Author: HIV Smart

An Interview with Elias P Fishburne IV / Eli Onyx (Mr. Maryland Leather 2016)

What is your personal story that you would like to share in regards to your journey with HIV? (Whether you are an ally to those living with HIV or you are HIV-positive)

Being told the results to any kind of test can be scary, in terms of a medical physician standpoint. However, it does not make the news any less frightening. Individually, the way we are raised plays a big part in how we deal with information concerning our health. Our career choices are then factored into our decision making. I said all of that to say that I am from a Caribbean background, and spent ten and a half years in the Navy, during the time when the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy was in full effect. So you can see the reasons why someone like me would be easily to stay away from anything that could be looked at in a negative manner.

I have also been raised to believe that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. So that is what I did.

After receiving a phone call from the boyfriend of a childhood friend (we called each other brothers) who had passed away while I was on duty at the National Naval hospital in Bethesda Maryland, I was devastated. I did not know all that had happened to his health due to not having full disclosure. I found out later and during my visit for his home going service. I returned to our nation’s capital looking for answers and equipping myself for a journey. I was determined not to become part of the problem but be part of the solution.

I sewed a square for my childhood friend, my lost brother, to add to the AIDS Quilt that was laid at the foot of the Washington Monument.

I was the first to organize a team at Bethesda Medical Center to participate in the AIDS Walk in Washington DC.

I became a volunteer with The Children’s Hospital in Washington DC for children infected with and affected by HIV.

I used my hurt to help those around me, and the connections I made became the network that helped me with my own journey.

 

You do a lot of work getting information out to the public about PrEP and with us directly at HIV Smart. Why are you so passionate about this and what got you started?

I am passionate, both about health awareness in our community and about fashion. I consider my fashion sense to be a gift, I have recognized it, and have invested the time to cultivate it. I want to use my gifts to be a vessel to help others.

I know that the information is out there about PrEP, and that everybody has access to that information, but, for me, delivery is key. Everyone may not be reached with just facts and figures. I am visual, and I know that there are many others that are visually stimulated.

I have realized that, from a marketing standpoint, products and even public information need to be visually appealing to get the community focused on the information that’s provided. I have been most drawn to campaigns that take a visual approach to effectively reach an audience that may have not have understood the full impact of how HIV involves our community as a whole.

 

Are you a member of any other organizations or community groups that you’d like to tell us about?

I am a member of a non-profit LBGTQ Taskforce based in Prince George’s county of MD, and I volunteer at the GLCCB located in Baltimore, MD. I’m an associate member of C.O.M.M.A.N.D MC, and an active member of the Mid-Atlantic ONYX fraternity.

I’m currently a Board member for DC Leather Pride Committee.

 

As a titleholder in the Leather Community why do you feel that HIV Smart has been embraced so enthusiastically?

The leather community are a close and tight knit group of people – we choose to call it more of a family. However, leathermen and women have been, and always will be, a staple in the community when it comes to outreach. The leather community has always been a reliable source for charitable giving.

As titleholders, we are awarded the opportunity to use our title’s platform to serve our community for one year. It is up to that individual to present what he or she plans to do for the leather community. When two or more titleholders can come together and work for the same purpose, powerful things can and will happen, as you have witnessed. My brothers, Q and Danny, have also introduced HIV SMART to our Leather family. This is a relationship that will be embraced by many to serve its purpose to our community too.

 

What do you think is the biggest problem today in terms of HIV?

I feel that the biggest problem with HIV is that the medications have become a source for others to become rich. The way that some people, who could make a big difference in the world, can only see a profit in drugs that are the key to someone having a healthy existence here on earth is, to me, the biggest problem.

 

What are some words of wisdom you can offer to someone newly diagnosed?

To the newly diagnosed warrior I would empower them with this: Congratulations. You have just been told you are Positive. Live your life from this day forward in a positive way. You will be asked a lot of questions, and you will have questions of your own. Take time out for just you, to equip yourself with the information you will need for your journey.  Yet, remember, you are not alone. Nothing happens by chance, and you are still in control of your future.

 

What do you think the biggest myth or misconception is about PrEP?

