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This Positive Life: Mondo Guerra of Project Runway Talks About Living With HIV and the Power of Disclosure

October 19, 2010

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When Mondo Guerra was chosen to be on the hit reality show Project Runway, his main goal was to live out his dream of being a successful fashion designer, not be a poster boy for HIV. But one emotional challenge compelled him to disclose on air that he had been living with HIV for the past 10 years. In this exclusive interview with TheBody.com, Mondo talks about living with HIV for a decade, overcoming fear and stigma, and the disclosure that was seen around the world.

Mondo Guerra

Mondo Guerra

About Mondo
Home: Denver, Colo.
Diagnosed: 2001

(Credit: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime)

Can you describe the moment when you tested positive?

Yes, I was living in New York City and I was in a relationship. I went to a private doctor -- this was in 2001. I don't think there was a rapid test back then. So I left and I waited about five days. I was called back into the office and there was no way around it. The doctor just flat out told me that I was positive.

I got into a cab and I think I was probably really emotionally shut down. I wasn't really feeling anything, but when I got home, I called my mentor. She was the first one I called.

I just really spent some time alone for a couple of days, trying to digest and process what I had learned about myself and about my health. Just reflecting on the past and projecting the future.

How old were you when you tested positive?

I was 22.

So you were 22. That's very young. How long had you lived in New York City at that point?

I had lived there for about two years.

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And so what did you think?

The funny thing is that I didn't know what to think because I was very uneducated about the whole disease. I did not want to do anything really -- I was just kind of ignorant to the whole thing. I guess I could say that I was in a bit of denial.

How long did it take for you to not be in denial anymore and to kind of be just like, "Wow, I have HIV"?

You know, it's been 10 years and I completely don't know. I know that after the denial, I had to really change my mind about how I was going to wake up every day. I really accepted it as: This is my situation and I have to move forward. I had to give myself a lot of pep talks to remind myself that I don't have any regrets and that I don't feel sorry for myself. So it was definitely a process. I don't think it ever changed. I don't think that you can ever be 100 percent [OK with this].

Who was your support system at that time? I know you said you had been dating someone. Had you disclosed to him and other friends?

Yes, my partner back then was the one who actually took me to the doctor's. So he knew from the very beginning. And [I also had disclosed] to a really small group of friends. For a long time, they have been my support system.

And how beneficial was it to have people to lean on during those first couple of years?

I just feel like maybe having people in my life that supported me and were willing to listen to me ... It doesn't have to be HIV, I think it could be about anything -- if you're going through any hardship in life, if you need people to trust, if you need people to open up to. Because if you try to do it all yourself, it can be very, very scary.

Did you go to any kind of support groups, any social services? I know you said you were in New York City. Did you at all go to Gay Men's Health Crisis or anything?

No, I never went to any support groups or anything like that. I was really just relying on my friends to kind of help me up.

How soon after your diagnosis did you start treatment? And was it something that you were scared to start?

No, I wasn't scared to start, but my doctors had told me that I was pretty healthy and that they wouldn't start meds right away. I didn't really start meds until probably four years after. And the thing is that I was very, very irresponsible about taking my meds. It was just really hard. That was definitely a real lifestyle change for me.

Adhering to the medication?

Yes. Taking it all the time. The problem was that it took a really long time for my doctor to find a plan that worked for me. Things that weren't -- I feel like sometimes it was hurting me more than helping me.

What were some of the side effects you had experienced?

It probably ran the gamut of everything. I had sleep issues, whether I was sleepy all the time or I couldn't sleep. I had crazy, like, mental -- I don't know -- I can't even describe it. Like, weirdness in my head about certain things. Physically, I would wake up and I'd just feel different. I just had never been on something so strong before and [I felt] that my body was probably in some way rejecting the medicine.

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This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.
 
See Also
Project Disclosure: Mondo Guerra Announces He Is HIV Positive
TheBody.com's Just Diagnosed Resource Center
Telling Others You're HIV Positive
More Personal Accounts of HIV Disclosure

Reader Comments:

Comment by: faith (washingtom) Mon., Dec. 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm EST
Iam so happy that you able to do this may God help you though your problem
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Comment by: Dave (NJ) Wed., Nov. 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm EST
Mondo loved, loved your blog! Good for you to have the courage to disclose. Your experience with this disease is, unfortunately, well known to those of us whom are also positive. Your blog was very refreshing. Good for you; wishing you well and much success. Love
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Comment by: Miriam Martin (Vancouver, BC) Tue., Nov. 2, 2010 at 1:33 pm EDT
Love love love Mondo! As an HIV educator (for Positive Women's Network http://www.pwn.bc.ca) and a Project Runway fan, I also cried my way through the "disclosure" episode. Mondo, I'm thrilled to hear that you felt supported by the producers and contestants. Thanks for this interview.
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Comment by: Imannol (FL) Tue., Oct. 26, 2010 at 7:08 pm EDT
I just tested positive 4 months ago, and I am 42. I do not think age makes a different in the inpact in your life when you get a desease. I passed though similar situation, but my doctor suggested that I start medication right away, I do not know if that was the right thing but I did it. I have been weak all my life, so I have to trust him. Even after being careful, it seems that I got infected through surgery, but it is hard to say, because the guy that I was dating early this year cheated on me, because there is no legal comitment about it to makes us more resposible in our actions. I do not want to get married, but I can see how important is to take legal resposibility in your behaivor now.
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Comment by: Marc C. (Los angeles, CA) Sat., Oct. 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm EDT
also being latino and being poz for 20 yrs..you really re-inspired to take a look again at myself..thank you Mondo! I wish you were in LA! your heart is your strength..
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Comment by: Neal (SW Michigan) Thu., Oct. 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm EDT
I have been watching Mondo grow in his confidence on this show and when he disclosed his status I wanted to give my encouragement and support in his HIV struggle. I have been poz since 2003 and can understand Mondo's feelings and concerns. Would love to get in contact with him and become good friends. This article will be good for all to read. Best wishes and luck to Mondo and his future successes.

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Comment by: blake (Nigeria) Thu., Oct. 21, 2010 at 6:04 am EDT
i became hiv positive last week. i havent told anyone.
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Comment by: CK (Botswana) Thu., Oct. 21, 2010 at 4:17 am EDT
Has your HIV status affected your career, if so how?
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Comment by: John B. (Austin, Texas) Wed., Oct. 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm EDT
I picked you on show #2 to get to fashion week even though you had a slow (ok abysmal) start, I 'saw' you and called you out so go kick some butt on that runway and THANK YOU for EVERYTHING! I hope one day to summon the courage to also not live with the wall of cowardice and find my inner Gods to lead me to freedom, grace, and love once again. Hope to see you there! *Big hugs* John
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Comment by: Alfred V. (Memphis, TN) Wed., Oct. 20, 2010 at 1:45 pm EDT
I am also HIV+ and I just want to say "Way to go Mondo!" :-)
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