D’Eva Longoria is an audacious name, a bold moniker for a transgender Latinx woman from Chicago. But this D’Eva is no diva. She’s a strong, beautiful, caring lady who has been living with HIV for 10 years. In a recent phone call, she shared with TheBody how she’s overcome many challenges and found her way to help people in the LGBTQ community in the Windy City.
Mexican-American and born the 10th of 11 children in California, Longoria was raised in Chicago. “I’m a Midwestern girl,” Longoria explained. Because her siblings came from different fathers, she only really felt close to her sisters. “Me and my younger sister, we were from my mother’s second marriage,” she said. “So there was animosity with my younger sister and the rest of my brothers and sisters, because my sister and I were kind of like her second family [to them].” Longoria explained that this animosity led to verbal and physical abuse from her siblings, especially from her brothers. “It was difficult growing up, and my brothers tried to toughen me up by abusing me,” she said.
Longoria came out first to her sister at 15. “I’ve always been very close to my younger sister,” Longoria said. “In 1991, I was like 15 at the time, and I didn’t even know my [gender] identity yet, and I said, ‘What would you say if I told you I was gay?’ And she said, ‘You’re my brother, and I will always love you.’” It was that first acceptance that helped Longoria discover her true self. “She’s always been very supportive of me,” she said. She first experimented with wearing female clothing as a dare and found that it felt comfortable and spoke to her truth, and that led her to identify as a transgender woman.
As she was finding her way, Longoria found work doing female impersonation performances in nightclubs. “This one night, it was Memorial Day 10 years ago, this person came up to me after a show and asked me if I needed some help, and I was like, ‘Sure.’” He helped Longoria with her suitcases, then she drove herself the 20 minutes home through the late Sunday night. “There was no parking, and it was raining really bad, and I thought, I’m not going to walk all the blocks with my suitcase and everything. I thought, I’ll just stay in the car and sleep a couple of hours until the rain stops,” she said. “I fell asleep, and when I woke up, there was this person on top of me.” The man who’d helped her with her suitcase earlier had followed her home, and she woke up to him attacking her in her car with a knife at her neck. “At that time, I still hadn’t gone through my full transition, so I thought, maybe he doesn’t know. I told him, ‘I’m a trans girl.’ He said, ‘I know.’” The attacker then drove Longoria’s car to an alley and continued the brutal attack.
Longoria was in shock after the horrific rape and stayed in her apartment for the next few days. She wanted to keep the rape a secret, block it out of her mind. “You know, I didn’t know anything about how to prevent myself [from getting HIV]. At that time, there was no PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis]. It was very scary,” she said. Her neighbor convinced her to go to the police and have a rape kit done. Longoria explained that, for her, the cops and even medical professionals didn’t know how to handle a transgender woman. “It’s very disgusting. People coming into the room, like I was part of a freak show,” she said.
After that experience, Longoria blocked the whole trauma out, until July of that year. “In July, I received a letter from the hospital. It was a certified letter that I had to go and pick it up from the post office.” The letter told her that she needed to go back to the clinic to discuss lab results. She said, “I thought, well, they’re not going to be telling me that I’m pregnant!” When she arrived at the clinic, she prayed for strength. She was told that she’d tested positive for HIV.
“I went outside and saw the clock, and it was 2:37 p.m.,” Longoria said. “I thought, my life just changed forever.”
A few months later, in December, a detective came to her door to tell her that they had a suspect in her rape. “I went, I identified the person,” she said. But Longoria decided not to press charges. “I didn’t want to deal with any of that,” she said. “I was scared, but I did want to talk to him. They put him in a room, and I told him that I wasn’t going to press charges on him and that he should be thankful that Christmas came early for him this year.” Longoria continued, “And that because of him I was HIV positive. I said, ‘Don’t ever come close to me, don’t ever come near me,’ because if he did, I will personally make sure that something bad happens to him.”
In 2014, Longoria decided to go back to school, to focus on finding a career. She attended Wright College and got a liberal arts degree. She also started producing live videos on Facebook to document her life. “That’s how my husband found me. He sent me a message and started commenting on my videos. He’d say, ‘I saw your videos, and you’re so positive, and I like that, and you’re a go-getter,’ and he started asking me out. And I was like, nope!” She’d concluded that romance was out of the picture for her because she was a transgender woman living with HIV.
But her husband, Arturo, was determined and persistent and finally won her over. They’ve been together for five years and married now for almost two. “I did not start taking [HIV] medication until 2015, precisely because I met my husband. I knew we were going to have, you know, intercourse, and I didn’t want to put him at risk.” She knew that if she could get her viral load to an undetectable status, she wouldn’t pass the virus to her husband.
Now, Longoria has taken her difficult experiences and uses them to help others, working for Howard Brown Health. “I work in the HIV Testing and Prevention Department as a PrEP community engagement specialist,” she said. She can also be seen dancing with her husband in a current national ad campaign for an HIV medication. “Next month, the company is flying me to Vegas to launch. … Well, I’m the first story that they’re going to be telling in the campaign. It’s very exciting,” she said.
“After everything I’ve been through, taking my power back was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Longoria said. “They say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I say, when life gives you lemons, grab some tequila and drink a shot! Because you have to try to make the best out of it.” She continued, “I know I have this [virus], but I’m in control of it. I’m in control of it in every aspect. I’m empowered by taking my medications, by speaking about it to people, by letting people know that I can have an everyday life like everybody else. That I can be healthy, that I have a beautiful marriage, I am so blessed, that I have people that love me. There is nothing greater in my life than knowing that my story and my journey can help somebody.”
Find and follow D’Eva Longoria on social media on Facebook in English or in Spanish, or subscribe to her YouTube channel.