I contracted HIV from having unprotected sex. This was 22 years ago. Before my child’s mother and I got together, I was tested for HIV and STIs. It all came back negative. We were monogamous. She always said, “nah she didn’t have it,” but I knew I didn’t have it at that time. I got really sick and wound up in the hospital. They told me I have HIV and I was like “what!?” I got that bad and didn’t even know what was going on. It was a shock, but it was like “anybody but me.” It really hit home. After I found out I was HIV positive, I talked to her about it. It wasn’t no angry conversation. She was nonchalant, so I figured she already had it. I just put two and two together.
I started using drugs around when I found out I had HIV. I was using before, but everything got elevated. I was using cocaine, alcohol and sometimes weed. I was in denial and trying to cope. I first went to treatment in 2017.
I am white, 61-years-old, and I am gay. I was diagnosed with HIV on November 21st, 1984. I've survived HIV and addiction for 38 years and I have every intention of continuing. I was told I have this new gay disease. I was put in isolation in the hospital. I found out because I had night sweats, fevers, and swollen lymph nodes. They did a blood test, and my test results were positive.
At that moment, I felt terrified when I got the news. My friends were dying of HIV, and they were dying horrible deaths. I’m pretty sure my mode of transmission was through unprotected sex. I was having very risky sex. At that time, I was high on drugs and alcohol, I did anything with anyone anytime.
I found out I was HIV positive in December of 2020 at 71 years old. I stayed in the hospital for 20 days after they found out what was wrong. I had four or five different things that were going on with me. I had double pneumonia and meningitis. I had gone to the hospital because I seemed to be having a cold that just wouldn’t quit. I figured I needed to know whatever was going on because I wasn't getting any better and I was losing all this weight. They said I had AIDS.
For the life of me I couldn't figure out where I got it from or how it happened. I do realize that my immune system was bad. I had gone to my primary care person to try and figure out what was wrong, and she had told me that my immune system was compromised, and I asked her, “So how do I un-compromise my immune system? What do you do?” and she said, “I don’t know.” She really didn’t give me any further guidance. At the hospital, they didn’t even talk about how I got HIV.
HIV and undetectable are two different things. I try to tell people that. You can’t pass HIV if you stay undetectable. People hear HIV and think one thing, but I’m undetectable. You got a lot of men that don’t take care of themselves. If you catch it early and take your meds, you live long. I know a lot of men that don’t go to the doctor, and they die, and people wonder why. When I go to the doctor, I get everything checked – liver, kidney. The medication can affect them, so it’s good to talk to your doctor about it. I got one pill a day that I take. Back in the day it used to be three pills. When I go get checked out, they say my liver looks good, my weight looks good. I found out I was diabetic because I went and got checked out. Just go to the doctor.
It’s been so long I never remember when I was diagnosed. It’s been twenty to thirty years. It’s hard to say. It was after Hurricane Andrew, and I had moved from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.
In 1990, my first husband died of HIV, and I was told by the doctor to go get tested. That’s how I found out I had HIV. I didn’t know that my husband was in a relationship with another woman at the time. How I found out is, when he was in the hospital dying, I met this woman and she said she has a baby with him. Apparently, my husband was having an affair with this woman all along. He always used to tell me he was going to his brother’s house. Her house was a couple blocks down, so he’d park his car at his brother’s house and go to her house to be with her.
After I found out I was HIV-positive, it was a big depression for me. I started drinking more, going out and hanging out with my friends. Then, instead of me taking my problems to God, I took my problems to the bottle. I just drank more, but I kept a job; always held a job down. You know, I was a functional alcoholic. I didn't drink on the job. I would always drink after I got home from work.
I am a 44-year-old Latino-Hispanic, heterosexual man, and I’m on PrEP.
I heard of PrEP through a peer support specialist that I had back in 2019 who worked for the organization Latinos Salud. He was able to give me all the information for PrEP and convinced me that it was in my best interest to protect myself while engaging in sexual activity. I live in Broward County and South Florida is high for new HIV cases.
The motivation for me to continue to use PrEP is because I'm very health conscious. Currently, I don't suffer any side effects from taking PrEP. I feel physically and emotionally healthy. I take a pill once a day, it's easy to remember. I just take my pill every morning.
I was diagnosed in 2005 with HIV at the age of 27. I am gay and I am Cuban. Growing up in Cuba, being gay was not easy
because of the stigma. People were not accepting of the gay community like here in the United States.
