Speaking Out About HIV in Transgender Communities
An Interview With Dee Borrego -- Part of the Series This Positive Life
April 1, 2011
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Dee Borrego. At 21, Dee not only received an HIV diagnosis, but came out as a transgender woman, struggled with a drug addiction and survived a breakup with her boyfriend. Thankfully, with the help of support groups and friends, she was able to overcome it all. In this inspiring interview, Dee talks about living and surviving HIV as a transgender woman; her parents' journey of accepting her for who she is; and the importance of speaking out about HIV/AIDS.
This is Olivia Ford reporting for The Body. Welcome to This Positive Life. I'm here today with Dee Borrego, and we're going to be talking about living with HIV.
Thank you very much.
You're welcome. Can you just start by describing how you found out you were HIV positive?
I found out I was HIV positive in 2005. I had gone to a doctor's office after ending a relationship with someone I found out was positive. It's a complicated story, which I can get into. I found out that this person had been positive, and we weren't using protection, so it prompted me, about a month, a month and a half, after we broke up to go and get tested. So, in March of 2005, at my regular doctor, my family doctor, I went and got my test results. On March 4, I received a positive diagnosis.
How old were you then?
I had just turned 21. My birthday's in January, so I was 21 and a month and a half or so.
So now what did you think and how did you feel when you first heard the news?
It was an overwhelming time. It was really scary. I must admit I was woefully uneducated about HIV at the time, so I really had a lot of misconceptions about what it meant to live with HIV. I had a lot of ideas that really were very antiquated. I assumed that after my diagnosis I would be dead within three years. I was like, "OK, well, I might as well live it up 'cause nothing much going on."
I had never to my knowledge at that point really been involved, either as a friend, a family member, or even just a member of a community with anyone who was HIV positive. I mean, I was a member of the queer community but I really had not interacted at that point with HIV-positive people. So it was really scary.
I didn't know who to turn to. I was in a very small town. I had my family and my two best friends there with me, thankfully. But it was a very scary time. I think I started crying the minute the doctor told me, and didn't stop for about three days.
I remember sitting in that little room in the doctor's office. She came in. I don't think the doctor had ever told anyone they were positive before. And she came in and she told me and gave me two little pamphlets with information and that was it, and gave me a phone number to call to get connected to services near where we were living.
Where were you living?
In Connecticut; I was living in a small town on the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. And so she gave me some resources but it really wasn't very much. You know, I really didn't know what to do or how to deal with what was going on. So, like I said, it was just a really scary time. In retrospect, I really wish I had maybe gone somewhere that had more experience dealing with HIV, maybe a place that was centered for gay or lesbian or queer people. Or the queer community might have been a better choice because they might have had more information that really would have been sensitive or more appropriate to my needs.
"It took a couple of months after my diagnosis to really start to accept it, and to start sorting through the wealth of information that really comes through once you start getting connected into the community."
At the time, I was also just coming out as a transgender woman. So it really would have been nice to have had materials that were sensitive to where I was at in my transition, where I was at emotionally, and that could educate.
When did you first start to come to terms with your diagnosis, and start to recognize that you weren't actually going to die in just a few years? When did you start to actually seek information that felt like it was more made for you and geared for you?
Well, it took a couple of months after my diagnosis to really start to accept it, and to start sorting through the wealth of information that really comes through once you start getting connected into the community. As I said, my doctor really didn't provide much. But once I started getting connected with other HIV-positive people, and with agencies, there really is a large amount of information, some of it very technical and boring, some of it really engaging, some of it just sort of there. And it took a little time to start really accepting it and to read through things.
And I found for myself that really going online, reading the pamphlets, reading and connecting with other HIV-positive people and people who were going through what I was going through, as someone who just found out, it's a really scary time. You're not sure what any of this stuff means. What do the labs mean? What? You know, how to understand what they mean took some time.
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