The biggest misconception I have seen is that people feel as if it’s ok to take the pills then go back to doing what they had been doing.

People need to understand that it’s also important to change the habits that has caused the use of PrEP for it to really work effectively. Once you’re on PrEP and it is in your bloodstream, you would not want anything to compromise the full potential of the medication.

 

If you are positive and public about it, what do you wish you had been told when you were first diagnosed but no one ever told you? (N/A if you don’t want to either be public or answer the question).

(This answer is covered in the next question.)

 

What challenges or discrimination do you think exist or you have seen for those living publicly with HIV?

I think that the challenges and discriminations involving HIV are all the results of fear, for both [HIV-]negative and positive people. We all fear what we are uncertain of, it’s how we were programmed. When someone gets an HIV test back, and it says the results are negative, there is no information given or after care that is provided, they just exhale and move on with their lives without being counselled about changing their habits or talked to about ways of lessening the risk of future exposure. The approach is very different when the results are positive. I wish this could be done differently.

Once each individual come to terms with the facts and becomes willing to live a positive life no matter the outcome of their test results, then we can make a difference in the spread of HIV. I think if the format for delivery of our status results changed, then the public would be more open to being public about it.

 

Everyone tends to think about all the negative things about living with HIV. Tell us, do you think there are any positive experiences?

I truly believe that positive experiences exist as a result of being HIV positive.

I feel that people in general take life for granted, we tend to procrastinate with goals for the future, taking less time out to enjoy life. So one of the positive things I have found in positive living is living live to its fullest, and thinking twice about putting things off till another day or week or month. Live your life to the fullest in the moment, and appreciate the people and experience from day to day.

 

What do you hope people will get out of the HIV Smart campaign?

I am hoping the HIV Smart campaign will cause people to think – think smarter, and have more awareness of what is going on in their community. Also, I hope it helps everyone see people living with HIV in a positive light.

 

If you are positive and could do anything different after being diagnosed what would it be and why?  (N/A if you don’t want to either be public or answer the question).

Actually, anyone could answer this question, so I’m certainly not going to place any limits on myself at this point. Negative or Positive, I would want to live my life with no regrets. I would maybe use the Internet or social media, (back then it was only AOL) and start a journal to tell the whole world my experience. It may help someone who is afraid or doesn’t have access to a friend.

 

What’s some of the more amusing experiences that may have had either disclosing or working in the HIV prevention field?

One of the best awakening experiences I’ve had in HIV prevention, was once when I was asked by a positive guy a wayward question.

Him: are you Positive?

Me “I try my best to be positive”

Him: Well, you know what I mean, you don’t look Positive.

Me “That’s only because I have chosen to live my life positively positive! And you, my friend, have that choice, too”

 

What would you like to tell everyone reading this that we haven’t asked you?

I would like to tell everyone to Show up and Show out by doing your part in your own community. Allow your talents to be expressed by empowering others, and if you have not discovered your talents to promote something on your own, then be willing to invest your support in assisting someone else. You will be amazed at the results.

 

Where else can people find out more about you?

https://www.facebook.com/MrMarylandLeather2016/

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An Interview with Q Ellis-Lee (Mr. Eagle NYC 2016)

What is your personal story with your journey with HIV either as an ally to those living with HIV or being HIV-positive that you would like to share?

It’s funny- that’s something I don’t often share. And I think the reason for that is I’ve always preferred to quietly be in and of the fight, to not make it about me in any way. Definitely not at a public level either. But also it’s not entirely my story to tell, so I keep it close. So close it’s become a part of me. Admittedly my roots in this are deeply personal and life-changing in a way most 20-year olds don’t get to see.

I’ve also traditionally been hesitant to disclose my HIV status because again, what did it matter what that was? It mattered that I showed up. That’s what I love(d) about the HIV Smart campaign—it’s for us all. That you have the desire to be a part of something right, something that helps your fellow man is what’s important. Reasons or motives are yours alone and dare I say, irrelevant.

 

You do a lot of work getting information out to the public about PrEP and with us directly at HIV Smart. Why are you so passionate about this and what got you started?

