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+TALK

+TALK: CHARLES SANCHEZ

Karl Schmid speaks with Charles Sanchez

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Charles Sanchez.

KARL

Charles Sanchez and The More You Hoe next.

KARL

Welcome to “Plus+TALK” on +LIFE, where we are all about turning positive into a plus, and my guest today, Charles Sanchez, has been doing that for quite some time. We’re very grateful to have him on the show. Charles, hello. Good to see you, sir!

CHARLES

Hello! It’s a pleasure to be here!

KARL

Look, first thing’s first, I just wanna tell you, you are a contributing editor, I know, at TheBody.com, and I want you to know how important that website was for me when I was first diagnosed. It was, in fact, the very first place I went to the day I got my HIV diagnosis, and for the first, probably, three months, was my, sort of, lifeline, really. My number one support where all the questions could be answered. Tell me how long you’ve been involved with TheBody.com, and then, I guess, you know, how does that make you feel to hear that kind of thing?

CHARLES

That’s I love that. I’m glad that I’m a little part of helping with that. I’ve been working for them. I just wrote a few things for them, just off the fly for them about five years ago, and then they asked me to be the contributing editor, and I was shocked, I didn’t really even know what that was, but I’ve been doing it now for four years.

KARL

How important are sites like TheBody.com for people, do you think?

CHARLES

I think they’re very important. There aren’t very many websites or publications for HIV positive people that give, not only information about HIV itself, but also things that are happening culturally, things that are happening artistically. I think all that kind of stuff is very important for people living with HIV, and people in the broader context, as well, to just know what’s happening in the world and know that HIV isn’t what it was 30 years ago, you know?

KARL

Yeah, I mean, I found it so helpful, especially when it came time to talking about taking meds, with just, sort of, the forums on there and people’s real-time reactions, too.

CHARLES

Yeah, I think that it’s really important to have all those different points of view. We have medical points of view, as well as people who’ve been living with long-term HIV, people who are just diagnosed, we have all different broad types of people, women, trans people, like, we have everybody there, and it’s really, really great to hear all those points of view.

KARL

Well, thank you for being a big part of that, and, as I said, it really was what I clung to in the early days of my diagnosis. Now, something that we see, not just on The Body, but here on +LIFE, and everywhere, hopefully, is the U Equals U message. Just tell me how important that message is.

CHARLES

Oh my gosh, when I first heard about U Equals U, this was, again, like, four or five years ago when the Bruce Richmond from the Prevention Access campaign contacted me. It changed my life. It changed what I thought about myself. I really felt like I was less sick, you know? And I didn’t even know that I felt that way about myself, and I just felt like it was news that I needed to shout from the rooftops. It was so important, and it lifted a weight off of me, and I also realized, because I’ve been testing undetectable most of the time since I was diagnosed, I realized, like, wow, I haven’t given it to anybody else, I haven’t infected anybody, and that was really empowering and beautiful, too.

KARL

I mean, I say it felt like someone gave me the keys to the handcuffs that were slapped on me when I got the diagnosis. You say you only kind of found out about it four or so years ago. How long had you been living with HIV? I mean, doesn’t that frustrate you when you go, “They’ve known about this for quite some time”?

CHARLES

I’ve been living with HIV since 2003. I was diagnosed in November 4th, 2003, and what’s interesting is, I remember gonna a couple of meetings, and like, when I first was diagnosed, I was meeting people in the HIV community. People had sort of known about this in little, like, you know, but not really had definitive proof or scientific proof that they could share, but those of us in the HIV community sorta knew, but it wasn’t until it was given a name and really given all the scientific stuff that we really needed to know everything for real.

KARL

Yeah, and you’ve got a very unique approach in the way that you get this message out there, don’t you?

CHARLES

I don’t know what you’re talking about!

Come on, you’d told me off camera, you look like a pony, and I feel like that comes into it. Well, I really think that, like I said, I felt the news of U Equals U should be shouted from the rooftops, so I don’t really shout so much, but I sing a little, and so, we decided, and a lot of the things that I do are comedic, and so, we wanted, in my web series and other things that I do, to talk about U Equals U and talk about things about HIV in a comic, funny, fun way that it’s really approachable to people.

