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#bethegeneration Stories

PrEP-ing for PrEP!  

My name is Rick, and I am a 29-year-old Latino male. I live alone in the heart San Diego’s historical LGBT-neighborhood of Hillcrest and have been a member of the community for a long time. I’m actively involved in a lot of LGBT community organizations, and I also love to go to numerous community events and go to the bars on weekends. I’ve always loved having sex – and lots of it – and have always asked my partners about their status before engaging in any kind of sexual activity. Oftentimes, I didn’t have a condom on me, so would mostly engage in lower risk activities like oral sex. When I first learned about PrEP, I thought about getting on it, but I heard so many guys say “that’s only for sluts” that I was afraid of the stigma and the way people might try to shame me if they knew I was on PrEP.  Luckily, I eventually got past that and made the appointment with my doctor. I've now been on PrEP for over a year. Sure, I got called a “slut” a couple of times, but I know that I am the one who has empowered myself to take care of my own health. Making the appointment to see my doctor about PrEP, and then deciding start taking it, was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life.


Getting to Undetectable 

My name is Ian, and I’m 39-year-old male living in the Hillcrest/University Heights neighborhood of San Diego. I’ve been actively involved in the local LGBT community for a long time, and for many years have done extensive fundraising work for LGBT and HIV/AIDS causes. I’ve been living with HIV for more than 10 years, and am now very healthy – but that wasn’t always the case. I’ve always used condoms, but there was a time when I didn’t always take my ART medication to treat my HIV. I always wanted to adhere to my prescribed medication, but I was scared of the side effects and the daily reminder of living with HIV due to the stigma. I knew that taking the medication as prescribed would make me feel better and help me lead a long, healthy, productive life, but I was just in a space where I wasn’t ready to adhere. I finally told myself “I understand I have to take my ART’s to get undetectable so that I don’t transmit HIV and can live a healthier me.” Now that I regularly take my medication as prescribed, I feel great, and know that I am doing my part to prevent the transmission of HIV. It’s a very liberating feeling and a huge weight off my shoulders.


Treatment as Prevention  

My name is Prizila, and I am a 29-year-old Latina trans female. I live with my husband of 11 years in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. I’m actively involved in foster care work and empowering the transgender community through involvement in LGBT community organizations. I am also currently pursuing a degree in social work. Being diagnosed with HIV at the critical age of 16, I didn’t want to approach it yet because I was dealing with socioeconomic issues and at the same fully realizing my identity as a woman. Through managing my HIV and transition, I was able to utilize the resources available that make treatment and transition possible.  I’ve been on treatment for 9 years now, which has led me to be healthier and be in control. I do not view HIV as a death sentence or a disease, but rather as another obstacle in my life. Using methods such as condoms and my husband being on PrEP has prevented HIV from hindering our relationship. It is always important to be aware of your status regardless of whether you think it applies to you or not. Now I’m in a space where I can truly say I love myself and will continue to follow my doctor’s advice and take the medication needed to continue making a difference in other’s lives, and close the chapter of my transition.


Finding a Community of Support  

My name is Daniel, and I’m a 32-year-old Filipino-American male. I live in, and am actively involved with the Hillcrest neighborhood. Just over 10-years ago, I found out that I was HIV-positive. When I first learned of my diagnosis, I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I knew little about the advances that had been made in HIV/AIDS treatment, and assumed I was resigned to a few bleak options. With the support of family, friends, and my community, I’m lucky to have been able to find the very best treatment and am living a full, healthy life. I am deeply grateful for the privilege I’ve been afforded to have access to healthcare, knowing that many in other parts of the world do not. The community of people around me has cast aside the stigma that often comes along with HIV-positive status, and have allowed me to cry about it, scream about it, and even joke about it. My diagnosis has made me a part of a devastated population. Too many of the men and women living with HIV/AIDS have a narrative of isolation and loneliness. I’m thankful to my community for not allowing that to be my story, and I hope others who are living with HIV may be able to seek out a community who loves and cares for them.


