It didn’t take long for Pose, the Sunday night FX series created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, to achieve critical acclaim and become a cultural hit among black and Latinx LGBT communities (although overall ratings have been modest). Set in 1987 New York City, the show is rich with music, shoulder pads, and ’80s nostalgia. But to truly understand the show’s significance, you need only see a pivotal scene from the pilot episode. In it, Blanca Rodriguez (played by Mj Rodriguez) sits and asks for her medical results. She is stoic and reserved as the doctor says, “Blanca the test confirms that you have HIV.” After a long silence, Blanca thanks the woman and tries to dash for the exit. The doctor manages to slow her down. She offers pamphlets, talks about AZT (Retrovir, zidovudine) treatment, and offers what she probably thinks are consoling words.
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I would want my character in a show to represent a strong willed person with the desire to stay alive. I want to show people they have to want it, to be able to reach it, because I am not a victim I am a warrior.
Instead of picking one of my favorite shows I decided to pick a show I just started watching and I really like, Pose. The show actually takes place during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. So if I was in that show and representing myself I would show people that I was not afraid of HIV/AIDS. I would own my diagnosis, instead of fear it. I would know it, instead of live in ignorance. I would show people that I had power over the virus and that the virus did not have power over me. That being diagnosed with HIV did not define me, it did not break me, that it would never win no matter how sick I became. Even if I died because of an HIV related illness, I would remain in control of my life. I would never and will never surrender to HIV/AIDS. I would show them my strength in hopes that it would become their own.
If I could write myself into the storyline of my favorite show, I would be in POSE and my character would be a mix between Blanca and Ricky. I would be the pretty boy who could do no wrong but learn the important lesson of being sexually responsible. I would make sure the audience knew that we are all vulnerable and could catch HIV, but I would also show how HIV does not have to stop you from living and touching others’ lives.
This is an interesting question because I do not watch much television. I have however found myself consistently tuned in for My House on Viceland and Pose which comes on FX. My House follows the lives of several folks in the NYC ballroom scene, and Pose is a television series which depicts LGBTQ and ballroom life during the mid to late 80’s. I have been in the ballroom scene since I was 18 and it has shaped a great deal of my adult life. For me, ballroom provided and continues to provide the community and support I need to remain engaged in care. It also deeply influences my career choices. It was through ballroom that I found mentors who suggested social work as a career path. I sought out positions with organizations which allowed me to work directly with members of the ballroom community. I have also done a lot of activism and community organizing with and on behalf of the ballroom community. Now that I am working on my PhD, the ballroom community is central to my research interests. So, my character would depict how ballroom – but more importantly having a supportive community – can make life with HIV worthwhile.
If I could write myself into a storyline on my favorite show it would be Empire. My character would be a former sexual partner from Lucious Lyon’s past. What my character would represent about living with HIV is raising awareness about the importance of using condoms properly and consistently in all sexual encounters, not just to avoid contracting HIV, but other STIs as well. My character would also represent the fact that HIV impacts all family members and bring to light the importance of adhering to your medications. I picture my character making her entrance during one of the Lyon family dinners, wearing an HIV STOPS WITH ME tee shirt. End scene.
If I could write myself into a storyline on my favorite show, my character would represent Disclosure with a Conversation. Clearly, asking for digits ( telephone number ) after a name and wanting to go out after learning about someone’s HIV status because they are upfront and not hiding it speaks volumes about a person. It indicates that he or she is open, honest and trustworthy. Yes, a conversation with education is what the audience needs to see and hear. Clearly if there is fear they are clueless about U=U (Undetectable means that HIV is Untransmittable ). Yes contracting HIV is not happening in 2018, if people are compliant in taking their taking ART medication. If still leary concerning HIV there is PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis also know as Truvada) to protect oneself if a person is HIV negative. Two major points of knowing about HIV instead of running is what I would want my audience to know. Avoiding the discussion can possibly place a person at risk of HIV infection. Anyone walking around in fear and unaware of both PEP and PrEP that is HIV negative needs to pay close attention to my show.
If I had to pick a show it would be The Real Housewives of New York (RHONY). HIV has not been a real topic of discussion in any of the Real Housewives shows. So, I ask myself, How real is that? There have been reality television stars speaking about their status i.e., Project Runway, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Big Brother, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and the very first (at least to my knowledge) Pedro Zamora on The Real World-San Francisco. I want people to know that there are “real housewives” all over dealing with HIV. Week after week the RHONY travel, eat out and bicker! I guess I just love the escape that reality television provides. I still do however get bored with seeing the same things over and over. If I was a real housewife of NYC I think it would bring attention to the fact that anyone, anywhere, with any amount of money can contract HIV. I would want that role to highlight the day to day fight and struggle of taking medications, going to doctor’s appointments, working, raising children and doing all the things that the RHONY do: travel, eat out and bicker. I would want to show the world that we are no different from anyone else on television. We love, we laugh, we fight, we get knocked down, but, we get back up again. I would hope one day to see a role that gives this important topic the platform it deserves.
My favorite show would have to be CBS News In The Morning I never miss an opportunity to watch an episode. I would want to be Gayle King. The way my character would represent my life living with HIV would represent HOPE to my audience. My audience would be able to see in the Hope and CONFIDENCE of what never being defined and/or never giving up looks like. The advantage of my character’s storyline is because it is being broadcasted on a nationally syndicated news network. Then I could show people that living with HIV does not define the person you are nor should it prohibit you from being shown or having LOVE and COMPASSION for your fellow man.
