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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

HIV Is My Reality

By Robert Breining

March 10, 2010

Something you may not know about me is that I am a reality show junkie. I watch all kinds of shows, from Survivor and Hell's Kitchen to Solitary. I find watching everyday people put into stressful situations makes for great television.

I think the first show I was hooked on was MTV's Real World. Real World was one of the first reality shows. Total strangers agree to live in a house in a specific city all while being filmed. They of course find people from all different walks of life and with different views. It is pure genius. The San Francisco season was the one season that hit home with me. When I first saw Pedro Zamora, I felt an instant connection. He was the first person on television that I could relate to as a gay male. He was open and honest about who he was from the beginning. I remember seeing him and having an overwhelming desire for his bravery. I was just a freshman in high school when the show premiered in June of 1994. I had been wanting to "come out of the closet" so to speak for a long time, but I was still young and wasn't ready. Pedro opened my eyes and made me realize that who I am is who I am and I needed to accept it in order to move forward and live a productive life.

Pedro was also HIV positive and broke barriers against HIV/AIDS stigma by talking about it openly and honestly on national television. He put a face to the disease, which in return made it more relatable to those watching. If you didn't know someone who was gay or HIV positive, you did now.

Pedro allowed me to accept who I was as a gay male and move forward with it. By the time I graduated high school, I was ready to come out and admit I was gay. So I did. Seeing his relationship and then marriage to Sean Sasser let me see that one day I could find true love as a gay man. I applaud them both for leading the way and opening the eyes of people across the globe. They are both heroes in my book.

Robert and Jack Mackenroth.

Robert and Jack Mackenroth.

In 2007, the next reality show that hit home for me was Project Runway. Project Runway takes 16 talented designers who try to make the cut to present their collections at Fashion Week. During season 4 the world was introduced to Jack Mackenroth [you can also read Jack's This Positive Life interview on]. I wanted to talk about what it was like for me to see Jack on television. When season 4 aired in November of 2007 I had been living with HIV for about 6 years already. It was about the same time I came to the conclusion I was going to start a blog and share my story about living with HIV/AIDS. I remember Jack coming on television and saying he was HIV positive. It instantly sent me right back to the day I first saw Pedro Zamora. But this time it was different -- I could also relate to his HIV status. I found Jack even more relatable since he was also an athlete like me. I remember saying to myself: "Wow this guy is so brave and has the confidence I was looking to find within myself."

I took Jack's appearance on Project Runway as a sign for me to continue in the way of activism. It was only a month later that I launched the POZIAM Network and came out as a person living with HIV/AIDS publicly. I remember when the season was over I decided to reach out to Jack through his website. I wanted to ask about placing a link to my network on his website. I thought it was a shot in the dark. I was surprised when Jack personally wrote me back and said yes he would add a link. I remember being so excited and jumping up and down with joy that I just got an email from Mr. Jack Mackenroth.

In February of 2009 I invited Jack to be a guest on POZIAM Radio. He accepted (you can listen to the interview). In April of 2009 Jack saw I was looking for a second co-host and asked if he could help. I of course said yes and the rest is history.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack for the first time this past October. He was in Philadelphia speaking for the Philly AIDS Walk on behalf of his Living Positive by Design campaign. I am blessed today to call Jack a friend and fellow warrior in this fight.

Robert and Ongina.

Robert and Ongina.

Then later in 2009 came Logo's RuPaul's Drag Race and the introduction of Ongina. RuPaul's Drag Race is a competition that pits drag queen against drag queen. At times they have to lip sync for their lives in order to be crowned the next Drag Superstar. I myself have never done drag before. I find the transformation of a man into a woman fascinating. I knew when I first heard about this show I would be a fan.

I remember watching Ongina during the MAC Viva Glam challenge. Her slogan was "Life is a celebration". Then at the end of that episode when they announced Ongina won the challenge, she was overwhelmed with emotion. You see, the MAC Viva Glam campaign donates proceeds to help people living with HIV/AIDS. Unknowing to the viewing audience, Ongina then did something she have never imagined she would. Ongina then announced to the world she had been living with HIV for the past two years. This was unplanned and that was what made this so real to many who were watching.

I was so proud of Ongina for sharing her status, especially since her family was unaware of it. Ongina showed others that, as HIV-positive people, we can still live productive lives and accomplish our dreams. That day Ongina touched my heart and the heart of many others and has never stopped.

In April of 2009 after her departure from RuPaul's Drag Race, Ongina came on POZIAM Radio and shared her story.

In October of 2009 I was chosen to appear in one of Logo's "HIV+ME" episodes that featured Ongina. The "HIV+ME" episodes share personal stories of people living with HIV/AIDS. I was so honored to be chosen and was so excited to meet Ongina. That weekend in October I met both Ongina and Jack Mackenroth in person for the first time. It was a total dream come true!

After the filming and release of the "HIV+ME" episodes I invited Ongina back on my radio show to promote and discuss the project. Below is my "HIV+ME" Segment.

The point of this is blog post is to express how important it is for more HIV-positive people to be cast in reality shows. I myself have tried out a few times for a few different shows and got good reactions from producers, but never made the cut. HIV/AIDS is a reality and the individuals above are proof of that.