Being Beautiful 

My name is Venice “Pepper” Price, and I’m a 58 year old transgender woman living in San Diego, California. I’ve lived here since 1983, and have been happily married to my husband for 32 years. I found out I was HIV-positive over 14-years ago, and at first, wasn’t sure what to do. I was lucky though to get into medical care and have made sure to visit my doctor every 3 months, and adhere to my medication. It’s important to me to regularly visit my doctor so that I can continue to live and be beautiful. I work hard to encourage everyone, especially other trans women and those who are sex workers, to understand the importance of regular HIV testing. Knowing one’s status is the most important way to be able to get the prevention tools or treatment that you need and deserve.  PrEP is a great tool for preventing HIV, and those who find out they are living with HIV should know that the virus is no longer a death sentence! As long as people get on and adhere to their medication, they will live a long, healthy life! Finally, I’m proud to say that my husband has stood by my side throughout my entire time living with HIV and we are proof that couples can have a successful marriage as long as they connect with each other.


No More Fear 

My name is Benny, and I’m a 37-year-old male living in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood. I’m a lifelong San Diegan, and have participated in the local LGBT communtiy since I was 16 years old. When I “came out” as gay at 17 years old in 1997, everyone kept telling me to “be careful.” I finally figured out that they were telling me to “be careful to not get HIV.” While things were getting better in the HIV treatment field at this time, it was still a frightening time and the education I received was not comforting. I’ll never forget the panel of HIV-positive speakers my high school had speak to a school assembly one day. There were 4 young gay men, all in advanced stages of HIV or AIDS. They all looked very sick, and the message was: If you have unprotected sex, this will be you. Because of this scare tactic, sex became something that I feared deeply. Every time I engaged in sex, I would worry that I contracted HIV. I was so afraid that I lived under the “ignorance is bliss" mantra and did not have my first HIV test until I was 28 years old - 13 years after my first sexual encounter. Since that first HIV test, my testing frequency remained infrequent at best. Even as an HIV test counselor with a lot of knowledge and education that I share with clients, the fear remained in me- it’s hard to kick. I finally got up the courage a few months ago to get on PrEP and I couldn’t feel more empowered. I no longer fear HIV testing (or sex) and enjoy my quarterly doctor’s visits (rather than fearing them or deciding what excuse I’ll use to tell the doctor to exclude an HIV test from my lab work). I am proud to be on PrEP and want to continue to use my story of fear to help others who may be feeling the same way.


Beyond the Binary with PrEP 

My name is David, and I’m a 24-year-old non-binary person living in the heart of Hillcrest. I first came to San Diego about three years ago after finishing my undergraduate degree, and I wanted to get involved with the LGBTQ community here right away but wasn’t exactly sure what my niche would be. I grew up in a very conservative area of Wisconsin and wasn’t able to begin my coming out process until college. While in college, even outside of my own identity and experience, I became fascinated with the ways in which gender and sexuality shape our society. I was also starting to have sex for the first time, and a lot of it. I was the person who my friends would always talk to about their sex lives. They would often ask me questions they were scared to ask other people, speak very honestly about anxieties they had regarding a partner or a hookup, or come to me to celebrate really awesome sex that they just had! I realized that being able to have open, honest, non-judgmental dialogue about sex and sexuality is not only an important piece of living a healthy life, but an essential tool in moving towards our liberation as an LGBTQ community.

My own personal PrEP journey, however, was not just about my sexuality, but also my gender identity. I first came out as gay but began to identify as non-binary shortly after moving to Hillcrest – the internal certainty that I was “just a man” had really begun to deteriorate over time, and I started wearing makeup or even sometimes dresses and heels to empower myself within my femininity, explore the different factions of my queerness, and show myself to a world which often likes to pretend that people like me don’t exist. In the midst of coming out as non-binary, I was fortunate enough to begin working as the PrEP Coordinator at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, where I help folks of all backgrounds and identities get and stay on PrEP. I sometimes joke that I have come full circle from talking about sex with all my friends in college to talking about sex professionally with members of my community so they can be happier, healthier, and more empowered. I’m also happy to say that I am on PrEP myself – for me, getting on PrEP was not something I felt like I was just doing for myself, but for my community as a whole. I believe it is especially important for non-binary and trans folks to be visible about their sexual health.

