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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.

Getting past the fear

My name is Tyler, and I’m a 25-year-old mixed/Mexican-American gender non-conforming male. I have lived in San Diego for a over a year, and have really enjoyed getting actively involved in the community here and meeting lots of new people. Sex is a lot of fun, especially when meeting new partners, but I knew that I needed to do something to decrease the anxiety and fear that was always in the back of my mind about seroconverting to an HIV positive status. I was never necessarily scared of the health effects – I know that HIV is a manageable condition today – but of the stigma that still exists surrounding the virus. I often hear lots of people saying things like “PrEP is just an excuse to be promiscuous,” and coupled with the regular “slut-shaming” that surrounds PrEP, is enough to make anyone not want to take it. But finally getting onto PrEP has been one of the best things I’ve done to take control of my health. The anxiety, fear, and stress that I had always associated with my sexual behavior is nearly gone, I’m spending much less time worrying, and the pool of amazing people that could be friends or sexual partners has greatly increased as I no longer fear dating or having sex with someone who is living with HIV. Also, being on PrEP has allowed me to be a role model to friends and community members to show them that this medication works!

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.

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