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+TALK

+TALK: TIERA PERKINS

She never expected to become HIV+. Karl sits with Tiera Perkins to discuss her recent diagnosis.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Tiera Perkins.

KARL

She’s HIV positive and she never expected it.

Hello there, welcome to +Talk on +Life, where we’re all about turning positive into a plus, talking about HIV and smashing HIV stigma. My guest today is Tiera Perkins. She’s in Philadelphia. Hey, Tiara, good to see you.

TIERA

Hello.

KARL

So Tiera, you reached out to us and I’m so glad you did because your life changed at the end of July this year. You found out you’re HIV positive. What was it that made you want to reach out to +Life and share your story?

TIERA

I’ve been doing a lot more research, so I just feel like my story may can help some people, especially people like myself who are newly diagnosed. So, I just wanted to share my story for mainly that reason.

KARL

I’m so glad you are, and I’m glad to see you’re doing well. You mentioned there that, before your diagnosis, didn’t really know much about HIV. Just how little did you know and what was your perception of HIV and people who had HIV before you got this diagnosis?

TIERA

I really want to say a had much knowledge about it at all. When I had to call someone that I was with, he says his doctor asked him to ask me what was my viral load. I didn’t even know what viral load was. So, I really didn’t know much about it. I think I knew what everyone else basically knows who don’t know anything about it is, I know the virus has changed over the years, it’s gotten better, the medicine, not the virus, but the medicine. And basically, the medicine has gotten better, so the life expectancy is longer and everything. But I really, honestly, I never had a personal encounter with anyone with HIV. So sadly, I didn’t think much about it at all. It really never crossed my mind. I knew it was a possibility, but I didn’t think about it much, honestly.

KARL

And so, when you got that diagnosis, I can only imagine it’s extraordinarily shocking because you just said, “I didn’t really know anyone with HIV,” but reality is, you must’ve known someone.

TIERA

Clearly, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s still a mystery because I can’t say that I know who that someone is. I believe I do, but it hasn’t been confirmed, and I feel like if that person didn’t know, I can’t be angry at them. Even if they knew, I feel like I should’ve did my part in protecting myself. But so with that, I kind of put that part of it in the back of my mind and I just try to stay as positive as I can and do what I have to do for me.

KARL

So, and you make a good point there. I mean, you hope that that person… Well, you don’t hope that they didn’t know, but you hope it wasn’t obviously intentional, but how much do you think stigma and the misunderstanding of what it means to be HIV positive in this day and age contributes to the fact, that you didn’t really know much, or think much. or the person that you were with really knew much about it? Do you think that’s a factor that plays into it?

TIERA

It plays a huge part. It plays a huge part in why a lot of people don’t reveal their status, and I learned that when I publicly revealed my status and I had all these personal fears and I think it was my personal self-stigma that made me like, I was so worrisome. I was worried about how people would treat me, how they would treat my kids. One of my friends, she hugged me and I cried because I’m like, “You’re not scared of me.” And it just made, she’s like, “No, of course.” And she pulled me closer and it was just like such an emotional moment for me because I’m just… I don’t think I would treat anybody mean prior to this, but for this to be on my mind, it kind of made me wonder, how would you treat people? Because if you think people would wanna treat you like this, was this what you’d wanna do? So I can’t say I know, I would hope not. I don’t think I would, but now that it’s me, my eyes are wide open and yeah, it’s definitely an eye opener, but stigma plays a huge part in it.

KARL

So Tiera, as I mentioned, I think it was July 29th of this year you found out, you were diagnosed. What prompted you to talk so quickly? I mean, I know for myself, I told my family and I told my immediate best friends, but it took me a very, very long time, 10 years, 11 years, to speak publicly about it. So what was it that made you go, “Uh-uh, I’m not keeping this in. I’m gonna be quite vocal about it.”

TIERA

Honestly, at first it was fear. It was the fear of someone else outing me. It was the fear of me letting people know, past partners that I was with, and one person they threatened my life. Me and my kids weren’t staying home. We were staying in a hotel, Basically, in our own personal witness protection program. And I just wanted people to know, if something happened to me, I didn’t know this. I wasn’t just sleeping around, passing this around. I didn’t know this at all. And you know, sometimes it’s like, you hear a story like that. They might have sympathy. Like if he hurt me, they might’ve had sympathy for them, thinking that I did this to him purposely. And to this day, I don’t believe he has it, but just the way he was treating me, it was really this fear. I just wanted people to know, this isn’t something I knew. I wanted to tell my story myself. So initially, it was really the fear of someone else telling my story, making it like, I’m just a monster sleeping around, and I knew this, and I did not know. So I just wanted to get my own story out, people to hear it from me.

KARL

Well, I mean, I think it’s hugely commendable of you and incredibly brave, and it takes a very strong person to speak as publicly as you have so shortly. And I know that you’ve gone on treatment right away and you’re hopeful and waiting for this undetectable announcement because it can take a couple of months of starting meds. You also talk about how you-

TIERA

I am undetectable already.