Lol- I just realized I answered part of that in the last question, at least the ‘why’. But how I got started was by the best way to grow any campaign, movement or happening: word of mouth. A friend put me in touch with Ryan who then told me what HIV Smart was about. It wasn’t even a second thought for me. I grew up when HIV/AIDS was a “gay disease”—and to be clear, it never was. If you were sexually active with unsafe practices or an IV drug user, you were at risk. Period. So more than dispelling the stigmatizing myth gay men bore the brunt of, it needs to be made aware that the disease doesn’t discriminate. Never has, never will.

 

Are you a member of any other organizations or community groups that you’d like to tell us about?

Proudly Team Eagle–love those guys. A group of men and women who get together every September to participate in The Center’s Cycle For The Cause, a 3-day bike ride from Boston to NY. Throughout the year we have several events to raise money toward that end.

 

As a titleholder in the Leather Community why do you feel that HIV Smart has been embraced so enthusiastically?

Because HIV Smart is squarely in line with the Leather Community’s greatest feature: there’s a place—and room—for everyone.

 

What do you think is the biggest problem today in terms of HIV?

Misinformation. Who gets it? What happens next? Treatment? Services? Support? The answers to these questions at this point in time should be common knowledge. (Answers: Anyone. Take immediate action toward self-care. See your doctor. Community-based organizations like GMHC. God’s Love We Deliver, The Center, GMHC.)

 

What are some words of wisdom you can offer to someone newly diagnosed?

They’ve changed—things have changed—since the beginning. It’s almost trite to say now but it’s not a death sentence anymore. So at least there’s some comfort there. However like any major health condition it can still come with a range of feelings and emotions. I think your response will obviously be rooted in your own personal experience around sero-conversion. But in the end all you can really offer is, ‘you can get through this – I’m here for you’. Don’t just say it or even mean it either—do it.

 

What do you think the biggest myth or misconception is about PrEP?

It’s a free pass. And that myth is on both sides of the argument. Both for and against. Those against seem to think that PrEP users–and I’m trying not to use any language that participates in slut-shaming, the most popular tool for the anti- argument–are looking for excuses to be reckless, for lack of a better term. Those for seem to forget it’s an additional safety precaution. Additional. It doesn’t eliminate risk, only mitigates it.

 

What challenges or discrimination do you think exist or you have seen for those living publicly with HIV?

Ignorance—in all it’s many forms. In the workplace, among family, socially, social-sexually (dating & hookup sites). All these in turn can lead to a host of personal issues ranging from mental health, financial stability or even job security.

 

Everyone tends to think about all the negative things about living with HIV. Tell us, do you think there are any positive experiences?

I think one of the best things that can come from the diagnosis is a new self-awareness you receive. Suddenly your body and your life are more precious than before. Admittedly the able-bodied take for granted the ability to use limbs, to see or speak and yes, an uncompromised immune system. For people living with HIV, addressing and taking care of it are more often than not healthier than a man who isn’t.

 

What do you hope people will get out of the HIV Smart campaign?

A comfortable and easy approach to getting more information. An ability to identify through the variety of faces in the campaign—the more people photographed, the greater the chance for a person to see themselves reflected…or even someone they know.

Hope. Always hope.

 

What’s some of the more amusing experiences that you may have had either disclosing or working in the HIV prevention field?

I think me in bunny ears and a fucking Hello Kitty shirt at the DC Eagle event was laugh riot enough. And at my age? Stitches.

 

What would you like to tell everyone reading this that we haven’t asked you?

Yes. You can never have enough hats, gloves and shoes.

 

Where else can people find out more about you?

Facebook.com/mreaglenycq. Facebook is like my online diary.

