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+TALK: SEX & DATING

The following is s transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid, Raif Derazzi, Maria Mejia, & Johana Quesada.

KARL
We’re talking sex, dating, and disclosure, up next. Hello there and welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Live where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. And boy have we got a full house of guests today. Johana Quesada is joining us, Maria Mejia is joining us, and our very own fitness guru Raif Derazzi is in the house. And we’re gonna kind of keep it a little well I don’t know whether light and fun, but a little bit fun ’cause I thought we’d talk about sex, dating, and disclosure. We’ve got a nice mixed group of people here. So really just to throw it out there and start, and maybe this is the tough question first, when did you realize it was the right time to disclose your status to a partner? Or when do you know? Johana how do you determine when the right moment is to say hey I’m living with HIV?

JOHANA
Now that I have a couple of years of practice I would say almost immediately, not immediately but within the first 30 minutes to an hour. That’s what I do. ‘Cause I don’t like having to hold it in and just the anticipation of holding it in, I just wanna get it out and be confident and just get it out there.

KARL
Yeah but what about if this is the first date right, and okay you’re into the person, but you don’t know where this is gonna go. And I think we can probably all relate to some nightmare stories about sharing our status and the feeling of rejection. So I don’t know Raif is it, right away or I mean what if this is just you’re sitting down to coffee and it’s not gonna be anymore after that, do you really wanna share your full medical history with a complete stranger?

RAIF
Yeah so for me personally I’m so open about my status that yeah I do tend to tell everybody. And also I look at it this way, even if they don’t wanna pursue further with me I see it as a teachable moment where I can continue to do my advocacy and hopefully be able to talk about things like U equals U.

KARL
Yeah and Maria I know that you’re one of the first ambassadors for the prevention access campaign, of course all the messaging behind U equals U undetectable equals un-transmittable. So are you sort of on the same as Johana and Raif in that with knowing what we know now and that if you are undetectable and you can’t transmit the virus what have you got to lose to share something that is very very personal with someone?

MARIA
My thing mostly was educating, having the person surrender to you. Saying well I have my best friend has HIV in the United States, this is me living in Colombia, How do you feel about that? And just kinda educating, feeling the person out, and then I would disclose.

KARL
Luckily for all four of us on this chat we’re in a position where we’ve all really embraced and accepted our HIV. And I think it’s fair to say that we almost look at it in some ways as something that’s made us a lot stronger and made us better people because we’ve got to that point. But Johana just to go back, you were a 22-year-old single mother in college when you were first diagnosed. And I just sort of wanna go back a bit for anyone who might be watching this who is newly diagnosed and doesn’t quite know how to get to where all of us are. What is your advice to somebody in sort of coming to terms with the acceptance of their HIV and thus realizing that yes you can date, and yes you can have sex, and yes you deserve to have sex and date and have love.

JOHANA
So the first thing I wanna mention is that when I was diagnosed I was in a open relationship with a bisexual man. So we got diagnosed together. So I was very fortunate to have a support system in that way that we were going through this diagnosis together. And then once we ended, I had my best friend. And then by this point I was getting comfortable talking to many people. So having a support system is huge, whether that’s in person or online. And luckily we live in a time where online resources are abundant. And two. For me personally was having the knowledge, just understanding the ins and outs of HIV and U equals U. And being confident when I deliver this message to whoever. Those two things really really helped me.

KARL
Yeah Raif what was it like, what were those first steps that you took to get out in the dating world like back then?

RAIF
It’s like what was said, at first it was all about education and getting myself on medication, getting my body back to normal, getting undetectable. And then realizing that I was in an unhealthy relationship with someone who was cheating. And having the courage and the self-confidence to leave the relationship and to start over on my own. Really create a foundation for myself financially and socially by letting people know about my status, so I had that support system as well. And I really had to start over. I mean I broke my leg that first year and I was bedridden for almost six months, so I had a lotta time to do some introspection and really get to the heart of what was causing me to not value myself as much as I needed to. And then once I got all those things all those ducks in a row, then I was able to start considering dating again.

KARL
Maria. To the point that Raif speaks there, getting your ducks in a row and realizing your self-worth so that you can get back out there and date, how important is that?

MARIA
It’s not an easy thing, like I say it’s not a death sentence anymore but it is a life sentence. ‘Cause I will never minimize this condition. Once you get that and you kind of like that message to others, it will not see you as a victim because that’s the worst thing that you could do. And self love, it starts with self love. After you have self love and you love yourself hopefully you will find that person that loves you.