KARL

Oh, you are? Oh, congratulations. Well, that’s good. So you talk about education there. What sort of stuff did you find? Where did you turn to once you got this news?

TIERA

Everywhere. I was obsessed, anything with HIV, I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to know about it. I just, because like I said, this didn’t really cross my mind that much. I knew if you don’t protect yourself, you can get it, but it didn’t cross my mind and I knew it was transferred sexually, but even when it comes to like breast milk, I didn’t know that was a way it can be transmitted. So, I just wanted to do some personal research and everybody kept saying, when I was telling them, like, “It’s not a death sentence. The medicine has advanced,” and all of that. So, I just wanted to see for myself. I just wanted to learn as much as I can learn for me because I do have kids and I want to be here for my kids. So I wanted to take care of my body the best way, so I felt like I had to do my own personal research and just learn about the virus as much as I can so that my chances of living are long. Because I guess, I kinda jumped into learning about more about the virus, I guess you could say.

KARL

And I’m sure in doing your research, you’ve noticed that in Black and Brown communities here in the United States, and especially in the South, HIV is on the rise. So now that you, and unfortunately, you’re a statistic of that. So with this newfound knowledge and power that you have, and this sort of awakening of who you are, what do you want to tell your kids and other people out there, especially in your community, in communities of color, who, to your point, thought this doesn’t really affect them?

TIERA

It does. Look at me as an example, learn from me. Something that’s been sticking out to me that I’ve been saying is, it’s your job to protect you because it is. Like I said, I can’t be mad at that person for even not telling me because it was still my job to make them protect their self so they could protect me, or whatever. So I say, just protect yourself. Learn your body, pay attention to… I didn’t even know any symptoms of this, and then I was talking to someone else and they told me night sweats and I remember a while back, I had night sweats. So certain stuff you have to pay attention to, just learn your body, protect yourself. That’s your job. Don’t leave that up to anyone else. Don’t think that someone is just gonna tell you this, because nine out of 10, they aren’t because of the stigma, because of the way people were viewing people. So, just protect yourselves. That’s all I can really like stress.

KARL

And what about the misinformation that’s out there in that people think, “Oh, HIV is just for gay men, or just for IV drug users,” or like, “It’s not a big deal anymore.” What do you want to say to people about that kind of stuff?

TIERA

I’m a Black woman. I will say I’m a heterosexual Black woman, and I now have it. So, that can’t be true. And I hate needles, so drug use-

KARL

Me too.

TIERA

Through needles, I freak out when I get blood drawn by a butterfly needle. So, that’s definitely not my thing. And I think that’s what a lot of people think, but also because we don’t know what the person you’re sleeping with is doing, once again, you have to protect yourself because they could be a drug user. They could be a man that’s engaging in unsafe sex with males and females. You can’t just say it’s a gay thing. So, that’s definitely not true. Look at me as the example. That’s definitely not true, and get out of the mindset of that it can’t happen to you. And I don’t think I really had that mindset, but I didn’t protect myself as well as I should, because I must have thought in my head that it wouldn’t never happen because it didn’t happen for so long. But I think that’s what it is. Most people think, “Oh, that would never happen to me.” And yeah, it can.

KARL

But now that it’s happened to you Tiera, and I’m looking at you and I’m just going, “Wow.” Your confidence in your strength is phenomenal. How do you feel? How do you feel about yourself now?

TIERA

Oh, I’m not going to lie. People tell me all the time, how strong I am. And I really say it’s like, because I don’t have any choice because I know I have my kids looking up to me and my kids to live for. How I feel about myself today is okay, but since this has happened, I’m not going to act like I haven’t had trials with depression and all types of stuff, but I just have to live. That’s my biggest thing. It’s just like, I can’t turn back the hands of time because of course, if I could, I would. So now, it’s about what I’m going to do now. And what I’m going to do now is basically, this was the fire I needed under me. I’ve been through a whole bunch of stuff. So this was kind of like the fire I needed to share my story of all this stuff I’ve been through prior to this. So now that I have gotten here, I say, this can’t be the end for me. I just want to educate people. Of course, I have to learn more, ’cause I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to HIV and whole bunch of stuff. But I just want to educate, especially people in my community, because I think a lot us just go around living life like it would never happen to us, and it did.

KARL

Yeah, well, Tiera, I am so delighted that you reached out to us and that you have come on to talk about your story. I wish we had more time to talk about it more, but I congratulations on standing up for yourself, owning your truth, and hopefully people seeing and watching this can learn something from your story. Tiera, thank you very much for your time.

TIERA

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

KARL

Of course, that’s gonna do it for this episode of +Talk. If you wanna find out more about what we do at +Life, just check out the website, pluslifemedia.com. You can even watch this again and be sure to follow us across our social media platforms. We are @pluslifemedia. Until next time, take care of yourselves. Remember you can turn positive into a plus. See you next time.

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