I’m kinda not kidding. #sad

Q Ellis-Lee (Mr. Eagle NYC 2016)
Q Ellis-Lee (Mr. Eagle NYC 2016)

Her Words – Cacophony Daniels (Drag Queen Extraordinaire)

My personal story with HIV- I’m old enough to have known people taken from us due to HIV/AIDS, but young enough that I watched the worst of the crisis from my mom’s house while I was growing up. For those of us in my generation, being gay was synonymous with dying of AIDS. When I came out to my mother, she was accepting and wonderful, but when I found her in tears later that day she said “I’m just scared for you, I don’t want people to treat you differently and I don’t want you to get AIDS.” Gay men in my age group had it drilled into us that the ONLY sex was safe sex. When you “slipped up,” there was no PEP to fall back on. You waited an anxious 6 months for the tests to finally show whether a simple mistake or temporary lapse of judgement meant a death sentence.

Many faces of Cacophony Daniels
Many faces of Cacophony Daniels

My husband Jason has always worked for non-profit organizations, first at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, then at Wingspan (the LGBT community center in Tucson, AZ) and most recently at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Through him, and through being an actor and raising money with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, being an ally has been a part of my life for over a decade. I have lost friends to HIV/AIDS, and as a community we lost an entire generation. We need to stop it. We CAN stop it, if everyone is educated. And by everyone I mean EVERYONE. Gay men, their doctors, their elected representatives, health insurance companies, everyone.

PrEP and PEP are SUCH important tools for us. I can’t believe there’s even an argument about it. It’s a PILL that can STOP HIV. What’s to argue about?

I’m passionate about getting information out there because I’ve seen how UNinformed or MISinformed people are. There are doctors, DOCTORS, who don’t know about PrEP and PEP. Why not? Because they’re not told about it. I had a friend in a Red state who needed to access PEP last year. He had to go to an emergency room and explain to the staff what it was. You’re supposed to start it within 36-72 hours, and that precious time was spent educating doctors and nurses and insurance companies and pharmacies about a life-saving drug. He finally got it and it all worked out, but the experience opened his eyes and mine.

To the newly diagnosed, I say this: Keep seeing your doctor. Stay on your meds. Interrupting your drug regimen gives the virus a chance to develop resistance. Keeping the virus undetectable helps to lessen the likelihood of passing it on. Staying on your meds and keeping up with your doctor is the best way to keep yourself healthy and to stop the virus from spreading to anyone else. But also- keep going out. Keep meeting new people. Keep having hot, amazing, body-afirming sex! Your diagnosis is not a death sentence, so don’t let it squeeze the life out of you!

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Interview with Damon L. Jacobs (PrEP Warrior)

What is your personal story with your journey with HIV either as an ally to those living with HIV or being HIV-positive that you would like to share?

I first moved to San Francisco in 1990, which was during some of the darkest days of this epidemic.  Knowing people with AIDS meant losing people to AIDS.   Working with people with AIDS, living with people with AIDS, loving people with AIDS, fucking people with AIDS, meant losing to people to AIDS.  I lost a lot during this time.  So this was a call for me to get involved, get active, do SOMETHING to help prevent the spread of AIDS and HIV.

 

You do a lot of work getting information to the public about PrEP. Why are you so passionate about this and what got you started?

Because of the losses, I began working and/or volunteering in HIV prevention efforts back in 1991.  Back then, the only message was “condoms only.”  But this clearly was a limited message, given we still had 80,000 new annual infections in the U.S., (which eventually evened out to about 50,000 per year in the mid-1990s, and remained stagnant ever since).

I began using PrEP on July 19, 2011, before the FDA approval.  I understood back then that taken daily it was had over 92% efficacy.  What I didn’t know is the tremendous burden that would be lifted once I was no longer afraid of becoming HIV+.  A weight that I had been carrying for over 25 years was removed, and suddenly I had more energy, more focus, and much better sex.  I thought once the FDA approved use of Truvada for PrEP that everyone would be interested in learning about this.

By the time the FDA approved Truvada for PrEP on July 16, 2012, researchers understood it was closer to 99% effective when used daily.  So now we had an effective tool to prevent HIV, we had all U.S. insurances paying for it, but no one knew about it.  I wondered, “What if we had a way to end HIV and no one cared?”  So I started speaking up, telling more people, and eventually talking to media about this new revolution in sexual health and biomedical prevention.  It took another two years for people to begin learning about it, but eventually and gradually, through 2014-2015, there was a shift.

 

Are you a member of any other organizations or community groups that you’d like to tell us about?