I have watched many movies with individuals who were HIV positive or were living with AIDS, but by the end of the movie the individual dies. People still have the movie Philadelphia in their heads when they think of people with HIV/AIDS. People are living longer with HIV/AIDS in 2010 and there needs to be a show or movie that will showcase that to the world. I am working on creating a show to do just that.

In hopes of inspiring,


Send Robert an e-mail.

See Also
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Andre' (St. Louis, MO.) Thu., Apr. 15, 2010 at 12:28 am UTC
Firstly, I do want to say that I DID watch your "HIV+ME" segment, and enjoyed listening to you express your life story while having this condition. I do believe that there needs to be more HIV infected people in media, but they need to be displayed in good character. I know that the casting process for reality shows can be rigorous, hence why there isn't many people with HIV in these shows. I too am working on a mini-series on the lives (struggles and all) of men who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. I commend you in all you do and all that you have done, and encourage you to continue following you passions and remaining a voice for this disease. Who knows, you're voice may be added to many to find a cure!
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Comment by: roseFROMnowhere (manila,ph) Sun., Mar. 28, 2010 at 7:23 am UTC
i salute you and it is true that HIV is not a hindrance of our dreams.I wish that one day,i may be able to tell other people around me bout this situation and make them realize that we are still part of this world
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Comment by: michael (portcharlotte, fla) Mon., Mar. 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm UTC
I just recently been diagnosed and reading this gives me some hope but i still dont want to belive that i got it i"ve also got hep c becuse i was a junkie to ive got 2 months clean and sober thanks
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Comment by: DFS (Canada) Wed., Mar. 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm UTC
Good for you... Robert I so admire your courage, and I am much the same but after 25+ years with this virus and so many other issues in life, I am finding it hard to cope, more so now than ever. Anyhow what you do is great... keep it up. XO D.
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Comment by: Kirk (Dallas, TX) Fri., Mar. 12, 2010 at 10:33 am UTC
Robert, you already inspired many and you will continue to do so. You have a drive and a passion to get the message of "thriving with HIV' and the death to stigma surrounding HIV and Aids.Thank you for your courage and appeal. I want to let my message out more. Listening to you, I think it will happen sooner than I thought.
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Comment by: Robert Breining (Levittown , PA) Fri., Mar. 12, 2010 at 9:46 am UTC
This is why I will try out for Big Brother again this season ... Keeping my fingers crossed. Thank you all for your nice comments.
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Comment by: pozperson (MN) Fri., Mar. 12, 2010 at 8:56 am UTC
I totally agree with you! We also need to see characters in other TV shows living with HIV - both gay and straight. How about Two and a Half Men for instance or Brothers and Sisters. The situations most often portrayed by Hollywood are on Law and Order depicting HIV+ people hurting others. Sex & The City had a great episode with Samantha getting tested. Turned out she wasn't positive but they showed the stress of that process. Then we need to see people with HIV and how they deal with relationships, etc. This is to help non-positive people realize it's still out there and it's a lot easier living life without HIV so prevent getting infected. Fight AIDS: spread the word not the disease! People will relate to real people and characters on shows. Thanks for bringing up the topic!
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Comment by: Jack Oxford (Cleveland, Ohio) Thu., Mar. 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm UTC
People like you are inspiring. To witness a man at such a young age provide a self-analysis and self-acceptance of great depth and power can do nothing if not uplift the rest of us. I am not surprised your presentation and presence is attracting others like Ongina and Jack to your mission. Please remember there are thousands of us who relish what you are doing and backing you to the hilt.
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Comment by: Jeffrey Jenne (Philadelphia, PA) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 8:58 pm UTC
Yay Robert! Good job. We need to convince everyone to get tested, and you are a great role model. But most of all, thanks for being yourself. Peace, Jeff
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Comment by: Michael (Portland, OR) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm UTC
WOW!!! I feel this is so true I wish I had a chance to do more in a public avenue but west coast seems not as active ... Thanks for sharing I loved this :)
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Comment by: Michael (Augusta, ME) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm UTC
Reality shows.........okay I'll admit - Ru Paul's Drag Race, Project Runway, and America's Next Top Model. Can't get away from them.
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Comment by: Michael (Chattanooga, TN) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm UTC
You are a remarkable young man. The discussion of HIV needs an articulate young person who can speak to those of your generation, primarily, but also informs and inspires all ages.
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Comment by: Jack Mackenroth (New York) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 10:55 am UTC
Yeah!!! YOU ROCK!!! It's just as rewarding working with you!! Chat on Sunday!

OXO Jack Mackenroth

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Comment by: Demyan (Cape Town - South Africa) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 10:48 am UTC
Excellent post, Robert!! Well done for LIVING your destiny!
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The Positive Pitch

I describe myself as a "positive person with purpose." My goal is to help people living with HIV/AIDS discover similarities in each other ... and form friendships. I want to ease the shock of a diagnosis and remind people that our dreams are not infected. I am also an HIV/AIDS cyber-activist, radio show host, blogger and social network guru.

For my full bio, click here.

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