This Positive Life: An Interview With HIV Prevention Activist Jose Ramirez
August 11, 2010
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What's your health been like since your diagnosis? Have you ever been sick with anything HIV-related?
Just the common things -- when I get a cold or something like that, it just takes a while to go away.
I'm not the healthiest person. I try to eat right. I try to exercise. I know I need to be more healthy. Sometimes I worry so much about the community, and even my friends, that I don't worry about myself. I know that's a change I need to make. Eventually I'm going to make it, but I see everything that goes on and I'm like, "There's nobody out there doing the work. There's nobody out there talking to the community about this." I can take that sacrifice. I don't care, because my community is very important to me. These young people that I work with are very important to me. I don't want them to go through what I went through.
It seems like you are aware that folks who do a lot of work for other people oftentimes don't take care of themselves very well. It's like the activist syndrome: People are really focused on the community and not on taking care of themselves. Do you have anything that you do regularly that's just about taking care of yourself?
Yes -- I walk to work and I walk home from work. That's my time. It's an hour of time for me to just think about everything, to de-stress, to let things go and then just be fine. That, and I go dancing. I like to dance.
Those are some things I do. I don't really do much, but walking and dancing, those are the things that help me the most.
They're good exercise too. They help you distress and are good for your body.
Oh yeah. Big time.
Are you on HIV meds now?
No, I'm not.
Have you ever been?
That's really good. Do you know what your CD4 count and viral load are now?
My CD4 count is 536, and I don't know what my viral load is. It's in the thousands.
Do you have a good relationship with your doctor? Do you have the same doctor all the time or do you see different doctors? How does that work?
Yeah, my doctor's cool. I feel like medical providers are sometimes really boring. I like the one I have now, but I haven't found one that's so cool for me. Medical providers, I feel, can be so professional, and they forget when you are not: They speak very educated, they've been to, like, five different schools and they forget about where they came from. Sometimes I have been to medical providers who just throw all this language at me, and I'm like, "Excuse me. I don't know what the hell you just said. Can we take it back?"
Even at La Clínica, the doctors are like that?
No, here at La Clínica they're pretty good. Medical providers, they're doctors, so they act like doctors. Sometimes I feel like doctors should act like who they are and also like doctors. If you're a funny doctor, be a funny doctor. If you're a doctor who knows a lot about sex, then talk to your patients about sex. If you're a doctor who likes to crack jokes, stop being so serious! Be more loose, that's what I would say.
Can you compare how you feel about having HIV now to the feelings that you had when you very first learned that you were HIV positive?
I'm happier now about being positive. I'm more comfortable about being positive. Before, I was just more worried, and I didn't know what my future was going to be like. But I've lived almost 10 years with the virus, and I think I can go another 20 or 30. Of course I do get afraid, because after living so long with the virus, something's going to come up. I might get sick. Those are my worries. But if I've survived this long, I could survive longer.
I'm more comfortable about telling people I'm positive. Even though I did it before, it was still kind of hard. Now it just comes out. Before I was like, "I've got to tell you something. [Groans.]" But now, when I meet guys, it's just like, "Look, before this goes on, you need to know I'm positive because either you're going to hear it from someone in the community or it's going to get to you some other way, because I'm so open about it."
How do you think having HIV has changed you?
I don't know. People ask me that a lot. It's changed me because I want to get the word out more and educate people. It just makes me stronger, I think.
What advice would you give to someone who just found out that they're positive?
That's funny, because I just gave a positive result last week. I give them all the time. My advice is, do not let it beat you. The worry, the scariness, don't let that affect you. The person that you were when you first went in and found out you were positive, you need to still be that person when you leave, except you just have something that you have to deal with.
People change a lot and I'm like, don't change. Be who you were. Don't change your outlook on life. Don't change the dreams that you have. The only thing that changes is that you have a virus. I say, "You have a friend with you now, and you have to deal with it."
I tell people, just don't stress out about it. Try not to look at the negative things. Look at the positive things. And I know that's hard at first, but you really have to be strong and you can't let HIV beat you. Because if you let it beat you, it won and you lost.
Another thing I tell people that I think others are scared to tell people is: You knew what was up. You knew when you were having unprotected sex. A lot of people know about HIV/AIDS. Everybody knows that you need to use a condom. The messages are out there. Why are you crying now? You knew there were risks when you have unprotected sex. Now you have to deal with the consequences. So be strong about it and own it. You have to own it. Take your time to be sad, but just let it be a short time and not all your life. It shouldn't be like that. It should be like, "OK, I need to be strong and I need to move forward."
That seems like the perfect place to stop. Jose, thank you so much for talking to me today. Thank you so much for your amazing work, and good luck with it.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
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