I no longer am longer a  member of any non-profit, organization, clinic, corporation, etc.  It is by walking away from that world that I’ve had the freedom to do say what I want to say, and communicate most effectively about the emotional and sexual empowerment that PrEP can provide.

I did start a Facebook group called, “PrEP Facts: Rethinking HIV Prevention and Sex” on July 1, 2013.  This is a volunteer-run group that helps individuals from all over the world learn the science, data, facts, information about PrEP, as well as support with local resources, coping with stigma, maintaining adherence.

 

What do you think is the biggest problem today?

In terms of PrEP, the biggest problem is still ignorance, that people don’t know this prevention strategy exists, and how accessible it can be.  The medical profession is largely culpable in this regard, given that 1 out of 3 doctors still know nothing about PrEP (according to the CDC),  while others are still reacting to PrEP with stigma and moral outrage.

 

What are some words of wisdom you can offer to someone newly diagnosed?

I’d say that we are living in incredible times.  The life expectancy of someone diagnosed with HIV is not much different than someone without HIV.    If you are living with HIV, you still have the right and ability to experience great personal, professional, emotional, sexual, and financial success.

 

Where do you find the most support? Family? Friends? Professionals?

I find wonderful support within my chosen family, my biological family, and my relationship with God.  These are all necessary pillars in my life that allow me to work with love, clarity, and joy.

 

What do you think the biggest myth or misconception is about PrEP? 

The biggest misconception is that it will lead to the Next Big Catastrophe.  We have been so conditioned to associate pleasure with punishment and fear.  So when you remove HIV as a consequence of sex, people insist that something else terrible has to happen (a new disease, increased health disparities, etc).  I think we need to be aware of these issues in our society, but  other diseases, STIs, and financial injustice, has nothing to do with PrEP.  Yet Truvada frequently, and irrationally, gets blamed.

 

What challenges  or discrimination do you think exist or have seen for those living publicly with HIV?

I think those living publicly with HIV have challenges on both ends of the social spectrum.  Those who talk about it openly are often dealing with ignorance and clarifying misunderstandings on the HIV negative (or “maintstream”) side.  But then they are often unfairly scrutinized and harshly criticized by those “in the know” who have been living and working with the disease for decades.  Seems to be a thankless job, so it’s really important to thank those who are living openly with HIV, talking about it, and trying to help people learn.

 

Everyone tends to think about all the negative things about living with HIV. Tell us do you think there are any positive experiences? 

At the CDC Conference last December, one of the presenters of a session I went to discussed “the positives of being positive.”   Some of the potential advantages included:  Connection to healthcare, regular monitoring of non-HIV medical issues, better quality of relationships (as opposed to quantity).  In my therapy practice, I have often seen individuals living with HIV take better inventory of their lives and gain access to their true value, beauty, and power that extends beyond the body.

 

What do you hope people will get out of the HIV Smart campaign?

I’m hoping people will reduce stigma and fear related to HIV, and get a better understanding of how treatable and preventable HIV is today, so that they can enjoy deeper relationships and better sex!

 

What’s some of the more amusing experiences that may have had either disclosing or working in the HIV prevention field? 

Once you’ve talked about having condomless anal sex in the New York Times, there’s not a lot more to disclose.  But I’d say one of the more amusing experiences came after an interview I did with a reporter where I discussed the spiritual aspects of semen exchange.  I was really proud of the article, but not sure this was something I wanted to share on Facebook so that my mother and family would see it.  I debated about this back and forth for over a week.  Finally, I decided, “I’m proud of my work, I’m a grown man, I’m not going to hide this from anyone.”  I told my Mom I was going to post the article but “parental discretion was advised.”  My mother’s response was, “Oh it’s a great piece, your Dad and I already read it.”

 

What would you like to tell everyone reading this that we haven’t asked you?