While in Cuba, my lymph nodes were swollen, and I had a severe flu. So, I went online and searched for my symptoms. I had the feeling that I may have contracted HIV. I was terrified because, in Cuba, if you have HIV, you will be put in a clinic and isolated from your loved ones. There is no confidentiality in Cuba, and everybody will know your status. It’s a total violation.
My mode of transmission for HIV was through unprotected sex. I knew that having unprotected sex was always a risk. There wasn’t a lot of knowledge about HIV in Cuba.
I’m from Norway. I grew up in Broward County, FL. I am a 33-year-old white gay male. My first time sharing a needle, I contracted HIV. I knew the risk was there. I wanted to get high.
I was sober for several years before I was introduced to meth. By the time I turned 28, I was fully engaged in substance abuse and using meth frequently. I found out I had HIV in jail in 2019. I agreed to be tested because there was a possibility that I could be HIV positive. I was participating in risky behavior and sharing needles before getting locked up.
A nurse was doing blood draws on inmates to test for HIV. I told her that I had shared needles a few times while in active addiction. The nurse suggested that I should most likely get tested for that reason.
It was at that moment, I thought “Is this how I’m going to go?”
Being Hebrew and Cherokee Indian, I’ve always been a spiritual person. After my diagnosis, I began to question my faith. I was in active addiction at the time, selling myself for drugs and having multiple partners without protection.
One day, I noticed that I had a sore throat, and my lymph nodes were swollen. Eventually, I decided to get tested and was officially diagnosed in 2005. I felt numb and I felt terrified. However, I continued my faith in God and knew that I was going to be ok.
Initially, I kept my diagnosis to myself until I went into a substance abuse treatment program.
In 1988, when I got diagnosed, there was not a lot of information on AIDS. At that time, AIDS was for gay men. That's just how I remember the media hyping it up. A gay man's disease. The plague for being gay. I tried to gather more information after my diagnosis. I was also in a chronic addiction, so the idea I had when I found out was that I was going to die.
I dove deeper into my drug addiction and remained in denial about my diagnosis. I started my first treatment regimen in 1994. I was taking like four different pills. I still, because of my addiction, didn't really believe that I was going to live through this. I thought that these pills were just going to sustain me a little bit longer. There wasn’t education about how to stay healthy living with HIV. All that stuff wasn’t available at the time. It was “take these pills and you'll be fine.” I remember too, that there was hope, you know, but I couldn't distinguish between hope and the desire to live.
My partner at that time was giving blood and I always had given blood before. I was in good health and good spirits. I thought nothing of it. That’s when I found out I had HIV. It was shocking. After my diagnosis, I fell into a dark place. I had contracted HIV through careless unprotected sex with someone I trusted. There was partying involved for sure. I will say when taking drugs your mind is not focused on precautions.
I let myself know that life isn't over. I realize this happens to many people. During that time of darkness, I still started treatment right away. I know the positive outcome treatment can have. With my health conditions and age, I didn't want to anything to happen. One month after my diagnosis, I was undetectable. I know I have this virus, but I know I cannot pass it on to anyone else if I stay in care.
As early as I can remember, I always felt like a female. I started to voice that to my family; anybody that would listen. When I would do that, I would get beaten. In Miami, when I started school, I remember telling the teacher that I was a female. People would ask my parents, is that your daughter or your son? Things that I wanted to do, like play with dolls and hang out with girls, the way that I spoke, walked, everything always came with humiliation, ridicule, and abuse. My parents sent me to Puerto Rico to live with family thinking that maybe it would help me be more manly. I had never been there, and the abuse was worse. One day I received a vicious beating from some teenagers. They started calling me a faggot. I started to mouth off; never in a million years thinking strangers would put their hands on me. They beat me unconscious and hid me behind bleachers exposed to the sun. I woke up with second degree sunburns. They left me for dead. I decided from that moment forward, I was no longer going to be feminine. I was so traumatized. It took away my everything.
I was living in a halfway house in Delray Beach, Florida, and I was sick, which I thought was the flu. It was persistent. I had a high fever, and it was lasting probably over a week, not being able to get off the couch and calling out at work. Finally, one of the roommates came home and said, bro, you haven't gotten off the couch, are you all, right? Someone who ran the halfway house ended up coming over and took me to the hospital. They did some tests and they suspected that it was PCP Pneumonia, which I knew nothing about. I said, well, wait a minute. I'm a 32-year-old male, with pneumonia, that's raising a red flag for me. The doctor asked me if I had ever been tested for HIV.
