I actually don’t do “My Story.” I don’t do testimonies. People like other people’s business, so it’s not what I do. It’s about the issues. The challenges of really living and coping, and serving, and supporting, and peer needs and so on. Yeah. It’s fine what we are going to be doing, in that it will be something we can repeat for others.
I decided to do a test because I was not feeling physically well for my age. That was in 1997. I had gone to a private doctor. She said how could I have allowed this to happen to me. I was now just going to have two years – because at the time there was no medicine, and people were really dying. But I think they thought diagnosis meant the person had just contracted. I had been celibate for about seven years when I went for my results.
I didn’t like her response, but I was naïve, so I didn’t know what to do at the time. But I just knew something wasn’t right in the way it was managed. And I think that influenced how I reacted later on when I started to think about how I would survive.
I was referred to a young man who wanted to have support groups, and he was trying to pull together positive people who were scared and didn’t want to come out. But I was used to groups, because my parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I’m used to group work and how people operate in groups. So I went for the meetings and tried to mobilize people to be part of these groups. I realized that the persons who have been diagnosed had very bad thoughts about HIV. And so they were scared, not of HIV, but of the feelings they have about HIV.
The first twelve, thirteen years of my participation in the response, as a peer supporter and so on, was unpaid work. If I went to a meeting and I was given a stipend, it was used to cover the cost. Now I am paid. I am a woman from the community. I didn’t finish high school. My training was in fashion. I left high school to have my first child. I used to design clothes for people, and I didn’t want to do any of that – I was too busy doing HIV responses to do any of that work. So my customers and my son were neglected in this process of redefining who I was.
I’ve had people die who were part of our groups. I’ve had people give up and step back to be “normal,” and couldn’t understand why I would continue to believe that I needed to pull people together. And many times I, too, felt that I would stop, but I didn’t feel like I was living for a purpose when I was not helping somebody to learn something new, sharing something that I hope would make them see themselves, or the issue of HIV, different.
In groups, people are so desperate to be loved, sometimes, that if there is one male in there he could have all the women he wanted, and I was not one of those. I made no effort to meet people in a sexual way. I actually wear rings all the time, and people who don’t know me assume that I’m married, and that works.
I don’t have a partner. I have not had an interest in one. I have continued to be celibate because I’m not interested in sharing my body. It probably is part of my mental state, but I realized that I didn’t want to be repeating to some person who I was about to sleep with that I was positive. I was not married. My kids’ father was in another country for years, knowing I was not interested in having a relationship.
I have no desire to be involved in things that are not going to respond to the issue of HIV, which doesn’t make sense for some of the people who I see “normal.” I remember leaving the 2012 conference saying, “Okay. I need to question if I’m a sexual being, because people must be questioning it.” I remember saying “I’m going to be dating,” and I didn’t see myself wanting to date. I didn’t even realize that persons were questioning whether or not I was a lesbian because they didn’t see me with a male.
Because, “You must have a partner!” I didn’t want a partner. What I did know is that I was exposed to HIV because my peers were claiming that I needed a partner. I had three children, I was maintaining them, and I was feeling good about me. I was being introduced to persons, because I had separated from my kids’ father when my last one was about seven. And there I was, not interested, and I was introduced to this person for my birthday, and I was exposed to HIV. So I said, “Listen to me, man: I have no desire to share my body with any person.”
I know it’s “normal” to have a relationship, but you don’t have to have one. I don’t think in my early life I was ready for a relationship, but I had three children by twenty-one that I had not prepared for. Choosing to be with someone was part of the style of the day.
Some people say I don’t have a life. My satisfaction is when I have done something that is supposed to benefit self and persons, and I felt that I am doing my best at it. I shouldn’t be worried that I didn’t give enough, I didn’t care enough, or I may have failed to do something. Humans were made to share, even if they don’t know. It might not be what works for you at the time based on some mental need, but it is what you were created to be – a part of another person.
Maybe the peer groups have replaced this need for another human within my life. Maybe I’ll grow in another five years. I don’t know. But right now, this is what I need, to be able to see other people who are struggling with being self with HIV. Every time I see another person who gets there, I feel satisfied. I want to be well every morning just for that purpose.
I’m so selfish in ways, now. I don’t need to answer to any other human. I think some people don’t even realize that in my age, if they were alone and they decided to get married and need to share and compromise, that it’s either going to break or make the relationship. I’m not willing to do that.
I am me now, and I’m glad I’m older. Being older, now, I understand, makes you more assured of who you are. At twenty-four I could be influenced without question by another peer; now, I don’t. I laugh at the behavior of young people now, because they think they are behaving so much differently. You are not. And, maybe you just need to make those blundering mistakes, because you actually don’t listen. You don’t. And you’re saying, “Nobody’s listening to me!” You are not listening. And, the older folks who are now guilty of having done the same thing? They don’t tell you that they were not listening. Some don’t even remember that they were not listening.