KARL
Yeah and look no one likes to–

RAIF
Preach.

KARL
Preach, no one likes to be rejected that’s for sure. Johana when you have faced backlash for sharing your status with someone that you were hopeful that maybe it would go to the next step or you’d have a bit of a relationship with, how did you cope in those moments of being told oh sorry can’t go near that?

JOHANA
Yeah. Truthfully it’s only ever happened once and I’m very fortunate for that, and it happened online over Tinder. And on my Tinder I put–

KARL
Well that’s easy, block.

JOHANA
Yeah yeah exactly. But I didn’t wanna block. I was like this is an opportunity for me to teach.

MARIA
Educate.

JOHANA
And I have always had this feeling about my HIV, I’ve always been very confident about it. I’ve never let anyone poke at me, but that’s just me personally, I know that’s not everyone’s experience. But I remember the guy told me “oh well you’re dirty.” And my first response was I was initially hurt, but then I responded we are not objects to be labeled clean or dirty. I’m a human, this is normal. And if you want some more information here’s my number you can reach out to me. He unmatched me at that point, but I felt pretty good about the situation after that. I did my part.

KARL
Yeah you did. Raif you and I have talked about this sort of privately but what’s it been like for you when you’ve had that rejection whether it be online, through an app, or in person? How have you gotten over that initial sting?

RAIF
I mean yeah sometimes it depends on my mood of the day. Sometimes it’ll bother me a little bit, especially if I don’t get to like you were saying kind of give your little spiel your education moment. Just not having the closure sometimes can be bothersome. But after a while it’s just, you know what this is the way I look at it, HIV having my diagnosis and sharing that is kind of my filter for someone who isn’t even worth being in my life to begin with. If they can’t handle something like that a little bump in the road, a little ignorance in education then they’re really not worth my time, and HIV’s actually doing me a favor in cutting them out.

KARL
I love that. How do you guys feel about when you post something online about your HIV status and people come at you with the oh gosh why does everyone, why do you have to tell everyone? Why has it gotta be a big deal? Why do you have to tell everyone you’re HIV positive? I mean come on, it’s no one else’s business! How do all three of you, and we’ll go around the group we’ll start with you Maria, how do you guys respond to that especially when it affects how you wanna approach your dating life?

MARIA
Well no one has ever tried me like that because I don’t play that. But for someone to tell me why do you have to post HIV, but not only about HIV, I talk about my sexual abuse as an infant, about the growing up, about being an ex gang member, about many things because I’m not just HIV. My story is very complex and it all leads to that as a teenager. But I’m not ashamed of my past, it is very important for me to talk about it. And whoever doesn’t like it could just block me or not ever follow me again. I mean I do not care what anyone has to say family or friends because this is my mission and I will continue this mission until I die. And that’s how I feel.

KARL
What’s your take on it is kind of society because we’re living with HIV, nevermind that we’re undetectable and that therefore we can’t transmit the virus, there is this expectation from people who are not HIV positive that we have to disclose and tell everything, we have to tell you everything. It’s our job to make sure that you know first about our HIV status, and to be honest the rest of our sexual history, and when we last had an STI test. What’s your take of that? There is this, I feel it all the time, there’s this expectation I’ve gotta lead the way because I’m HIV positive. What about somebody taking their own personal responsibility for their sexual health and asking questions in a calm civilized way?

JOHANA
Yeah I think that that’s society at large’s problem is that we aren’t teaching this from the get go in sex education. I think we need to start at the source and that’s our children who are eventually gonna grow up to be the adults just like we are. I think that’s where the solution lies is having these conversations with our kids, and then having these conversations with our sexual partners and without any kind of uncomfortableness. Like having conversations with your sexual partner or a date and say “hey I’m gonna go get tested “for this this and this and this, “you should go get tested too or we can do it together “as a date and make it a thing. “And make this conversation normal, “de-stigmatize STI’s in general “and talking about getting tested.”

KARL
Yeah absolutely. Well it’s all starts with a conversation, it all starts with a question, and that’s how we get the knowledge and knowledge is power. Johana Quesada, Maria Mejia, and Raif Derazzi, thank you so much for joining me for this full packed house on Plus Talk. Really really good engaging conversation. If you want more information about what we’ve talked about or you wanna watch this again head over to our website Plus Life Media dot com. And remember you can follow us across all social platforms. We are at Plus Life Media. Until next time, keep smiling, take care of each other, be nice. We’ll see you soon.

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