It was World Aids Day in 2006. A bunch of doctors came around my bed and I just knew. I had seen the commercials all week long for WAD and I felt like, oh God, this is God preparing me. At the time I had, I think, seven T-cells. When I was told seven, I knew that was drastic. I was numb at first and then I broke down.
August of 2018 was a very transformational year for me. I always did my regular checkup every three months. It was around that time I knew something was wrong with my body. I wasn't eating, and I felt out of tune with myself. I decided to get checked out and that's when I found out I had HIV.
When I was given the diagnosis, I was more worried about my mom’s reaction. I had a gut feeling I was going to be just fine. I have a strong feeling that I was exposed to HIV from one of my reoccurring sexual partners. We had unprotected sex. I trusted him and I got it from him because months later, he got tested and found out he had it. Since my diagnosis, things have changed. When I gained the strength to tell my mother, she thought I was going to die because she had that mindset from the stigma of the 1980’s. Back then, things were extremely hard for the LGBTQ+ community. Things are different now with advanced medicine that we have to take care of ourselves.
When I was younger, I would not go get tested because of the anxiety associated with a positive diagnosis or positive result. But as I have grown older, especially in my sobriety, I realized that whatever you may have, there are medical treatments for it. The way to keep from getting sick and getting other people sick is by managing your health. It's not a question of having anxiety anymore. It's a question of being responsible and knowing that there's a safety net of people who can help you and medication that can help you.
I lived in Fort Lauderdale two different times in my life. The second time around there was a fundraiser I donated to, and I found out exactly what Broward House does. Before that time, I was not aware of the organization or how much it did for the community. It's not just the LGBTQ community, but homeless individuals and so much more. When I was looking for a place for testing, I didn't have to do research. I thought “I might as well use this resource.”
It’s Med Time Papa!
By Zee Zalnasky
It all began when Luca was about age 3. At the time, his older brother Pierce, had just begun preschool. Luca suddenly felt all alone with his brother and playmate gone for the day. He had no one to play with. Luca would gather all of his toys, Legos, trucks, action figures and pile them next to my bed. I rested frequently as I was recovering from a 2014 AIDS diagnosis and required daily medications that needed to be taken on time, all the time throughout the day. As Luca played, he would nudge me asking, “Papa, will you play with me?”
I went in for testing because my boyfriend and I came across a post from my ex on one of the hookups sites. He mentioned that he was HIV positive. Imagine my surprise. I was just angry at my ex. I had recently broken up with him because he had been sleeping around with other people. He had HIV, found out about it, and instead of mentioning it to me, posted on a hookup site that he was HIV positive. He was letting people he wanted to hook up with know, but not the one key person that could have been affected by this to be aware.
My boyfriend and I went in and got tested at the Pride Center. He came back negative. I came back positive. I'm confident that I contracted HIV from my ex when he was cheating on me. My boyfriend was concerned because up until that point we had not been having safe sex.
My mom just hid it. I mean, I found out about her status from outsiders, my mom never sat me down and told me. I was just there to take care of her and that was that. I was young then, so I didn't know what was happening. I was in middle school at the time, sixth grade.
Then I had people asking questions like, “are you scared to live with your mom?”
I remember thinking, “are YOU scared to live with YOUR mom?”
Or they would ask, “are you scared to eat after her?”
I thought, “are YOU scared to eat after YOUR mom?”
I was in jail at the time. I kept getting sick and I was having all these symptoms. I didn't know what was going on. I kept on putting sick calls in to go to the clinic and they couldn't figure it out. Then, I saw a sign in the hall for free HIV testing. I asked to take the test. A few days later the doctor said, “you tested positive for HIV.” That's it. I wasn't really educated about HIV in any way. The doctor said, “you're going to take these two pills and you'll be good.” I didn’t even really know what the pills were for.
I didn't know anything. I was uneducated. I thought having HIV was nasty. If anything, I thought it was the end of the world, or at least my sex life and my love life. Nobody's going to want someone that has HIV. I just didn't want people to think I was dirty or think that they were going to get it from me.
Almost two years later, I can’t imagine a better place for Malina to have been born because Malina was born in Broward House.
As addicts, we get addicted to falling and getting back up. Not so much about a relapsing but falling in life. I did just that; I fell. As an addict, when you get clean, you don't remember where you came from. You don't remember the pain, the chaos, the lies, and the pain that you caused your family. You don't remember any of that because you just go right back to the same old pattern.
At the same time, I was trying to balance my volunteer work and college. Little aches, pains and issues popped up in the relationship because not only did I have undiagnosed ADHD, but he had no sympathy for that.