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This Positive Life: An Interview With Wanda Hernandez

March 1, 2011

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"I love educating people and I think that we need more people who are outspoken to speak about the issue."

So let's talk about disclosure. You disclosed to your mother and she was supportive. Same with your sister. What has it been like to disclose to other people outside of your family?

Sometimes, I just like to sit back and just listen. Sometimes I just can be on a bus or a train and just hear people talking about the subject. I find that is my chance to educate people. Being an open-HIV positive activist in New York City, I take it upon myself to try to challenge that person, find out what they know about the subject, and try to educate them. See if they are willing to be educated, because not everyone is interested in the subject, not until it hits home. But I love educating people and I think that we need more people who are outspoken to speak about the issue.

What are some of the biggest myths that you come across when people talk about HIV? Like "Oh someone spits on me, I might have HIV..."

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It's interesting that you asked that. I am going to give a small scenario. One day up in Albany, we had a crew of people lobbying. And this one young kid in the crowd asked one of my colleagues for a cigarette. My colleague says, "I don't have another cigarette." He asks, "Can I have some of the one that you are smoking?" And my friend says, "Sure." After the kid takes two puffs of the cigarette, he decides to tell the guy, "It's not like you have AIDS or anything like that right?" And my friend says to him, "Actually I do have AIDS."

So the kid kind of...puts the cigarette out and it gave us a chance to educate him. And he was willing to listen, which was powerful for us because he was willing to listen. We told him that you don't get it from this, and "How much do you know?" and he told us that he wanted to stay in contact with us to learn more.

How frustrating it is for you that we are 30 years into the epidemic and people don't know things as simple as transmission?

It's very devastating because in this day and age, women can actually give birth and not transmit the virus to the child. People need to know the difference between HIV and AIDS, which is very important. I like to describe it to a lot of people as another type of cancer. Although it's transmittable, but you are looking for a partner and you have to get an understanding of what it is. You have to share with your partner and give that person a choice. Which is the way I am, but of course everyone's character is different. But my personal character, I put things out on the table. That is part of my personality in order to feel comfortable with living with virus.

So you are saying that when you date, that you let people know from the beginning that you are positive?

Maybe...

And not like from the first meeting you are like, "Hi I'm Wanda, and I'm positive." But how do you get to a point where you disclose...

"It's very important for me to put my cards on the table. It's a choice that you have to give someone."

It depends on the attraction first of all for me. And I feel that if that person, we are all adults, wants to take it to the next level. It's very important for me to put my cards on the table. It's a choice that you have to give someone. I know that you can go ahead and have sex with someone as long as you use protection, but for me, it's not how it works, unless I give that person a choice. Why? Because protection is never 100 percent. For me, no I just don't meet someone and say, "Hi, I'm Wanda and I am HIV positive." Like I said before, it depends on what the situation is and what the conversation before. It's important for me to put it out there and it's important for more people to take that same route.

Then you will know how that person is really there for you, or not.

How has your dating life been since you tested positive?

Wow. Uh...

It's been like 16 years?

It's been 16 years. I've had my chance at dating. I've had my fair share. I did have this one individual who was actually negative who was always there for me one way or another, but not in the way I wanted it to be. Because he was more secluded about the situation, meaning that in the beginning it was a normal relationship, like dating and coming to pick me up and take me there, go out.

But I think that after a while a person grows out of a relationship -- whether you are an HIV-positive person or not -- it can be just a regular relationship, it happens. But even that this person and I dated for the first three years on a steady basis, after a while he wanted to date other people. You know the game thing, I took it OK, but he still decided to come by and come and hang out.

And so I could say that I was with this person for 15 years. I actually was the one to cut it off; I was tired of the routine of, you know, wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

Dating and having sexual partners, I don't really have a problem with. It's just more, I guess, keeping someone who is worth keeping and being really understanding of your daily life and things to that extent.

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