Suzanne, age 59 / Melbourne, Australia


I first learned that I was HIV-positive in a letter from a doctor. I’d been working in a little hospital in rural Africa, but I had to go away somewhere else to find a GP to take my blood, because there was just the risk of too much scrutiny, and confidentiality – I didn’t feel safe at the little hospital where I worked, because everyone would be wondering, you know, why is she having an HIV test?

I’d actually had no pre-test or post-test counseling. At that time in Zimbabwe, all the information was about prevention. There was nothing about living with HIV. But I had to kind of – I’d made the decision myself, that it was actually better to know than not know, because I needed to plan.

This letter was on my desk at work, and because I lived in the hospital compound, you know, I was the first person in. “I regret to tell you that your ELISA test came back plus-plus-plus-plus” – you know, like, I think there were five pluses. And I was just so shocked. But, you know, you kind of put your emotions away in a drawer, and it wasn’t until I could go home, ‘til the end of the day, that I could go back and pull that drawer out and think about it.

And I was just really shocked and really sad, because the first thing was that I knew my partner would never be able to come to Australia, because there was a blanket ban on positive people getting residence. But also that, you know, any dreams of having children, it was just too risky. And it wouldn’t be fair to the child if the child had HIV as well. It was actually hardest disclosing, because he was really shattered because of the impact on him. We actually did split up for a little while. Uh, but that was really also because we were living in different towns. I decided to stay on in Zimbabwe and move back to where he was, to continue our relationship.

I came back [to Australia] in ’98, but we still had an ongoing relationship. And we’re really actually good friends, you know? That survived being physically separated as well. We first met in 1990, so it’s now 24 years on. He’s re-partnered, but I still support him and his family. You know, he had five siblings. His mother had six children. So, only he and his brother are still alive to support the whole extended family. So, three of his siblings died of AIDS and then a fourth committed suicide, because we think that she thought she had HIV.

There are three girls that he supports. One is his daughter who was born before we met, and two nieces. So, I send him money for his medications to keep him healthy and productive, and I’ve been supporting the girls’ education at high school and one girl at university.

Yeah, I made this little, DVD – we had a digital story project here in Melbourne with various groups of women. And my story was about the global family. So there was my immigration story, about my family coming from China. There’s my global family, my family in Africa. But also there was the worldwide family of all my brothers and sisters, living with HIV.

I’m really interested in how we network, and how we partner, you know? Having great support as a positive person from other positive people, and also when you throw out new ideas and you see the kind of light go on in people’s head, that’s really rewarding and really healing. So, you know, you’re trying to build your alliances.

Look, everyone brings their own particular core strengths and business. Not everyone can do everything. So, we link together around our overlapping grounds that we can work together, and we have our core strengths – everything can contribute in different ways. You know, when I first diagnosed I was kind of shocked, but I’m not a person to kind of linger over spilled milk. What’s done is done, you know? You can’t change anything. It’s better to get on and do things.