I think a lot of us think we would never get HIV. You know, that’s something that happens to other people. Seattle’s Nicole Price thought the same thing. But then she tested positive.
“I was diagnosed 12 years ago, this week. I was 25 and I had been dating a guy for about five years. We broke up and a year later he got really sick. We found out he had full-blown AIDS so I got tested. It was a two week waiting period. Then I also tested positive.”
Brenda Higgins was diagnosed in 2007.
“At the time, I was homeless and using drugs and making very bad choices in my life. The person that gave me HIV did not disclose to me, and later disclosed to me after the fact.”
Both women work for Seattle’s Babe’s Network.
“A sisterhood of women facing HIV together,” explains Nicole. “It’s a peer program, the whole staff is HIV positive. We provide peer support to women and families living with HIV.”
The women get asked all kinds of questions by newly diagnosed women.
“Am I going to have kids? Am I going to die? No one is ever going to love me. Am I going to be okay? Am I going to have have a good life?”
Recently, they’ve been getting asked more and more about dating. Dating is hard enough as it is, but having to tell someone that you’re HIV positive makes it even harder.
“It’s never easy and it’s always very nerve wracking,” Brenda says. “After the fact I question myself, as to, ‘Did I say it at the right time? Did I say the right things?’ You know, there’s never a right time, there’s never a right way to tell someone.”
Brenda is in a relationship with a guy who is also positive, but she did go on a date with a guy who did not react well to her news.
“We kissed and it was at that point that I knew I had to tell him, regardless of whether he wanted to hear it or not. I just didn’t want it to go any further at that point. His reaction, he just kind of freaked out a little bit. He went and got tested the next day, after a kiss. He ended up getting sick a couple of weeks later and decided to get tested again. There still needs to be more education out in the community.”
Nicole just got out of a five year relationship, so she’s single and trying to date.
“I dated a guy, recently, and the disclosure did not go well. First he was fine with it and then, after we had gotten together, he wasn’t fine with it. We used protection and everything, but it really scared him. I can understand why he was really scared. So he’s been tested a few times. But it made me feel really bad like I’m this scary person to stay away from. So, it’s not easy.”
I must admit, my HIV education pretty much stopped after I finished high school, which is where I learned that you can’t get HIV from sharing a drink or a toilet seat or a kiss. But a lot of headway has been made since my education ended.
“It’s not a death sentence anymore, it’s more of a chronic condition,” Nicole says. “As long as you take your medications and you see your doctor and take care of yourself, like you’re supposed to, you can live a normal life span now. I take one pill, one time a day, which is great. It’s a combination of three in one.”
Neither women have ever experienced a health scare.
“I’ve been undetectable for eight years,” Nicole says. “Which doesn’t mean that I don’t have it, it just means that it’s very suppressed in my immune system. My immune system is working pretty well.”
If women have questions about how to tell someone they are positive, Nicole and Brenda help them out.
“You don’t want to tell them too soon, you don’t want to wait too long,” says Nicole. “You don’t want your heart to get in there. It is a big deal, it’s not a broken toe. So it’s understandable that it’d be scary for people. I think your delivery, how well you feel about yourself is a big deal. I’m used to helping other women, we do mock disclosures on how to do it. It’s always going to be different each time.”
The strongest message: get tested. Nicole says doctors sometimes talk women out of getting an HIV test, if they’re not high risk, but everyone is at risk. She says the number of heterosexual women being diagnosed is catching up with the number of gay men.