of denial until one of them gets infected, and then it's "Oh, look at what I got." I think with the Latino community -- from what I've seen of my friends and what I've seen of my family -- I think that they have to be hit very aggressively because -- I'm not talking violently -- very aggressively as far as more rallies and more awareness, programs, and more vocalizing within the community in order to get the message or point across, because it's just going to keep going up.
Looking back, are you glad that you broke the silence with them?
I am. I remember when I wrote that story. I'm the firstborn in my father's family, so I had to take a lot of beatings for it, regardless of whether it's a real bad one or just a little slip. Since I'm the firstborn I have to be able to suck it up and just take the hit.
If I do it the right way -- if I do it through my actions -- I'm sure that my brother and my family members, all of them are looking at me like, "How is Chico handling it? How is Chico dealing with it?"
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to be the one who takes the brunt of it, but I'm willing to do that. They can learn through what I do.
It's a cliché, but it's true: Actions speak louder than words. I'm not going to say anything. I'm just going to try to live my life as best as I can the same way before I was positive or before I came out. They'll see that nothing's really changed. It's not that big of a deal.
You're a trailblazer, really. You're opening the way for other people.
Yes, I like that. A trailblazer.
That's wonderful, Enrique. This is what we wanted to hear more about, because I think this is a very important thing that you've brought up. That in the community there is a lot of denial and inability to cope with the issue, homosexuality being one, but also HIV. This has a lot of repercussions in terms of people's health and people's well-being.
Yes. I'm very grateful to God that I'm a male Latino HIV-positive homosexual now, in this generation. If it happened in the 1940s or 1970s -- I'm pretty sure they had it pretty bad too -- but you had your trailblazers in those days too that changed things. It's just a learning process.
I see it like the Soviet Union and the United States. They train their people this way and don't look on the other side of the fence, as if they don't exist. It's not true. When you go to the other side, you see how the life is and everything, and you want to desperately come back and say, "Hey, look at this. It's not that bad. Look at this. Look at this." I want to do it the same way with this. It's just a big blanket of denial. It's going to take a long time, but we're Latinos and we can overcome it. I don't really doubt that.
Anything else you'd like to add about your story, about how you're coping with living with HIV?
I just wanted to let the young ones, the ones that are lost, or the ones that are scared, know not to be scared. If they just got diagnosed -- I don't care how old they are, 18 years old or 50 years old -- this is a scary thing, but I don't want anybody to feel scared or anything like that. I'm not a doctor, but the best diagnosis for me -- and I really think it is for anybody -- is not to put your head down. If you put your head down, you're not going to win.
In order for you to combat HIV successfully, you've got to say, "You know what? This is my body, this is my life. I'm not going to stop living. I refuse to put my head down."
I think if I could generate that message to everybody who just gets diagnosed with HIV, if they have that little inkling of hope in their mind and in their heart and they let the seed take, it'll grow into this big tree that HIV will not be able to cut down at all.
I really get offended when I hear somebody moping about, "It's sad, and I want to feel sorry for myself." You don't have time for that. You really don't. You've got to just keep pushing forward. It's okay to be scared, just don't hang your head.
This is wonderful, Enrique. I think we've covered all the topics. I want to thank you for your time and your honesty in talking about living with HIV. I think this is going to be very powerful and very useful for other people who may be dealing with the same issue.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
To connect with Enrique, click here.
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