Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.

By Montee Lopez 

“They’re going to get AIDS,” a friend of mine said while watching P Valley with friends. A scene where an undercover gay man was kissing a woman had just come across the screen. 

Pause.

Excuse me?

We immediately paused the show and looked at her sideways. How could someone who is aware of me being gay and HIV-positive make such a comment filled with homophobia? It was very hurtful to hear someone close to me share such sentiments. I don’t tolerate homophobia or idiocy— and both just came casually flying from her mouth. 

While others there suggested she be put out of my home and the friendship dissolved immediately, I took a different approach. Although the damage was done, I forgave my friend who was apologetic and embarrassed. I thought about my own approaches to helping people understand and I realized I could no longer accept perceived innocence as ignorance.  

Sharing others’ stories showed me my HIV diagnosis wasn’t a death sentence

I think about this event as I approach my fifth “sero-versary,” the day I learned I was HIV-positive. I learned about my infection days before Christmas. Talk about one hell of a holiday gift. I don’t know how I was able to stay jolly. In fact, I don’t think I really let myself truly feel anything until months later. 

It’s only been a few years since the life-altering discovery, and where I once felt life wasn’t worth living, I’ve never felt more alive. I’ve seen advances in my both my personal and professional life. I’ve been blessed with career growth and a caring man who wants to share life with me. I have to attribute the things to lessons learned while I continue to remain “Positive while POZitive” (a little shameless plug for the reporting series on people living with HIV that I started in 2017). I boil it down to these three things: 

What you don’t know, can’t hurt you…but it could:  

When I learned I was HIV-positive, I wasn’t the most cognizant of my sexual health. I was very concerned about getting mine and protection really wasn’t a priority. I was focused on the now. I felt I was in my sexual prime and truly invincible. Clearly, that’s not true. HIV is a virus that does its damage slowly. Without being tested, who knows how long it may have been before discovering I was infected? There’s a lot more people willing to speak about HIV, treatment options, and prevention. I wish I had paid more attention. Now it’s my charge that others will do as I did not. 

Don’t suffer fools gladly. 

You matter. Your existence matters. Protecting that matters. Using the anecdote above, it should be clear why. You cannot and should not allow people to play in your face, especially among those expected to know better. We’re not infection incubators or social pariahs. We’re worthy of love and respect despite the stigma still standing against HIV-positive people, although it’s been lessened throughout the years. I don’t buy into the notion about “not faulting people for what they don’t know.” There’s too much information out here for people to remain ignorant. 

Health is wealth. Don’t overdraft your account. 

To control my HIV infection, I take medicine called “Triumeq.” It’s a horse pill I have to take once a day, every day, to keep my virus at undetectable levels (Side Note: Undetectable=Untransmittable). Any inconsistencies with the way I take my medicine and I risk rendering the medicine useless, giving the virus a chance to mutate and spread inside my body. So, you have to understand if I have to be consistent with taking a pill which helps secure my immediate health, the same effort should be extended to my future well-being. I’ve learned to truly take care of me, because I’m the priority. I drink more water, and I mind the business that pays me to mind folks business and report it back to them at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 p.m.

All in all, there’s so much more for me to learn, and still so many ways for me to live. Here’s to being a survivor for five years. 

Montee Lopez is a news producer from Memphis, Tennessee, based out of Birmingham, Alabama. He also provides contributing reports to various publications on topics ranging from health to social justice.