Rowdy

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 “I was living in Houston after dropping out of grad-school and I was very depressed. My life was not going in the direction I wanted. I was not going to make it to NY, a place I felt like I could be myself for the first time. I had asked for help from my family, but they just couldn’t provide what I was asking for. Finally, I arrived at the conclusion that I needed to toughen myself up and explore my dark side. I secretly began a very private spiral of destruction with alcohol, drugs, and sex. When I would get off work, instead of going to a bar, I would pick up a small bag of cocaine, a six-pack and a pack of cigarettes. I guess I was trying to satiate something as I repeated this ritual every night. I would get online and see if there were any guys close by to keep me company. One morning, I awoke to a stranger in my bed. My head ached. He slid off the bed and started to get dressed. I got up and asked him to show me his arms. No track marks. Something didn’t feel right though. I oddly walked him to the door to see him out.

I tested positive in 2013 and moved to NY! I was presented with a life or death decision: Do I live or do I continue to slowly kill myself and let this disease take me? Ultimately I arrived at the decision to live in spite of the disease. I had told myself a long time ago that I would contribute to the war on HIV/AIDS regardless of my status. It took a car accident to get me here, but now I’m a client at GMHC and I work as an intern for AIDS Walk NY. I am seeing a counselor, a psychiatrist, a doctor, and a nutritionist. My coke addiction was short-lived but I still see a group for that. I currently take Odefsey.

I was terrified of having sex with anyone who wasn’t positive and causing their seroconversion, but also of being rejected by my family and even other gay men. Some gay men still reject me and I haven’t told my family, but I can put it out of my head and meet other guys who understand or are going through something similar. I’m starting to re-emerge and be part of things again. I try to be honest about what I’ve been through. Maybe others can learn from it.”

Rowdy, 32, undetectable. Brooklyn, NY. Office Support Intern

Eric

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 "When I contracted HIV I was 3 years sober from alcohol and drugs. Due to my addictive nature, I was using sex as a way to fix feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem. It seemingly helped and the riskier it was, the better I felt. I was in a codependent relationship at the time with an active meth user who I was unaware was poz. Looking back, I should have known he was, but I never asked. Screening my sex partners wasn't very important to me because the narrative that the gay cis white male culture taught me was being black and gay means you're not sexually equal to them. Eventually it caught up to me and in 2012 I tested positive for HIV. I'm honestly not sure whom I got it from. It could have been the guy I was seeing or someone I had condomless sex with. I don't believe the 'who' or 'when' really matters. It just happened.

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, when my dad suspected me of being gay, he told me that I was going to die of AIDS and go to hell, so I wanted to start medication immediately. I didn't want him to be right. In the beginning I was prescribed 3 pills. Currently I just take 1. It took a few years to become comfortable with my diagnosis. I went through a long period of depression, guilt, self-hate and anxiety. I had to do a great deal of emotional work to feel better.

I believe my dating life has been forever changed due to my diagnosis. Attempting to navigate sex and dating with HIV has been challenging. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was going to be alone forever. Thankfully I don't feel that way anymore, though I can still regress to those thoughts at times. Disclosing has become easier and if I'm rejected because I'm poz, I don't give it much thought unless I decide to educate the person. It has added to my list of insecurities however. Not only am I gay, I'm also black, a recovering alcoholic with mental health issues, a former cutter, who now is HIV+. It's important for me to have support from friends and keep myself surrounded by people who love me and who remind me that I have worth.

When more and more people began to learn about PrEP and take it, it took some of the pressure off of disclosing my status. I believe it finally brought up a reason for those who were HIV- to educate themselves. Prior to PrEP, most HIV- people weren't concerned about HIV, but PrEP was something that concerned them, so it peaked their interest. Things are still far from perfect in terms of destigmatizing HIV, and PrEP has had a stigma of its own, but I believe it's slowly going in the right direction."

Eric, 32, undetectable. Harlem, NY. HIV Tester and Counselor helping gay/bi male youth

Jason

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 "I was visiting Fort Lauderdale, Florida staying at a clothing optional guest house and I had unprotected sex as a bottom with a sexy German daddy and he said he didn’t cum in me but I swore he did. A couple of weeks later I went for a doctor's check up and did blood work and turns out I was infected. I never got sick.