As trans and non-binary folks continue to be centered more in discussions of LGBTQ issues, the realization that we are not alone, that there are tools and people here to help us, and that we are worthy of fulfillment can be a transformative moment in the life of an individual and the spirit of our community.


Transcending stereotypes 

Hi! My name is a.t. Furuya and I’m an Asian transgender/non-binary individual who came out later in life. While I am currently in a monogamous relationship, I was previously into one-time hook-ups and not into call backs - but I was tested for HIV regularly. When I would participate in these hook-ups, I would always bring my own condoms, but rarely asked the other person’s status, and would sometimes hook up for affirmation of my identity or to feel wanted. I decided I wanted to become more assertive and informed using self-advocacy to talk to sex partners and my doctor about sexual health and PrEP. When I first tried to have a conversation with my doctor about PrEP, they told me that I wasn’t considered high risk because I’m Asian and also AFAB (assigned female at birth) - even though my sex partners were gay men. I was told that PrEP was more “for them.” Then, when I was told it would take at least 3 months for me to even get an appointment, I just gave up for a while. My life is already complicated enough (trying to access surgeries, hormones, and society misgendering me) so I didn’t want to have to deal with one more thing. Since then, PrEP has become easier for many people to access, and it’s become much more accessible for low income folks. Now that I know more about PrEP, I know what to ask for, how to start the conversations, and speak up for my needs. I want this empowerment for all of our youth, as well as queer and trans people of color.  I also know that if any of us ever happen to run into a medical professional or insurance company that doesn't know how to help, the Center has someone specifically hired to take us through the process to make sure we have access to PrEP.


Continuando siendo la generación / Continuing to be the generation 

Mi nombre es Raul Robles. Soy un hombre cisgénero gay que a vivido en Chula Vista desde mi adolensencia. Soy un ciudadano Americano orgullasamente y un hombre Mexicano hasta la muerte. Tengo dos pasiones grandes en la vida, primero es cuidar a mi madre y compañera de 90 años de edad. Mi segunda pasión es mi comunidad LGBT y participar en varios programas y estudios de VIH en el condado de San Diego. Como muchos jóvenes, saliendo del closet para mí fue una de las cosas más difíciles y emocionantes de mi vida. En los principios de mis 20’s, la falta de información y la estigma de nuestra sociedad hacia personas LGBT causo que fuera a explorar mi sexualidad en lugares oscuros, sucios, y vergonzosos. Aun pensé que ser abierto como gay era el mejor sentimiento que podría tener. Hace unos años atrás, en medio de la epidemia de VIH, fui diagnosticado como VIH positivo. En ese momento todo mi mundo y el de mi familia sentía que se desplomaba. Pensábamos que era una sentencia de muerte para mí. Viví en soledad y negacíon por varios años. Vi a mi compañero morir de complicaciones de SIDA en 1982, y fue entonces que tuve una epifanía que me tenía que cuidar. Tenía dos opciones, vivir mi vida en solitud y avergonzado, o vivir una vida completa. Fui a mi doctor y empecé tratamiento para mi VIH. Ahora soy feliz en poder decir que llevo 10 años indectectable de VIH. Tengo orgullo de poder decirle a personas sobre mi tratamiento y mi experiencia con VIH para darles animo a vivir una vida feliz y saludable a pesar de tener VIH. Ser abierto sobre VIH es una manera importante para combatir el estigma y educar a mi comunidad sobre poder vivir indectectable de VIH. Gracias a la ayuda de mis organizaciones ya regrese a la escuela y ahora puedo establecer nuevos objetivos en mi vida.