My character would represent a strong, visible, confident woman of trans experience that does not let anything stop her. She might stumble but never falls, living unapologetically with so much confidence. Letting the audience know that HIV does not control my life it is a passenger in my car.
If I could write myself into a storyline on my favorite show, I would write my character in totality of my experience not making HIV the focal point. I think a lot of times with characters who are HIV positive there is a lot of weight to depict them in a way that removes how although HIV is apart of the experience it does not define us. So making sure that people see all the things that a person who is HIV positive does outside of taking his or her treatment, and doing his or her quarterly check-ups is important. I would want people to see me as a person first and almost not even realize that I am living with the virus until those moments when it is necessary to speak on it. I would have my character date, have sex, eat with friends, and do all the other things that people who are negative do; but add the extra conversations that are necessary around disclosure and sexual accountability and responsibility. Again, HIV does not define the totality of my existence and I would ensure that people leave understanding just how full and complete our lives are.
Men’s Barber Shop
Irving in need of a haircut walks into his favorite barber shop.
Irving: “Hey James, I know I don’t have an appointment but I have an important meeting tomorrow and I need a line up. Please brother.”
James: (Laughs) “Only for you because I know you’re out here trying to make a difference with the gays.”
Irving: “James, you know I love you but being HIV positive is not a gay thing.”
James: “Irving no disrespect but I don’t know too many straight men with HIV, so you know I’m just saying.”
Irving: “That is not true James. Attention everyone please do me a favor if you know someone affected with HIV raise your hand.”
Four people raise their hands. James look around in surprise.
Irving: “Thank you. Now raise your hands if they are straight.”
The same four people raise their hands again. James is surprised again.
James: “Wow, I didn’t know.”
Irving: “James that is the reason why I am an advocate, because most people assume. It’s my job to inform them.
James: “Well my brother, by all means inform us. What do we need to know.”
Irving: “The first thing I want you all to know is the difference. HIV Positive is not AIDS. HIV is a virus of the immune system. HIV means Human Immune Deficiency. You get the virus through seaman, dirty needles and mothers who have it can give it to their kids through breast feeding. Its import for you all to know that you can not get it through through casual contact. In other words, we can eat off the same plate so you don’t have to trip and act like you have to throw it away.”
Irving: “Now AIDS is a disease. You get the disease when your Virlo aka T-Cells (which is your whites cells. Think of your white cells as soldiers that naturally protect your immune system. When your white cells get lower than 300 that is when your immune system is in danger of opportunistic infections and that’s how you can get the disease AIDS.”
James: “I never knew that. I thought HIV was AIDS.”
Irving: “James you are not alone, a lot of people think HIV and AIDS are the same. Also a lot of people do not know that you can be undetectable. Like me, I am undetectable and what the means is the virus is so low that there is a 93% chance it can’t be transmitted to anyone.
James: “So are you saying you can have sex with a person that has HIV?”
Irving: “Absolutely, but let me tell you how to protect yourself. Let’s say you meet an beautiful woman and you find out she is a recovering addict but she got her life together but she used a dirty needle and caught HIV. If she takes care of herself she can also be undetectable and how you protect yourself is by taking a pill every day.
The pill is called Prep. You take the pill every day and it protects you from the virus and it’s so safe that you can even have unprotected sex, although I highly don’t recommend that. But if you fall in love get married with a person infected with HIV you can have a healthy loving relationship.”
James: “Man, you can get this line up for free. Thank you for sharing.”
Irving: “Anytime, it’s what I do.”
I have always thought it would be fun to be on one of those ridiculous dating shows. I am not single, so maybe that is not the best choice, but I think it would be cool to see a contestant in a dating show that has HIV and is still competitive in his/her own right. I would want it to be a really terrible dating show…like Bachelor in Paradise. I think it would send a great message to see someone dress up in those ridiculously sparkly dresses or tiny bikinis, looking damn fine, and be open and honest about dating with HIV and undetectable=untransmittable (U=U). I think that would help address stigma and misconceptions about what HIV looks like. Not sure I would make to the end of the show (not prone to that much drama) but I think it could be a lot of fun while it lasted.
If I could write myself into a storyline on my favorite show, it would be as a character on Greys Anatomy. I would just be me, the person that I am today. Liza the peer navigator. My character would represent a woman that has persevered through life and as someone that is HIV positive. She would show strength, determination, and love. The audience would find out how I fought through to be the woman that I am today. Someone that is strong, someone that has never let her HIV status stop her from reaching her dreams. This character would not take no for an answer and learn how to make things happen in her life. People would admire her, love her, she would be a role model and a voice for the ones that are fearful of letting the world know their status. My character would be the one to never back down from a fight.
My favorite show is General Hospital, and it happens to have a character living with HIV named Robin Scorpio. I would change the character’s name to Melinda Flores, but keep Robin’s storyline. She was first diagnosed many years ago when she contracted HIV through her boyfriend. Even though she did not find out until after he died she never hid it from anyone. She studied, became a successful doctor and married a man that was negative. She became a mom to two children. I have watched General Hospital for years and I see myself in Robin because she is a strong minded successful woman. Everyone knows her status and they praise her for being strong and being who she is despite having HIV. In some cases the story shows how her meds work, how her kids are not positive, how she lives her life like everyone else and shows the world that even when a person is positive he or she can have a healthy loving life with kids; and also have a career. Anything is possible do not let HIV stop you. That is my character on General Hospital.