When I tested HIV+ I was 6 months into my sobriety. The fact that I am HIV+ has made me want to stay sober even more because I don’t want to die. I take one pill a day called Genvoya.

For me PrEP hasn't changed the situation much. Today as before some people don’t use protection and some do. I don’t think people are educated enough these days on what undetectable means."

Jason, 37, undetectable. Brooklyn, NY. Bartender

Myles

  “I found out I was HIV positive in November of 2011. I have no idea what the circumstances were surrounding my infection. What I do know is I was very insecure and had very low self esteem leading up to it. I'd met a guy and started to have strong feelings for him. It was then, I decided to go and get tested. It was very hard to tell him I was indeed positive, but his compassion towards me and my status was a shock to my system! We broke up, but I gained an unshakable confidence in myself. I love him to this day.  I had HUGE trepidations about starting medication. I was scared for a million reasons, the biggest being side effects. I had this idea that I would get worse before I got better. Back in 2011 I was given medication, (Complera) which I never started. In the interim, I sought therapy and kept in close contact with the doctors I met. I finally started treatment 6 years after being diagnosed. I started taking Triumeq in February of 2017. It's 1 a day pill and there are no side effects. I grew up! I found a power in myself and felt like a new dude. Also, I now know my status, so it makes the dating game slightly easier, psychologically.  My experience has been many guys say they are on PrEP and are not. Same with Poz guys that say they are std free. I remember the fear and the guilt I felt those 6 years that I hadn't a clue what my status was, it was hell, mentally. I still prefer not to use condoms, but not opposed to strapping up! I want to find a partner I can be sexually uninhibited with, while also being on top of our health. I am still a work in progress.”  Myles, 39, undectectable. Long Island City, Queens, NY. DJ and performance artist

 “I found out I was HIV positive in November of 2011. I have no idea what the circumstances were surrounding my infection. What I do know is I was very insecure and had very low self esteem leading up to it. I'd met a guy and started to have strong feelings for him. It was then, I decided to go and get tested. It was very hard to tell him I was indeed positive, but his compassion towards me and my status was a shock to my system! We broke up, but I gained an unshakable confidence in myself. I love him to this day.

I had HUGE trepidations about starting medication. I was scared for a million reasons, the biggest being side effects. I had this idea that I would get worse before I got better. Back in 2011 I was given medication, (Complera) which I never started. In the interim, I sought therapy and kept in close contact with the doctors I met. I finally started treatment 6 years after being diagnosed. I started taking Triumeq in February of 2017. It's 1 a day pill and there are no side effects. I grew up! I found a power in myself and felt like a new dude. Also, I now know my status, so it makes the dating game slightly easier, psychologically.

My experience has been many guys say they are on PrEP and are not. Same with Poz guys that say they are std free. I remember the fear and the guilt I felt those 6 years that I hadn't a clue what my status was, it was hell, mentally. I still prefer not to use condoms, but not opposed to strapping up! I want to find a partner I can be sexually uninhibited with, while also being on top of our health. I am still a work in progress.”

Myles, 39, undectectable. Long Island City, Queens, NY. DJ and performance artist

Jeremy

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 "I hooked up with a guy who said they were undetectable and on med, four months later I found out that wasn't true. When I confronted him about it, he admitted to lying to me about his status.

Because of the infection I learned to be me. I wasn't going to be defined by my status, I gained confidence in my career field and strived to surpass the expectations of others and myself. I will not allow HIV to get in the way of my dreams and passions in life. I am currently on Genvoya. I try to live a balanced life and remember to take time out for myself and those I care about."

Jeremy, 28, undetectable. Brooklyn, NY. Instructor, Pastry Chef, and Chocolate Maker

BJ

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 "I was in my mid-20's, 10 feet tall and bullet-proof as they say. I knew that I was taking risks with having unprotected sex, but I thought that I was making as good of decisions as possible by asking lots of questions and choosing 'classy' people. I avoided sex clubs, and anonymous scenes. But, of course, the virus doesn't really care about those things. I'd started seeing a guy consistently and realized that I wanted more than just random sex. As it turns out, he was 'unaware' that he was positive and claimed false-negative tests. I went in for a regularly quarterly test appointment, and got the news that I was in conversion. As I sat there, the nurses each came in and gave a hug, and the doctor talked me through the next steps that we'd be tackling.

