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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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So it took a while for your doctor to find the right combination for you?

Yes, it took quite a long time. In the last couple of years, I ended up in the hospital with complications from the HIV. That's how sick I got. I was in the hospital twice with pneumonia, two separate times, for a year-and-a-half period. [By that point] my numbers really, really dropped. That's when they really started giving me care.

The thing about it is that I'm an artist. I don't have a job where I get insurance, so it's really hard to find the best treatment. So I was relying on state-funded treatment and doctors and this and that. You know, I really appreciate and I'm grateful for all the help I received, but in a lot of ways, it was to the point where I was basically dying to really get a fire lit and find something that was going to work for me.


It's a really great point that you're bringing up. How can we keep people healthy longer without their numbers dropping? That has to take a passion from health care providers as well to be more on top of it and aggressive.

Right, exactly.

Which is sad, because it shouldn't take for people to be sick and sicker. When you were in the hospital, what were you thinking?

The first time I was in the hospital, I was still hiding the secret and living with it. I was scared. Then that turned into depression. And I think the reason why I ended up in the hospital a second time was because I was just in a really low place. Mentally and emotionally, I was at such a low point in my life that I allowed myself to be sick. That's exactly what happened. So I ended up again in the hospital. That was really bad. I think the last time I was in the hospital I was in the hospital over Christmas. So I was almost to the point of giving up. I didn't even want to try anymore.

To live? You didn't want to try to live anymore?

Yes, right, exactly.

Where did your family think you were over the break, over the holiday?

Mondo's challenge-winning design on the runway.

Mondo's challenge-winning design on the runway. (Credit: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime)

They visited me in the hospital, but I advised the doctors not to tell them. They would always consult with me without my parents around. And I would lie to [my parents], because I was ashamed and just scared. I was just at a low place. But, I feel like in some cases, you really have to hit rock bottom to make the turn around. And when I got out of the hospital, the last time, I knew that I was unhappy, that I was sick, and my health was quickly diminishing.

So I really made a conscious decision to turn it all around and to really focus on taking care of myself. From sleeping better, eating better, taking my meds on time every day and seeing my doctor all the time. Now was the time to figure everything out that was going on with my body. And I also knew that I had to start setting goals again.

Since I had been HIV positive, I broke up with my partner in New York and had not been in a relationship for over five to six years. And that was really hard for me, too. I wanted to be in love and I wanted to be successful again, working at a dream. So these were all things that I had to consciously work toward.

I realized that when I am being creative and producing work, is when I'm the most happy. So I knew I had to be at that point, but in order to be at that point, I also had to be physically in sync with everything else. And it took a while. It really did take a while, but it all happened.

You said that you hadn't dated. Do you mean that you just didn't put yourself back in the dating game, or that you didn't meet anybody you liked?

I tried to, but the stigma behind it, even in the gay community -- I felt like sometimes there's discrimination against guys that are positive.

There's AIDS phobia in the gay community.

Yes, the AIDS phobia. I would go on dates and I'd disclose my status, and I would never hear anything back from somebody that I thought was nice or could potentially be understanding. I ran into that enough that I just didn't want to put myself out there to be rejected again. So I just stopped.

It bothered me a lot to think that my own community was rejecting me or that I felt rejected by my own community. On [dating Web sites] guys would describe that they would want a "clean" guy. And I put that in quotations. And I'm like, I don't feel dirty. Yes I'm HIV positive, but I'm not dirty.

It is really dehumanizing. We're all supposed to be in this together, but there's no support. There's no support. And it's really sad. It's the AIDS phobia, the lack of education, even in a community where it's so rampant. It's actually quite sad and sometimes you just don't want to deal with it. So that's why I stopped pursuing a relationship.

So after you got out of the hospital and you said, "I'm going to turn this around," did you find love? Did you start dating again?

Yes, I did. I met a really nice guy and we started dating. I can tell you: Once I disclosed to him, he was very wary of the subject and he was looking to Wikipedia for statistics. I just think it's crap anyway [to use Wikipedia to learn about HIV/AIDS]. I kind of just sat down with him and he was willing to listen. I was like, "You need to actually talk to people that are living with it and probably talk to doctors that work with this disease and are possibly HIV positive as well." You can't rely on Wikipedia to educate yourself.

Of course not.

It's like, "Come on." And it took him a couple of days to really process it and adjust to it. He came around. He realized that maybe there are safe practices. I mean, we're still together, so that's a very good thing.

Wonderful. And how long have you guys been dating?

About eight months now.

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More From This Resource Center

Undetectable Viral Load and HIV Prevention: What Do Gay and Bi Men Need to Know?

Do HIV-Negative Gay Men Need Condoms if They're on PrEP? Here's What I Tell My Patients

This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.
See Also
Project Disclosure: Mondo Guerra Announces He Is HIV Positive'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 UTC
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 UTC
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
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Miriam Martin (Vancouver, BC) Tue., Nov. 2, 2010 at 1:33 pm UTC
Love love love Mondo! As an HIV educator (for Positive Women's Network 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 UTC
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 UTC
also being latino and being poz for 20 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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
I am also HIV+ and I just want to say "Way to go Mondo!" :-)
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