Michael Johnson is a young black man living with HIV who has recently been found guilty of recklessly infecting another person with HIV without disclosing his status. It seems befitting that I make my first blog entry about HIV criminalization because as a Black transwoman living with HIV, his fate could very well be my own. I am extremely disappointed in the judicial system who continues to stay uneducated about the science of HIV. People living with HIV are first and foremost people. We are not bioterrorists simply because we have HIV. It would behoove the nation to become educated because as it stands, 33 states have laws specific to HIV transmission and disclosure. Arkansas is one of those states. It is sad to admit that Arkansas' statute includes spitting and biting as possible modes of HIV transmission and the science tells us that this is not accurate. People are complicated creatures, and I say that because in my own personal experience, I was not educated about HIV until I learned of my positive diagnosis.
It was at that point out of sheer desperation that I actually took the time to research HIV and the effects it would have on my body. I actually grieved the life I had prior to my HIV diagnosis. I'm sure I can say that most people grieve as well. I denied the possibility that I was positive, even though I knew I had engaged in behavior that made me susceptible to contracting HIV. I was angry for a moment at the fact that this was happening to me. I bargained with the Creator to let me live and I would do as much as I could to educate people about HIV. I was depressed for a few months while it seemed that my research into medicines seemed unattainable to me. I hid the truth of my positive diagnosis from everyone around me for months.
Before talking about my acceptance of my condition, I want to reiterate the depression stage of grief. It is here that a number of people with a positive diagnosis remain. In determining the mental state of a person newly diagnosed with HIV, we can understand that some people become so enthralled in the past that they stay there for a while, meaning they try to go about their lives as if they do not have HIV. It is a survival and coping mechanism. We are not bad people, but we're human and upon hearing HIV, our minds wander to death and dying. In all fairness, how could they not? In the acceptance stage, I saw that the antiretroviral treatment was working for me, and I began to see a future for myself again.
I truly believe Michael Johnson's case is no different. I see a young black man who has a bright future ahead of him through his athletic efforts. Here is a young man who has his entire life ahead of him and he learns of his status. I can sympathize with the hurt and fear of rejection that comes with a positive diagnosis. I know it all too well. I believe if the court had taken into account his mental state, the outcome could have been different, not to say it would have. I see his conviction and incarceration as another means to rid the world of Black men. He was made out to be a villain leading up to his trial. The court of public opinion had already sentenced him because it is those who live daily with HIV who understand and sympathize with any of our brothers and sisters who are unfairly incarcerated. I #StandWithMichaelJohnson and want to uplift his narrative so that this will not happen again. Several organizations and individual advocates are enraged at Johnson's trial outcome and rightfully so. We are in this fight together. A harm to one of us is a harm to all of us.
In conclusion, I hope that this blog entry reaches someone who needs to know what we as people who are living with HIV actually go through at initial diagnosis and the stages of grief we experience. We are not monsters, dirty, or trolls. We are your sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and mothers and fathers. I personally did not know definitively anyone living with HIV until I learned of my diagnosis. I have been criticized and ostracized for my positive status, and I have been loved and nurtured as well. There is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel we face in learning of our status. We can come out on the other side and live a very happy life, no different from anyone else.