Speaking Out About HIV in Transgender Communities
An Interview With Dee Borrego -- Part of the Series This Positive Life
April 1, 2011
That's interesting. What do you think is the barrier that keeps other transgender folks living with HIV from standing up and being sort of open on a national stage, or a world stage, as you've said? What are the factors that hold more people back?
I think there are a lot of different factors that really hold transgender people back from being open about their status, either as a trans person, or as an HIV-positive person, if they are HIV positive. It's hard to say what the biggest one is, but I think fear is a huge motivator. Violence against the transgender community is, unfortunately, despicably high, as evidenced by the Transgender Day of Remembrance held every year in major cities across the world, and in towns and universities, as well.
You know, violence against trans people is so high, I think fear of violence is a huge motivator. Many trans people are forced to the edges of society, both in this country and in other countries, being forced into prostitution, into drug work, into other forms of illegal ways to support themselves, because they cannot survive in mainstream society. People don't want to accept them because the way they look, or the way they act, or the way they dress, or just for being different, basically.
So I think it's really a big barrier. Many of the girls I know, speaking of the transgender women, and many transgender men I know, as well, too, they find that living within the confines of regular society can be really challenging. You know, there's discrimination. People will laugh. People will make fun of you. People will threaten violence. Employers don't have, in many places, do not have any legal requirements to maintain your employment if they know that you are transgender.
HIV, of course, is protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act. So they cannot fire you for being HIV positive, but it's certainly not uncommon, in more rural areas, or even in some urban areas, that people will not be offered a job if it's known they're HIV positive. You know, they'll find some reason.
I've personally had that happen where there were a number of jobs I applied for that I was at least decently qualified for that I was not offered. Maybe it's because I'm transgender. Maybe it's because I'm HIV positive. I can't prove anything. But certainly discrimination is a huge factor in the trans community and in the HIV community.
So I think those two intertwine and meet with poverty, because so many trans people can't get regular work, and because they're forced into things like prostitution and drugs. Poverty becomes another large factor here. They're so intertwined together, all of them, that I think it just makes it nearly impossible for a lot of trans women, and a lot of HIV-positive women, to really be open in public.
There's a lot of shame in this society, in this culture, around being a woman, in general. Being a trans woman, specifically, is quite shaming in this society. And being an HIV-positive woman is equally shaming, if not more so, as well. So I think there's a lot of societal pressure which factors into why there aren't very many women like myself who are willing to stand up and be so vocal in public about their identity, and their history, and their truth.
Did you come out young?
I came out fairly young. I think I came out, at the time when I was growing up, I identified as a man. And so around puberty, I identified as a gay man. So I came out to my parents as a gay man when, I think, I was 14 or 15. So, pretty young. And then I came out to my parents as a transgender woman when I turned 21.
The great story in my family is, I remember, I told my mom while we were driving in the car that I was gay. And she said, "I would have been more surprised if you told me you were straight." And imagine her shock, six years later.
"I came out to them as being transgender, I came out to them as being HIV positive, and I came out to them about having had a drug problem, all on the same day. It was a very intense day, and it was a very intense emotional period."
Indeed. I mean, when you've already come out to her once; you've already told her that you were gay.
Yeah. It was kind of fun to do it twice.
Right. No kidding. And also, you said that you told her that you were positive at the same time that you told her that you were trans. Wow.
I did. I hit my parents with the one-two-three punch. Also, I came out to them as being transgender, I came out to them as being HIV positive, and I came out to them about having had a drug problem, all on the same day. It was a very intense day, and it was a very intense emotional period.
I remember I was sitting on the couch and they both came -- well, no. I'm sorry. It was a very intense, emotional day. And I was sitting on the couch, and my dad came over and sat down with me. My mom was actually out of town the day I found out. And I told him everything I had to tell him, and I just started crying. I was really upset. Then he started crying, and he was really upset. And it was really hard.
He called my mom on the phone and he told her for me, because I was too upset to keep going. She was actually out of town, in Las Vegas, for my aunt's birthday. So she came back, like, the next day or the day after.
It was a really hard time. They were very upset. I was very upset. We cried a lot. You know, we tried to figure out what to do. We screamed. We yelled. It was typically family stuff, I suppose.
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