KARL

What’s the feedback you get from people who watch those videos and see all of that?

CHARLES

Mostly, people, like, really love it. People are encouraged by it and enjoy watching, like, the humor, and really appreciate it. There’s some people who think that I’m making fun of HIV or that I’m trying to, I don’t know, somehow being disrespectful, and that’s not my point at all. My point with any kind of comedy stuff that I do with regards to HIV is to show that HIV isn’t what it used to be 30, 40 years ago, that it’s no longer a death sentence automatically, and that people can live long and healthy, fun, sexy, awesome lives.

KARL

That’s an interesting point you bring up there, because it is very humorous, but it’s also very camp, and I mean that in a nice way. So, for the people who are a little, what’s the best way to put this? When people are are not so accepting of themselves, especially if they are LGBTQ+, or if they’re not LGBTQ+, if they’re heterosexual people who struggle with some of that campness, do you ever get any feedback that goes, “Oh that’s too much. Tone it down”? And, if so, how do you react to those kinds of, sort of, not negative comments, but obviously, we wanna get this message out to as broad as audience as possible?

CHARLES

Sure. Well, people have said to me that it’s stereotypical, my web series, specifically, that the character of Merce is too outrageous and too, just, stereotypically gay, and, well, first of all, I know people like that. There are people in our community who are fabulous, and I also think that, in a lot of ways, he’s, for me, aspirational, because I hide, or have in my life, hidden who I am, and he doesn’t. And, you know, everything is not for everybody. Every message is not gonna get to everybody, so this message goes to the people that it goes to and the people that relate to it. And hopefully, there are other messaging that someone else is creating for people that don’t like camp.

KARL

Yeah. Well, listen. There’s a little something for everybody, and we can all participate. I’ve had other guests on from minority communities who talk about the difficulty disclosing. Obviously, your background, being Hispanic, there’s a lot of talk about the stigma associated, especially disclosing to the family. What was your experience like?

CHARLES

And I was in a drug-induced coma for three and a half weeks. And in that time, my family showed up, and my friends all knew, so everybody knew I had AIDS before I did ’cause they had to take care of me and make decisions for me. And so, it was a really interesting thing for me to wake up and to be told the news that I had AIDS. That was my diagnosis in 2003, and that my family and friends already knew. It was unnerving, but it was also a relief that those big relationships in my life, I didn’t have to have that conversation with ’cause they knew before I did.

KARL

So, you woke up from a drug-induced coma, and the family and everyone knew that you were diagnosed AIDS, and you were the last to find out?

CHARLES

Yeah, yeah. It was really unnerving, but it was also sort of a relief, because I didn’t have to have those big conversations that a lot of people have to have with their families and friends, ’cause it was already done. The university did for me.

KARL

How did you reconcile for yourself, the diagnosis, and, as I said at the top, turn that positive into a plus?

CHARLES

Well, it was hard. I think it’s hard for everybody when they’re diagnosed, and I don’t know that there isn’t going to be, with every person who’s diagnosed with HIV, some amount of like, shame and self stigma, and I did it to myself or whatever those conversations, but I was lucky I had a friend who visited me in the hospital who I cried too, and he told me, he thought I had a bad attitude. And she said, “This isn’t the eighties or the nineties. There’s medications now. Just do what the doctors tell you to, and take your medications, and you’ll be fine.” And I realized that he was right. And then, I also realized that I have a big mouth, and that I can be the person that is living with HIV that’s okay. You know, my friends can point at me and say, “Charles is cool.” You know? “He’s my friend and he’s fine,” so.

KARL

And we love the characters in the comedy that you’d bring to what so many people just consider a dark, miserable subject. There is light in all of this. So what we’re HIV positive? Charles Sanchez, thanks so much for doing this with us. That is all the time we’ve got for this episode of “Plus+TALK” on +LIFE. If you want more information, be sure to check out the website, PluslifeMedia.com, and remember to follow us across all social media platforms. We are @PlusLifeMedia. Until next time, wash your hands, wear masks, stay safe. We’ll see you soon.

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