My name is Raul Robles. I am a cisgender, gay Latino man who has been living in Chula Vista since I was a teenager. I am a proud American citizen and a die-hard Mexican hombre. I have two big passions in life -- one of them is to take care of my 90-year-old life companion and mother. My second passion is my LGBT community and my involvement in various HIV programs and studies throughout the county of SD. Like many young people, coming out of the closet was for me both one of the most difficult and thrilling experiences of my life.  In my early 20’s, the lack of information and stigmatizing attitude of society towards queer folks led me to explore my sexuality in the darkest, dingiest and most shameful places I could find. But I thought being open about being gay was the greatest feeling I could ever have. A few years later, in the midst of the HIV epidemic I was diagnosed HIV pos. At that moment my whole world and that of my family came crumbling down. We thought that this was a death sentence for me. I lived in solitude and denial for several years. I watched my partner pass away from AIDS complications in 1982, and it was then that I had the epiphany that I needed to take care of myself. I had two choices -- live life in shame and solitude, or live life fully. I went to my doctor and began treatment for my HIV. I am now happy to say that I have been undetectable for over 10 years. I am proud to tell people about my treatment and my status to give them hope that they can live a happy, healthy life regardless of their HIV status. Being open about my status is an important way to fight HIV stigma and educate my community about living undetectable.  Thanks to the help from my organizations I am back in school and now I am able to set new goals in my life. 


New beginnings 

Hi, my name is Alex Ordoubegian and I’m a 30-year old male of Middle-Eastern origin living in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood. I’ve been very active in the local LGBT community for a long time, particularly the local LGBT sports leagues. Until recently, I was in a long-term monogamous relationship, so things like condoms, HIV testing, and more were relatively foreign concepts to me. Since my breakup, I’ve suddenly found myself worried about everything related to sex, and felt forced to use condoms – or else. While condoms are an effective tool to prevent HIV and other STIs, I knew that there had to be something else that would keep me safe, and give me added peace of mind. I educated myself about PrEP and was determined to get on the once-daily pill that is highly effective at preventing HIV infection. Along the way, I found myself falling victim to a lot of the stigma that still exists around HIV and PrEP.  While it’s hard to hear negative comments from friends and others online, the best thing anyone can do is simply protect themselves.  I am proud to be on PrEP, as I have taken control of my own health. I will continue to take PrEP to protect myself. I will also fight to end the stigma that exists about the medication by having conversations with anyone and everyone, any time, any place.


PrEP works! 

My name is Donald Franklin. I’m a 41-year old mixed-race (African-American, Native American, British, Burmese, Indian) gay male who lives in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood. I work as an HIV researcher and have been a part of this community for many years. I’ll get straight to the point: I love sex (even if I don’t get it very often!). Because of my love for sex, I’ve always gotten tested for HIV regularly. And while I always ask my partners about their HIV status, I tend to reduce risk by engaging in sex more often with known partners. For a long time, I wanted to get on PrEP to give myself a greater peace of mind related to my sexual health. While I was aware of the stigma associated with PrEP use (being slut shamed, etc.), my larger concern was the research results from PrEP studies. As a researcher, I had seen the early results, but I wanted to see the effectiveness rates from larger studies. I eventually got on PrEP and immediately felt more empowered and at ease about my sexual health. While I was instantly confronted with people calling me a “Truvada-whore”, it gave me the opening I needed to educate people about how PrEP works. I got the most traction from reminding these people that the same thing was said years ago about women who went on birth control. I’m happy to say that I was able to convince many people to go on PrEP. I know that PrEP works and I want to help other people decide if PrEP is right for them!


I'm worth it! 

My name is Juan Sebastian Ayala and I’m a 27-year old Chicano (Mexican-American) male. I was born and raised in San Diego, in the City Heights neighborhood, and I keep busy as a yoga instructor, and a student of artistic social services. I’ve been living with HIV and undetectable for three years. In the past, I hadn’t always used condoms during every sexual encounter, and sometimes I had sex because of internal doubts about my own self worth. I felt a great need to connect more to people I met and not always go straight to sex, but didn’t know how to do that. Being HIV positive made me feel like I wasn’t worth anything, and I worked hard to change my personal perspective of my own self worth. I did this by diving into self discovery, and working toward personal goals that made me feel good about myself. Since I’ve been able to make this change, I’ve had a much greater connectivity with my community, and more self confident, and genuinely feel better about myself and my partners!




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