It was a pretty major shift from a dating perspective. People were still terrified of the virus back then and education wasn't very widespread. Today, in 2018, it's almost to a place where it's barely even a pause in the conversation. The common acceptance that U=U has taken so much of the anxiety out of dating. I'm always clear with partners and on dating profiles. I've been with Gilead products from the beginning. Atripla, then Complera, and currently Odefsey.

When PrEP started coming out, it really opened up the dating pool more broadly since there was much less fear of being with me as a positive guy."

BJ, 37, undetectable. Manhattan, New York. Working in marketing

Ken

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 "Either I gave it to him or he gave it to me. When we first met (many years ago), both of us claimed to be negative. Four months after we met, I got tested and the results were negative. One month later we stopped using condoms. Then, about 18 months after that, a test came back positive, first for me and later for him.

Every two months I see my doctor, blood is drawn and new viral load and T-cell numbers follow. Currently, I am on Odefsey. Previously, I was taking Complera. Before that, Atripla.

I have had zero success using condoms. In the mid-1990s, condom use rightfully became part of the accepted formula in the effort to lessen, treat and prevent HIV infection. My personal response to the evolving situation was to give up having anal sex completely. I couldn't make condoms work and I didn't want to commit murder by ejaculation. HIV impacted my sex life in a very negative way.

PrEP, PEP and the notion of undetectable have lessened the anxiety that I feel regarding sexual activity. While hook-ups are rare, I am enjoying sex once again."

Ken, 72, undetectable. Hell's Kitchen, NY. Music and piano teacher

Joshué

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 “As most of us, I was being "reactive rather than proactive"; let me explain: I am married to Vincent for 3yrs but have been together for 11. We are in an open relationship. During a work trip, after many drinks, I went back to my hotel room and had someone over. He arrived and we engaged in sex. After the fun was over, I realized I had not used a condom and started to panic. He became nervous and left. I checked the app and realized he was HIV positive. We did not discuss the subject beforehand. After a whole week of agonizing fear and a deep, painful shame I returned to NYC and told my husband. Saving you the drama, I am going to jump to my visit to my doctor, where I was received by a very caring group of people who gave me all the support and information I needed. It was there I realized how much of an ignorant I was regarding STIs, HIV and sex health. My doctor ordered the tests, treated me for STIs, and told me about PrEp. We had a long conversation but, even though he sounded optimistic, I did not seem to get rid of the guilt and shame. My doctor finally said "stop shaming yourself for being human". Then, I finally “woke up”. I went home to discuss it with my husband and immediately we started to educate ourselves on HIV, STIs and PrEp. It was no brainier; we should go on it. And we did.

Truvada has been an amazing "gateway" to information, regular blood screening and getting rid of the stigmas around sex. Not only have we become more aware of the STIs and how to treat them but also it has made us realize that we were part of the stigma. We were rejecting people based mostly on ignorance, shame and fear. Not anymore. Truvada has made us more sexually inclusive to anyone who enjoys sex and does not want to be wrapped in worry of all the "what ifs”. It has lifted a very heavy weight off my shoulders and I have gotten to meet quite a few remarkable, smart, full of color and life individuals. I have been able to "love” them a little, and to be loved back. I get the prescription via my regular doctor. I must get blood work every 3 months. My insurance pays for most and I pay the rest.”

Joshué, 40, on PrEP. Brooklyn, NY. Furniture Retail Manager

Simon

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 "I started taking PrEP 2 years ago. I found out about it from the Manhattan LGBT Center. Being trans is kind of an obstacle because trans men are at high risk for HIV, but there are barely any studies on us. It takes Truvada a longer time (30 days) to protect vaginas and, even then, I have to be extra-careful because missing a day is more risky for me.

I get a prescription from my doctor. Combining my insurance with a discount I don't pay anything for it.

Being on PrEP has altered my sexual behavior, now I feel more comfortable to have raw sex. When I started taking Truvada I already had an undetectable partner and it helped me feel even more secure.

My name is Simon. I’m a 25-year-old transmasculine person, originally from upstate New York, but currently living in Bushwick. I'm a PhD student for French medieval literature and I also teach French to undergrads at Baruch College."