I first heard the Undetectable equals Untransmittable message in 2016 and it changed everything about how I felt about myself. I was diagnosed in June of 2000 so that’s 16 years of living in the dark; for 16 years I felt like and saw myself as a living, walking, breathing bottle of poison.
For the first few years I was even too afraid to have much to do with my own children, so terrified that I could pass it on to them. HIV education wasn’t very sufficient in those days, at least not for me. I was basically given a few simple rules to follow to keep everyone in my proximity safe and then sent on my way. I was petrified of my own blood, if I hit my hand against the kitchen counter or cut myself and started to bleed I would freak out and ward everyone off, I would break out the bleach and clean everything that was bled on to neutralize the toxic biohazard that I created... that I was.
My sex life also suffered tremendously. The very act itself felt like I was committing attempted manslaughter (and I don’t say that lightly, knowing that HIV criminalization is a very serious issue that I completely disagree with, but this is how I felt at the time, like I was a danger to others). I mean, what if somehow I was to give it to them? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. My relationship with my spouse deteriorated over time as we would sometimes go 6 - 8 months without physical intimacy. Outside of the bedroom we had a strong relationship but over time the lack of physical and emotional connection took its toll. Though we stayed together we gradually grew more and more distant, so gradually we never saw it coming, until I felt so alone that I felt like I was living in a house with a stranger.
Then I began to wander in search of touch, in search of intimacy, in search of anything that could fill the void in my heart if only for a moment. I just couldn’t bare the weight of the loneliness and isolation any longer. At this point in my life I became a little reckless and didn’t disclose my status to everyone. I was undetectable and had been for years, but I didn’t know that that made me a non-risk, I just tried to be safe.
This was a really low point in my life. I was severely clinically depressed and thought of suicide often. More than once I put a gun to my head with a bullet in the chamber, the safety off, and my finger squeezing the trigger. Once I even came so close that I fired a shot over my head hoping that if I heard how loud and powerful it was I might change my mind, and thankfully I did. I turned to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, to try to numb my feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and being a human biohazard. I felt less than human and unworthy of love, and life.
A peer mentor at my clinic could see the misery in my eyes and feel the bad vibrations emanating from my inner being and suggested that I try therapy. The clinic had recently hired on a therapist and he said that she was pretty good. I was extremely reluctant at first and it took him weeks of talking to me before I finally relented and decided to give it a try, because as time passed I could feel myself growing closer and closer to accepting that bullet. I knew that this invitation to therapy would be my last resort, so why not.
To be fair, my status wasn’t the only source of my grief. I had also been hiding a secret my entire life, a secret that caused me more grief than my status, I was transgender. The therapist helped me to accept who I was and I began to come out of the closet to my family. Acknowledging and accepting my truth lifted the weight of mountains from my shoulders and I began to feel happy again, I felt free for the first time in my life, but there was still something missing.
Two years later I was living my truth and I felt happy in doing so when I attended my second Positive Living Conference. I had attended the year before and had a wonderful time but little did I know that this year would change my life. I attended a workshop that was taught by a beautiful man; I’ll admit, he had my full attention from the moment I laid eyes on him, lol, but who would’ve thought that he would change my life with what he was about to say. He spoke passionately as he unveiled his message, now it was his announcement that had my attention. He taught us about U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable) and the science behind it. My jaw probably physically dropped as I listened intently to every word he had to say. This was exactly what I needed to hear. I’ll admit, it took a little bit to really sink in, this information was so huge, so life changing. This was the message that made me feel human again.
The message came a little too late for my marriage, the years of infidelity and coming out as transgender had taken their toll and a year and a half later we divorced. I had to start dating again for the first time in 23 years and as an HIV positive woman, I didn’t disclose my status right away. I didn’t see the need to unless the relationship started to look promising, and when I did reveal my status I shared the U=U information that I had learned. Sharing this information made it possible to find people willing to date me, it made them feel safer to be with me and made me feel worthy to be loved and safe to do so. For the first time since my diagnosis I felt no different than anyone else and I can’t thank Bruce Richman enough for that.
Bruce continues to work tirelessly to spread his message and tries to get reluctant doctors and healthcare organizations to accept the scientific facts that support the U=U message, and he’s doing it successfully having had hundreds of doctors and organizations accept the facts that he shares. He’s even moved the CDC to agree, just Google it. Bruce continues to share this life changing information with advocates, leaders in the field and individuals across the country and around the world, and ever with the same passion as he began with, changing lives one presentation at a time. The man is a hero to me...and to us all.