PrEP technically stands for “Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.”  For myself, and for over 20,000 consumers, it has come to me something more.  For us it stands for “Proactive, Responsible, Empowered, Pleasure.”  It is Proactive because it is done ahead of time in a sober, mindful state.  It is Responsible because we’re staying HIV negative and ensuring we are not unknowingly transmitting HIV to any partners.  It is Empowered because it is the first time a bottom partner has ever had control over their own HIV status.  And it is about Pleasure, because that is the reason most of us have sex, especially gay/bisexual men.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to be part of ending the worst plague of the past century. If every one would help their friends and community learn about PrEP, and Treatment and Prevention (TasP), then we will see the end of new transmissions in our lifetime.  Join me over at “PrEP Facts” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/PrEPFacts/) to learn more.

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His Words – Richard J. Schieffer

It was a sunny day in early September 2011, and I woke up hungover. I was sad that my boyfriend just moved back to Australia. I decided that I should go for a routine checkup at the clinic at the Department of Health in North Chelsea. I had no idea what news would come later that afternoon.

When I was younger, in Junior High, we learned about HIV and many other viruses and diseases. I remember being nervous because I wasn’t completely out of the closet and HIV was called “Gay Cancer” in the things we were reading. That’s all that I gained from it so it was scary being the gay kid learning about this amongst homophobic kids in a small town in Upstate New York. Condoms and abstinence were the only thing that would protect you. And by eighth grade I had lost my virginity to the new gay kid in town without a condom, but I didn’t think anything of it because we started to use condoms after that experience. Little did I know that it would start my sexual drive for future encounters.

My freshman year at Norwich High School, we had a mandatory Health Class where we learned more about HIV, including watching a movie about Ryan White, the young boy that contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. We also learned how to put a condom on a banana, which I was already well-versed in and found particularly comical. I remember senior jocks talking about sex in study hall and the girls looking at them. Of course I spoke up, wanting to be the younger know-it-all and fit in, and I did somehow. It made me “cool” to know about sex. It helped that I watched Queer As Folk on the regular, too. I believed that it was cool to act the way these men did sexually. I was so young, but believed that was the way gays lived.

I was out in by my freshman year, and needed to know everything there was about being gay. My family was supportive and did everything there was to boost my confidence, acknowledging that I wasn’t the only one. When The Laramie Project came on a movie channel, my mom recorded it on our VCR and we watched it as a family. Matthew Shepard was a young man that went to school in Wyoming. He was brutally beaten and hospitalized to die a few days later. He too was HIV+. What was this trend?

For the rest of my time as the Purple Tornado Lane (nickname for my high school), I had boyfriends, sexual experiences and graduated single and tried discovering myself more through sex and drinking. I moved to Jersey, escaped and had sexual journeys after my nights out in NYC with friends. There was so much I can’t remember. I do remember how much fun it was.

Then I moved here, somewhere down the road and it opened my world up. I was a GoGo boy, and I was fresh meat. Who doesn’t like the kind of attention from hot guys? Needless to say, I had plenty of sex. I dated guys on and off, but the use of condoms only became a burden unless the other guy put one on. I tested negative regularly. I felt invincible. I was drinking and doing bumps in bathroom stalls, bent over in those same stalls. I was living some sort of fantasy that I had seen on Showtime. Black Party, sex parties, orgies, and so on. I felt unstoppable.

It quickly caught up to me that afternoon at the clinic. I was there, happy-go-lucky. I remember the nurse desperately needing to see me, to speak to me. I felt kind of like Samantha Jones when she went to get tested, but thought I’d have the same outcome. I was wrong. The nurse sat me down and the only things I remember her saying before my world shut down was, “the preliminary result came back reactive.” Was this it? Did my shenanigans, and irresponsibility get me here? I was only twenty-two years old. This can’t happen to me.

For months I tried not having sex, but there were those drunken nights that still led to a new man in my bed, or another bathroom stall, added anonymous scenes… Until I stopped completely. I remember getting rejected, shut down, ridiculed even. People used it against me. Some people were so cruel to say, “just go die of AIDS.” There was hate, but there were few that comforted me and told me it’d be okay. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened to my life. I tried to focus by going away to do a show out west. Even when I got back, I felt different still, but I worked hard and pushed myself. I landed a job at Therapy, pushed still harder, and met some people that would help change my life.

