Honoring Long Time Survivors of HIV

This month’s spotlight is a little bit different, as we are keeping our community member who we interviewed anonymous in order to protect their privacy. For the purpose of this article, we will use the pseudonym, Amber. Amber (she/her/hers) identifies as a transgender woman and grew up in the church, always feeling a deep connection with God: “The church was a place where I felt love and acceptance when I was little”. Amber was very involved in the church’s choir and she enjoyed singing. She describes herself has having great harmonization skills when singing with other members of the church. “My voice has always connected to people in a touching way, I was always getting solos and people around me loved to hear me sing. I felt that God gave me the gift of singing because I was socially awkward and wasn’t really good at doing anything else”. While Amber’s passion for singing helped her build relationships, everything changed when Amber started becoming attracted to boys. This confused her since it conflicted with what she had read and learned about in the church, “I loved God and I didn’t want him to hate me”. After reconciling her internal conflict, Amber came out at the age of seventeen. As she feared, the church, her peers and her family members rejected a disowned her. “People would tell me to repent and ask God to take the evil from inside of me, [but] I didn’t feel evil, I felt full of love and life”. Amber left home and decide to leave the church in order to live true to who she was. When Amber was in her early twenties, she started feeling extremely sick; She was feverish and vomiting. “I thought that I had the flu or some type of stomach infection”. After going to her provider, she found out that she was HIV positive: “When they told me that I tested positive for the virus I felt an out of body experience, it was like I was being punished by God for being [who] I was!” Amber said that she just got up and ran out of the clinic in tears. She was in denial for an entire year; she ignored calls and voicemails from her health care team and even though she knew she needed to start her ARV regimen, she wasn’t ready to come in terms with living with HIV. One year later, Amber followed up with her provider and started her ARV medication because she felt that it was time to start taking care of herself. “I completely stopped trusting men, I felt like I couldn’t date people; I was afraid of how men would respond if they’d knew I was HIV positive”. It took Amber six months to become undetectable. Amber offered some advice during our interview: “If there is anyone living with the [HIV] virus, I want them to know they are valuable, and loved. Take care of your bodies, this virus is not what it used to be; it’s no longer a death sentence for anyone”. Amber is a moderator of love fight and resilience. It took some time for Amber to come to terms with her positive status, but she found her voice again. I am so appreciative to have the opportunity of knowing her. She is a beautiful warrior!