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This Positive Life: An Interview With James Bender

December 3, 2010

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What were people's responses? Were most of the people receptive to what you were saying?

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Some of them were shocked. Some shunned away. Some didn't want to hear it.. But some of the congregations I went to, it had already affected their congregation. Some churches invited me, instead of me having to go and find them.

How has HIV affected your romantic relationships with women?

Well, I think even after I tell them, a lot of them still want me. But I kind of shun away from them now. Because I don't want to cause anyone else to go through what I had to go through, even though there's protection. But I don't trust protection like I did in the early years. Some women could be allergic to the latex, or the reaction that it can cause, or the chances that it may tear or break.

But you are dating? Aren't you? You're engaged.

Right. I'm engaged.

What did she say when you told her that you were positive?

She was very open to it. And she said, "Well, I don't know that much about it, but you can teach me and I'm willing to learn. I don't care about you being positive." And that meant a lot to hear that from her. In the past, a lot of women have told me the same thing and didn't really mean it. They were only out for what they could get.

"Over the eight years that [my fiance and I] have been together, she has proven that she's there for me. I think that's what helped me -- to get some of the stress off of me and made me feel loved. So that helped a lot."

Over the eight years that we have been together, she has proven that she's there for me. I think that's what helped me -- to get some of the stress off of me and made me feel loved. So that helped a lot.

Did you feel unloved for a little while?

Oh, yeah; probably for about 15 years. I could tell they didn't want me around by their actions, even though they didn't say it. But you could tell by their body signs that they didn't want you there. And you could feel the hostility in the room.

And these were people you were dating or just people in general?

These were people who were supposed to have been my friends.

But you're not friends with them anymore, are you?

Oh, yeah. I didn't hold judgment against them, because I figured one day that they would understand. And now they are starting to come around. They have talked to me years later and said they just didn't know how to deal with it -- HIV was new back then. And remember we are living in a rural town in Mississippi. Like I said, I was the first one in my area to test positive for HIV. Of course, then that came up about three or four, a couple of months later. And then they kind of did open up a little bit.

People were afraid. People still are afraid.

Right.

Do you have any children?

Yes.

Tell me about your child.

I have a daughter who is also positive. We have a great relationship; we talk pretty regularly.

Did you know that you had a daughter before?

No. No. She was about 22 years old when I found out I had a daughter. And I had been positive 21 years. So that's how I . . .

You did the math.

Right, I did the math. But despite not knowing her all these years, she and I have a great relationship. Even though we're miles apart, we still have a great relationship.

Tell me the story behind that. Do you remember her mother?

No. Not at all.

And how did your daughter find out about you?

Through the Web, the Internet. It's a good thing.

And is her mother alive?

No.

She passed away.

She died of complications to AIDS.

When was that?

It had to be in the early '90s.

So a couple of years after you were diagnosed, she passed away, you think?

Yeah, somewhere in there, '91 or '92.

Why did she never tell you about your daughter?

"It makes me feel good to know that she's out there, doing the same kind of [AIDS] work. And we can have not only that bond, but we have a father-daughter bond."

I guess because she didn't know how to -- it was a one-night stand and I wasn't from her town. And like I said: I was a ladies' man. I guess you could say, being an ex-Navy guy. Women like men in uniforms. I don't think she knew she was probably infected herself, either.

So you think you contracted HIV from her?

Right.

And so your daughter contacted you. Were you absolutely shocked?

No, because of my lifestyle. Because, you know, I didn't know what I left in these different states or countries, because I was out there.

And so how has she dealt with her diagnosis?

She's done great and I'm proud of her. She works with other young people. And so it makes me feel good to know that she's out there, doing the same kind of work. And we can have not only that bond, but we have a father-daughter bond.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Monique (South Catolina) Tue., Aug. 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm EDT
I love this article. Congrats to the lady he is engaged to. May you continue to be blessed. When I saw that this was coming from a heterosexual man in the south, spoke volumes to me. I am a positive lady from the south and, you never hear of any heterosexual mem reported to be positive in my area. I have a wonderful HIV case manger and I tease her about finding me a date. She always say that she can find me one but I would have to share him with another man. (jokingly) so, in other words heterosexual men don't reveal there status in small towns.
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Comment by: apple Wed., Jan. 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm EST
you r a great person.
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Comment by: Dewayne (Oxford, MS) Mon., Dec. 13, 2010 at 4:15 pm EST
this story is humbuling, of course. I wish I could give him a big hug because i understand alot of these feeling myself. I also have HIV in a small town in Miss. and it is about being educated and taking a stand. You can have HIV or HIV will have you! In the very end you only have two choices, laugh or cry and in my fight I have choose to laugh and keep on going. I admire his passion for life to keep on going because things were much more difficult 20 years ago. Strange as it is I also have a Nurse Practictioner that came from the area that he is from and still to this day there is not alot of resources for people with HIV. Sadly, the CDC labels miss as and epidemic state and there is possibility for every 4 people that knows they have HIV 1 does not. Good luck and much love in the days to come.

Dewayne
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Comment by: Susan (london - England) Wed., Dec. 8, 2010 at 4:22 am EST
Hello James,
I wondered if you have had any communication with people who are trying to educate faith based organisations in the UK.
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Comment by: Pamela Bender (San Antonio, Texas) Tue., Dec. 7, 2010 at 7:47 pm EST
James Bender is my brother and I'm very proud of the work he has done and is doing to educate others about HIV/AIDS. Over the years I've seen James deal with complications brought about by the disease but I've never seen him give up on his continuing fight and passion for the cause. I'm proud to call James my brother and my friend, the love I have for him goes beyond a diagnosis. I pray God's continued blessings in his life so that he may continue to spread his knowledge and experiences with others as he has done over the years.
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Comment by: Mike Bryson (Indianapolis, IN) Mon., Dec. 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm EST
Brother James,

I'd just like to time this time to copmliment you on your courage, confidence and attitude about "Living" with HIV. I am not living with HIV myself, however I have worked in the HIV field since 1987. Now as the HIV Educator for the Ryan White Service Program I will use your story as support for the facts about living with HIV and as inspiration for those I work with everyday. I work with people newly diagnosed with HIV and those who have known their HIV status for years. A key part of my job is to get newly diagnosed into treatment and help others return to treatment or stay connected with care. I constantly strive to help others understand the importance of "medication adherence". If it is OK with you I will use your article in my HIV Education presentation that I conduct anywhere from the prisons I go into and the "Fathers Resource" programs (just to mention a few of the programs I conduct on-going sessions at)which target young African American males, age 16-28, who are now fathers and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. So many of them have children by one or more women and think nothing bad will ever happen to them. Again, James as an HIV Educator I appriciate your story and salute you as a human being and a very producty member of our society. Keep up the good work. Stay strong and most importantly stay on your medications.

Mike Bryson, MSW
HIV Educator & Risk Reduction Coordinator
Marion County Health Department
317-221-4620
lbryson@hhcorp.org
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Comment by: Joanie S. (Newport, Oregon) Mon., Dec. 6, 2010 at 2:42 pm EST
Excellent interview! I hear what James Bender is saying. I work as a nurse in Public Health and I see the stigma surrounding HIV. People are afraid. Teenagers especially, act like if they don't talk about it, it doesn't exist. It will never happen to me attitude. I try to educate the best I can and encourage testing and prevention. Thank you.
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