Something I learned earlier on is that you don’t have to be positive to be knowledgeable and help those living with HIV. My friend, Shane, was a perfect example of this. I remember walking with him and my friend Jason the day I started my meds. I remember being so scared of the horror stories I had heard from people in their first months on them, the side effects would be brutal. That wasn’t my experience. It was fine. I had no nightmares, I had no nausea, no dizziness. My friends were there for me. I spoke about my fears, and about dating. It was nice. Little did I know Shane had a drag pageant coming up that was benefiting AIDS LifeCycle. I had it made.

Even with all the support, being in Broadway Bares for my first time, eventually that self-pity crept back in. I felt like I didn’t belong. It was like I was terminally unique. Something was missing. I had this hole that couldn’t be filled. I started seeking more because I was unsatisfied. I started drinking heavier, I started using more blow. I smoked tons of weed. Now that I was on meds, I could continue having careless sex. Then I found my answer. Crystal Meth would solve all of these problems. It began in early fall of 2012. I fit in with these hot guys, getting together to have bareback sex, use drugs, and it opened up my world. I started to feel like a god. It started off as a once a month thing until I went away to do a show again.

Upon my return to New York, I pounded the pavement. I was dancing, working, hosting parties. I was on top of the world. I worked five weeks solid without a day off, and then started to give myself breaks. By the time April rolled around, I was craving that darkness that I had felt before. I wanted to fit in more, I wanted to feel god-like. What started off slow, became a rapid downward spiral. Once-a-month became every few weeks until it was every week, and by the summer of 2013, I was using Crystal Meth almost every single day. I used my status as an excuse to escape. That escape gave me a reason to slowly forget about my meds that I would only take when I would remember.

The scene I had gotten myself in led to unhealthy relationships, being awake for days and bragging about it, trying dangerous substances in gratuitous amounts, betraying friends that had been nothing short of loving, and my doctor almost dropping me from his practice. In this scene, I found many guys that were negative, some chasers and some on PrEP. I found people that weren’t on their meds regularly and some more functional. I finally said to myself that I should get some sleep after being awake for eight days, and I “took a break” from it to get a job and to do Broadway Bares which finally let to me being completely sober.

I never thought I’d contract HIV. I never thought I’d be drink and drug free. I never thought I’d be consciously working for charities. HIV has been something that has helped me grow up. I’ve had to learn to take care of myself, get insurance, help others. I think that it’s important to talk about HIV, to educate and end stigma, to prevent, to support each other.

Presently, I am open about my status. I am open about most of my life. I talk about PrEP openly. I think it’s our answer in preventing HIV along with the use of condoms, but I also know that there are other infections out there that only condoms can help against. It’s like birth control- you won’t get pregnant, but you can get the clap so many times that it sounds like applause. The most important way of protecting yourself and others is to know your status. Get tested. Why wonder? There are plenty of free clinics and Google helps find them, or just ask someone. I think it’s important to have all of the information and be responsible in your sexual appetite. Sex feels better without condoms, but responsibility is sexier.

Today I’m involved with many organizations that I may not have had the opportunity if I didn’t use my status for a better purpose. Every year I try to participate in the AIDS Walk New York and have even been the star walker in my time working at Therapy. I originally began as a server for the Miss Hell’s Kitchen Pageant created by Shane Terenzi. I was then made choreographer, and currently on the board and help run the pageant alongside Ariel Fleischman and Danny Logan. Then there is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (aka BC/EFA) which I am fortunate to be a part of every year to some capacity. I’ve been a team captain, VIP cocktail server, performer, and VIP dancer. Broadway Bares has helped me progress and teach me that being positive means I’m human. I can be me, proud to be me, and use it to help others. Bares made me realize that the life I was leading before was stealing my dreams away, and it is one of the reasons I have an opportunity to reach out, speak out, and have a voice.

