1 in 32 Black women is expected to be infected with HIV in her lifetime. Masonia Traylor, one of my good friends, is one of those women. I talked to her about how she got infected and what her advice is for those who are both HIV positive and HIV negative.
How were you infected with HIV?
I made a conscious decision to get tested every year because I understood that HIV could come with no symptoms. My risk behavior was unprotected sex while in a committed relationship. I would always make sure that I got tested and share my results with my partner but I learned that wasn’t enough protection. Usually the more comfortable you are with your partner, the more you trust them, and the less you may use condoms. I figured as long as I was HIV negative my partner must be too. But you don’t know unless they get tested and show you their results too.
What are some challenges you’ve faced and overcome since being diagnosed?
Redefining self-worth was extremely difficult. I had to re-learn how I was taught to value myself. I had to go even deeper and ask myself,” If this was cancer would my perspective on life be any different?”
How has HIV affected your lifestyle or your daily routine?
Oh, my lifestyle changed drastically. It became a race in time. I wanted to live my life as if I didn’t have time to live until I realized that I did. HIV, unfortunately, is always on my mind. I know it’s something that can be scary if I let it be because it threatens my livelihood, so I just try to focus on the good things in life and make sure that I show my gratitude. I make sure I monitor my bloodwork because I don’t want to pass this to anyone else and I don’t want it to make me sick. Too many lives have been taken and too many people have fought for me to survive today, healthily with HIV.
What are some myths about living with HIV/AIDS you can debunk?
That no one will want to love you if they know that you have HIV/AIDS and that your clock is ticking. I’ve met many people in healthy relationships living with HIV/AIDS where only one partner was living with the diagnosis. Also,I learned that many people don’t know how close to home it is. They continuously think that it’s someone else other than their own family members, friends or colleagues.
Do you have hard days? If so, how do you deal with them?
Absolutely! Usually, my neighbors, my mom, co-workers and friends check on me weekly. They know I struggle with depression. Although I do not currently take medication for my mental health, I do reach out to a mental health therapist. I’ve found that to not only help me tremendously but it’s also beneficial to others in my circle. I also use Huggie for comfort. He’s a sweet reminder that I can still be joyful. I use social media to give me inspiration.
Talk briefly about Lady Burgandy. How did the name come about?
Those who know me well know how her name came to be so BOLD and Unique. Lady Burgandy is a creative brand for health and wellness initiatives with a specialty focus on HIV/AIDS. As your everyday woman, she recognizes HIV/AIDS cannot end without addressing other underline socioeconomic issues that affect behavioral decisions.
Why did you choose the teddy bear to represent the cause?
I didn’t choose the teddy bear. He chose me. He was a gift that gave me inspiration to remind me of how much I had changed in a miserable way following my diagnosis. I began questioning my every decision to become the woman that I was. Was this a possible curse? Was this punishment? Nah. I learned LIFE happens but you learn how to put the puzzle pieces together again.
You’re an HIV/AIDS activist. What are some things you’ve been involved in?
Over the past few years, I’ve been focusing on youth, women and perinatal (mother to child) transmission of HIV/AIDS. I’ve spoken to over 20,000 young people in middle and high schools throughout metro Atlanta. My participation in the Greater Than AIDS and Stop HIV Together campaigns has been so rewarding. I get to help counsel people from all over the world on how to survive an HIV/AIDS diagnosis. I’m currently getting ready to fundraise to continue the program of sharing my story and creating opportunities for others to share theirs so young people can be empowered to make healthier decisions about HIV/AIDS and fight against stigma.
What are some words of inspiration/encouragement you can give to someone who may be having a hard time dealing with their infection?
You know, getting tested is so important because it helps to combat these statistics in our communities. It only takes one person at a time to create the change. I always say if the universe takes care of the birds then what makes you think it won’t take great care of you. I think HIV/AIDS gives you a reality check, but don’t internalize the hurt and disappointment. You have to get up and keep living! Find things you enjoy and keep doing them. GET RID OF TOXIC PEOPLE and SITUATIONS! They might cause you to lose a t-cell. (LOL) You have a choice. You decided to get tested for HIV because you wanted to live, not succumb to the virus. As long as you’re willing, the universe will make a way. Learn to love to live no matter what!
Find an HIV testing center near you and learn about PrEP, a new way to protect yourself from HIV, by clicking here.