Tell me a summary of your story of living with HIV.
In the face of all the stigma and negativity surrounding an HIV diagnosis it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the ways in which HIV became the catalyst for much of my personal growth as a gay person, activist and as an artist.
My story starts when I was a naive young man exploring my sexuality. In a world that doesn’t teach young people how to explore sexuality in a healthy manner; tools and skills necessary for that exploration were nonexistent and are still quite lacking even in today’s world of 2023. To being young and gay in a world of people who don’t truly understand sexuality makes matters for queer youth worse. For me, being in the closet wasn’t much of an option when I was young because, for some, it was obvious that I was gay. At least it was to the boys that bullied me for so much as seeming gay; or not denying it when asked if I was gay. Even though I’m reserved and a bit shy, I didn’t have the motivation or energy to actively hide who I was attracted to inside. I never truly decided to accept myself until my early twenties. Because I felt it would require too much energy to pretend; I never made any effort date the opposite sex. During my early 20’s it was common for gay and dl men to use certain websites to find love, sex or just other gay men to be friends with. This was before phones had really taken off as the main source of entertainment and social discovery. Being gay wasn’t as accepted as it continues to become in 2023. So getting my getting my feet wet in the male for male world was interesting and anxiety inducing most of the time. In my early years I would use the pay phone to talk to guys just so I wouldn’t be faced with everyone at my house knowing my business. As a result a met some guys, made some associates and eventually met a guy who I started dating. When we first met I was deeply infatuated with him. I thought he was a beautiful man and he was so my type. But, when you are as young as I was, trying to be with a much older man in his 30’s, who suffered from depression, self medicating it with sex and marijuana; You don’t understand red flags and toxic traits to stay away from. Long story short, I thought I was in love. Eventually he moved in with me when I got my first apartment. I went through the whole dance of being cheated on and all of the drama that comes along with that. Ultimately, he gave me HIV. A part of me knew something was off about him but I was young and inexperienced. I found out in 2009, months after we broke up. Before being positive, I didn’t have any real friends in the lifestyle. I went to a support meeting for the newly diagnosed and made friends I never would have made had I not been poz. Even though I had this illness, it resulted in a whole new world of perspectives and friendships that still last to this day. I’m thankful for that if nothing else.
Some of the artistic and social opportunities I’ve been given would have never happened had I not been connected via my diagnosis. I’m grateful for the people, places and things I experienced because of it and I’m proud to have survived this long with HIV. One of my proudest moments was being acknowledged for my artwork. I created a painting that I entitled “Stigmatized Hearts” It was probably the most vulnerable piece I’ve ever done. It Illustrates the intersectional aspects of my being; as a gay black male living with HIV. I’ve always been an artist and have always loved the creation process but, this was more personal than work I usually do. Dr. Carrie Foote, a close associate and activist leader, was instrumental in getting me involved in expressing myself as an artist for a good cause. In all my years of doing art, this was the first time my art was activism. This art had more meaning and more purpose beyond myself. At The ‘HIV Is Not A Crime’ summit I got a standing ovation for the work I did. I think the meaning behind the imagery resonated with a lot of people. It was purposeful and emotional and the universe showed me through the people that admired my work.
What would it mean to you if we ended this HIV epidemic?
It would mean the world. I really desire to live in an HIV free world. I think we are getting closer to that day everyday.
What does U=U mean to you? How has it impacted your life?
U=U means a dent in stigma. Now we don’t have to worry as much when it comes to sex. It’s freeing; in a way.
How many years U=U?
I got my first undetectable diagnosis back in 2014, so #UU9 at this point.
Is there anything else I should know about you?
I’m an artist and creative person. I’m very open-minded and I seek to spread awareness and love through art and other talents.