For anyone that is newly diagnosed, I wouldn’t suggest taking the drug-fueled route that I took. I wouldn’t suggest isolating.  I would tell you that there are options of group therapy, and counselors. Join support groups, do charity work, get insurance. I remember having to switch doctors and found a doctor that I trust and knows his stuff. Stay informed of what’s going on in today’s world with advances in medicine. Start treatment after your genotype is determined, it’s better to be safe than sorry. There will always be a stigma with those that are fearful of HIV and that’s okay. I would rather be understanding than allow their negativity to stop me or others from being honest and prevent me from being of help. Protect yourself and those you are intimate with and if you ever have *THAT* day at the clinic, know that you are NOT alone. It’s normal to cry, it’s normal to feel ashamed at first. It’s normal to need someone to tell you to breathe.

I can’t believe I was diagnosed almost five years ago, and being 26 and getting my life together, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. I am fortunate to live in “the city that never sleeps” and choreograph and dance all over the world for major drag names and some celebrities from time-to-time; not to mention my next move to be a big time group fitness instructor. I mean Richard Simmons of 2016? That’s pretty cool in my book.

 

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Interview with Bino Alves (Flaunt It)

Bino Alves

What is your personal story or journey with HIV that you would like to share?

There are quite a few. The first one is how the system is being run it’s really sad. I’ll just leave  it like that. I learned through my journey I became a stronger person and also I got involved more with the HIV Organizations to show my support.

 

 

You are involved in the world of fashion. What do you do in the world of fashion?

In the Fashion world l’m a freelance designer and stylist also worked with celebrities under my own name Flaunt It.

 

What has been your experience of being openly HIV-positive in this industry?

My experience in the industry is so much different now then before. Since Mondo came out openly with his HIV status people accept more and its not a issue. Also my experience from the industry I get ask ” what’s next from Flaunt It” ?

 

What are some words of wisdom you can offer to someone newly diagnosed?

These where the words that changed me after being newly diagnosed  and I would like to share.

-Stay Positive

-Stay Healthy

-Stay Strong

-Stay Smart

Its not the end of your life – It’s a new beginning.

 

Where did you find the most support? Family? Friends? Professionals?

The  most support I got was from friends because it’s a day to day social life. My family was very supported as well but I don’t see them that often due to fact they live in Europe. The professionals that I socialize with day to day are so supportive and made me feel HIV is just a virus not a crime.

 

 What do you think the biggest myth or misconception is about living with HIV?

Most people say and believe that only Gay man could get this Virus because its was only transmitted threw anal sex. These man  will  have a shorter  life due to the virus.

 

What do you wish you had been told when you were first diagnosed but no one ever told you?

More information about the Virus and medications,  especially from my doctor and not learning this my from my peers.

 

Has living publicly with HIV presented you with any challenges or discrimination?

Yes it has.  Lots of decisions to be made but also has changed me to be a stronger person.

 

Everyone tends to think about all the negative things about living with HIV. Tell us about some of your positive experiences?

The positive experiences that I got was were amazing . The support from everyone – family,  friends, and fans that they always believed in what I do regardless if it was then or now in my artwork or Fashion design/styling. From the day I announced to the public on FaceBook  on December 1st World AIDS Day  2015 after one year and 2 month being HIV-positive. The big opportunities that are given to me day by day. I’m working on a RED RIBBON fashion show this Fall in September.

 

What do you hope people will get out of the HIV Smart campaign?

To gain knowledge of the virus/ medication  and education  to share with their loved ones. From the service that they are providing us with and remember to always be HIV Smart.

 

If you could do anything different after being diagnosed what would it be and why?

To be a role model, to share my life story to the youth generation. To teach and encourage them to have safe sex and believe in themselves.

 

What’s happening now and next after you became HIV-positiver?

Some of my experiences that have come after being diagnosed HIV-positive was being blessed to join GMHC for their service and support groups that they have to offer for clients who are HIV-ositive. There I started getting back to my art world.  I’ll have some of my artwork shown  in the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art this coming Spring / Summer 2016.

I also joined Visual AIDS  which they gave me the opportunity to submit a piece of my artwork for the show called “Postcards from the Edge” on January 29-31. The Art work is entitled, “Barbie Boy” and is mixed media on canvas 4×6. I will start teaching a class in Fashion at GMHC coming up real soon and put a fashion fhow together for the Fall of this year in September for Fashion week.

Bino Alves
Bino Alves