Speaking Out About HIV in Transgender Communities
An Interview With Dee Borrego -- Part of the Series This Positive Life
April 1, 2011
When did you feel, or when did it appear -- I know that you can't know exactly what was going on in their heads, you know, as parents -- but when did you feel that they started to sort of come to terms with this sort of one-two-three punch? Your positive status, and the fact that you had a drug problem, and that you were a trans, when did they integrate that, basically?
I think they integrated all of the things fairly quickly, especially by outside standards. And, for the amount of shock that they had undergone, I think they came about, they came around, fairly quickly. They actually were really not concerned about the drugs. They were really concerned but quickly came to realize that I was doing what I needed to do with my therapist, and with the proper psychiatric support around my drug issues. So that was actually fairly easy for them to get their heads around.
It was actually, the biggest thing they were scared about was because they knew how dangerous it was. So they were very concerned about it, but at the same time they realized that I was doing what I needed to do to help myself get better.
The HIV, it took them some time. It took them some time. That probably took a couple months, maybe about a year before they were OK-ish with it. You know, it took them a while to get educated on what it meant, just like it took me a while to get educated on what the labs mean, and what's good, what's bad, how to live with it and what it would mean for me in my life.
The trans issue took a lot longer. And that's still something that's ongoing. It's been a long process. It took them a long while. It took them probably about two to three years before they started using the correct name. They still don't use the correct pronoun very often. They do sometimes, but not very often. And they still occasionally use the wrong name. But they do; they're trying. And I know that they've gone to therapy. I think they've gone to PFLAG meetings (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays meetings) to meet other trans people's parents, and to meet other trans people, and learn what it means to have a transgender child.
I think that has actually been the hardest thing on them, just because I think they can learn to live with the HIV, and they can learn to deal with that I had a drug problem in the past. But, you know, I think it's taken them a long time to realize I'm still the same person I always was. I just have a slightly different outside now that is more matching with the way the inside always has been. So it's taking them time. But they're resilient. I'm sure they'll come along. I'm sure.
"I think it's taken them a long time to realize I'm still the same person I always was. I just have a slightly different outside now that is more matching with the way the inside always has been. But they're resilient. I'm sure they'll come along."
Well put. So, now, switching gears a little bit to your health, specifically, what's your health been like since your diagnosis? Has everything been OK? Have you started taking meds? How's that area?
Well, as for my health, my health's actually been really, really good. I don't take HIV medication because my numbers have been really, really strong for the last six years, because I've been positive for six years, now.
When I was first diagnosed, my T cells were right around 600-650. And the viral load was very high. But within a month, two months, the T cells had gone up to around 800 or 900, and the viral load had dropped down under 10,000. And within six months, the viral load was under 1,000, and the CD4 count was over 1,000. So my numbers have actually maintained at about that level since then.
Certainly, there are fluctuations. But I'm one of the very fortunate people in that my body reacts to the HIV virus really well. I do have some side effects from it, of course. I have nausea a lot, and GI issues, and depression, which I had had before. But I certainly think having HIV can exacerbate it, to some point. So, thankfully, my health has actually been really good.
Indeed. Do you see an HIV specialist for your health care? Or do you just see a primary care doc?
I see a primary care. OK, sorry. So for my HIV care, I actually see a primary care doctor, who is here in Boston, who specialized specifically in youth, HIV and in transgender people. So he functions both as my endocrinologist, my HIV doctor and my general PCP doctor. So he's kind of an all-in-one-stop shop, which is really nice. I actually am very, very fortunate to have a doctor who is so knowledgeable and who can accommodate basically almost all of my needs as a doctor.
A lot of my friends, however, do have multiple doctors, like a specific regular doctor and a specific HIV doctor. And many of my trans girlfriends also have a specific endocrinologist or hormone doctor, to help them with hormones. But I'm fortunate. I only have one.
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