One thing that plagues not only the LGBTQ+ community but also the human race as a whole is the threat of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). People all over the world are living with this virus, and many of them are actually maintaining healthy lifestyles. A friend of mine agreed to an interview about the virus and his status, and I'm excited to be the one to interview him. Even though this is an interview, I'll be changing his name to Spencer in order to protect his actual identity. For the most part, he really just wants to get his story out there.
[First of all, I want to thank you for agreeing to this interview. To get started, I want to ask what were your original views on HIV and AIDS?]
Spencer: Honestly, the mere thought of either of them terrified me. I'd had a few guys that were interested in me tell me that they were HIV-positive and I immediately found a reason to stop talking to them. That's really bad, I know it, but just like a good portion of people I was uneducated on the matter. In my mind, we were still living in the days where everyone called it a plague. The second I thought about HIV I immediately associated it with AIDS and then death.
[Your views on all of that have changed by now, correct?]
Spencer: Definitely. By now, I'm fully educated and still learning, not that I have much choice on the matter.
[Right. So, being that you are HIV-positive, I'm wondering when and how did you find out about your HIV status?]
Spencer: It was about three years ago and just like any other college student I was looking for an excuse to skip class. I'd just had my birthday the day before, so I really didn't feel like being bothered with classes. My friend and I were approached about a student health fair on campus and we decided to check it out. I'd literally done all of the tests just to do them and after thirty minutes or so I got called back into a room. It was just me and the doctor that administered the HIV test. She informed me that my results were positive, and I felt like my world had come to a stop and possibly to an end. I felt like I was in a movie when the main character found out his or her best friend or parent had died and the world was silent all around me.
[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Ffiles%2F2017%2F02%2F05%2F636218598414683619-1069978159_giphy.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net&s=980&h=8771f3506e8fbfcfd600a04000bf212b5dcd1428398ae0116d161d218d709e72&size=980x&c=477739309 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Ffiles%252F2017%252F02%252F05%252F636218598414683619-1069978159_giphy.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net%26s%3D980%26h%3D8771f3506e8fbfcfd600a04000bf212b5dcd1428398ae0116d161d218d709e72%26size%3D980x%26c%3D477739309%22%7D" expand=1]
I couldn't even focus on what she was saying. I did know that she told me to go to the main student health building to get tested again just to make sure, because sometimes the tests gave out false positives. Needless to say, after two or three more tests I was officially HIV-positive.
[Wow... I noticed that you said you felt like you were in a movie. How did you take it after you left the health building?]
Spencer: I honestly wanted to cry, but there were people everywhere. I even went to my dorm room, but my roommate was there. I needed somewhere to go to vent, so I left and found my best friend. She asked me if I was okay and I lied, pretended that everything was fine. I literally walked all the way through campus laughing and smiling until I got to her room. Then I sat on the bed and before she could even ask me if I was okay again, I cried like I'd just lost my childhood best friend. I only cried for like fifteen minutes, though. After I got all of that out, I went online to see what I could do next. I wasn't done living my life and I wasn't going to let something like this stop me.
[Well, it's good that you managed to find a way to stay positive about the situation.]
Spencer: Bad joke, man.
[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Ffiles%2F2017%2F02%2F05%2F636218600214350284-404378743_taraji-jussie-empire.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net&s=515&h=1806eddd91348dd017c1fa4552744a2174ed27939441e12572caa754a7db6bac&size=980x&c=2196639059 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Ffiles%252F2017%252F02%252F05%252F636218600214350284-404378743_taraji-jussie-empire.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net%26s%3D515%26h%3D1806eddd91348dd017c1fa4552744a2174ed27939441e12572caa754a7db6bac%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2196639059%22%7D" expand=1]
[You laughed anyway, so apparently it was good enough. Anyway, did you ever find out how or who infected you? Or, are you allowed to give out that information?]
Spencer: I have an idea of who or what I got it from, but it's usually best not to disclose that information. I feel as though, unless the person tells you themselves, no one else should release information about someone else's status whether it be sexuality or something like this.
[That's a good way to think, definitely. My next question is: who all knows, other than me?]
Spencer: Let's see... my immediate family knows, my best friends know, some of my close friends know, my sexual partner(s) know, and I know. I usually try not to tell many people unless I have a real reason to. I just feel like it's not something that everyone needs to know... but we all need to be educated on it.
[I see, I see... So, how did your family and friends take the news?]
Spencer: Well, I told my two best friends first and they were extremely supportive. Then I told you a day or two later. You all constantly reassured me that I'd be fine and helped me find different ways to handle my situation. I told my family a few months after I found out. By then I was strong enough to really talk about it. I knew that if I went in crying and all depressed that they would break down more than I did. They did cry about it some and felt lost because they didn't know how to help me, but I think my strength gave them strength. Now they're my biggest support system, and help me in any way that they can.
[It's good that you've surrounded yourself with a good support system, me included. I can say that I've watched you from the beginning and you've always seemed to hold yourself up and seem as though it didn't bother you. I know you said you cried a bit at first, but how are you handling it today?]
Spencer: It has it's ups and downs, but it's nothing too big. Honestly, the only thing that I'm scared of is dating, but even then, the guys that I meet are perfectly fine and completely educated on the whole thing.
[What all do you have to do? Do you take medicine or get shots like birth control?]
Spencer: Birth control? [he laughed] I don't think it's like birth control, but I've never had to take that. All I do, honestly, is take one pill a day around the same time. It's literally not as bad as I thought... I go to the doctors about four times a year, twice to give blood samples and the other two to actually talk to my doctor to figure out what I'm doing. Since I've been on the medicine, I've been undetectable.
[And what does being undetectable mean?]
Spencer: Being undetectable means... Well, the best way I can sum it up is that the virus is basically contained in your system and it's not a danger to you or anyone around you. There's only like a 4% chance that I, or any undetectable person would be able to pass it on. Which is very slim... You know this already...didn't you write an article about this once?
[Yes I did, and it was a pretty good and well-informed one if you ask me.]
Spencer: I didn't. [We both laughed]
[Well, Spencer, I thank you for sitting down with me for this interview... Is there anything else you want to say or any advice that you'd like to give to the readers?]
Spencer: Yes, actually. First and foremost, never treat HIV or a person that has it like they're on death row because they're not. As long as the infected person takes care of themselves and is on his or her meds, then he or she is perfectly fine. Secondly, I'd like to tell any and everyone, LGBTQ+ or not, to get on PrEP if you can. I cannot stress that enough to my friends and some family. It's not an invincibility pill, so you definitely still need to wear condoms but it cuts back on the threat of HIV immensely. Finally, I'd like to urge everyone to please take care of yourselves. Whether it be sexually, in a relationship, friendship, job, mental disability, a disorder or anything. Never treat your issues like they're no big deal. If you're struggling with something then you don't need to go through it alone. Make sure you have someone to talk to and know how to ask for help if you need it.