Site icon

+TALK: JOHANA QUESADA

Karl Schmid speaks with activist Johana Quesada.

KARL
She turned her positive into a plus. Up next.

Hello there and welcome to +TALK on +LIFE where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. Today my guest Johana Quesada is living and thriving with HIV. And we’re just gonna talk about what life has been like for her since her diagnosis and who knows maybe you watching this can relate or learn something. Hey, Joanna, good to see you.

JOHANA
Hi, good to see you too. Thank you for having me.

KARL
Of course. So you were on +LIFE a couple of weeks back and we were talking about love and dating and all of that stuff but I found your story really compelling as well because so often we think of HIV still, unfortunately as a white gay man or drug user’s disease. And that’s just simply not the fact. HIV affects everyone. Why don’t you give us a bit of a background on your story on how HIV came into your life?

JOHANA
Yeah, so I was 22, college student, single mom and I was kinda newly discovering my sexuality. And so I started dating this guy and he was bisexual, I was bisexual, we were having like a really fun time exploring each other and others as well. Shortly after we started dating, we both got HIV. Being a single mom of a toddler at the time, this was devastating for me. Fortunately, I had him along there with me to kinda help me while we were dating. But there was just so many misconceptions and so many things I was so confused about being a woman who didn’t have the tools that I should have had with this new diagnosis that like you said, is typically looked at as only a gay man or intravenous drug use disease.

KARL
It’s interesting, I think it goes all the way back to sexual health education in school. Are you sort of a staunch advocate now for let’s be real when we talked sex ed in school to talk about things like U equals U and safe sex practices?

JOHANA
Yeah, absolutely. I think that those things are vital to talk about with our youth. The sooner, the better because again, I wasn’t given that talk. I was always told about the regular ones, chlamydia, gonorrhea but I was always told, oh like HIV, like don’t worry about that one. Like my doctor wouldn’t even test me for in the beginning. Now we know that HIV doesn’t discriminate and it can affect anyone, educating on that is vital.

KARL
So you mentioned that your partner at the time, did you guys kinda find comfort in each other? How did you navigate that because I feel like potentially there’s room for blame game. Well, where did it come from? Was it from you? Was it from me? Or did you guys kind of, it sounds like you sort of came together a little bit.

JOHANA
We absolutely did and I know that that’s not the reality for a lot of people getting diagnosed with HIV. So I feel like I was very fortunate to be diagnosed with with him, both of us getting diagnosed on the same day. There wasn’t a blame game, I think we kinda both understood that he gave it to me because he was having sex with men. But we had each other, you know? And we knew that there was no point in blaming because this was such a serious matter, we just needed to support each other. Although we’re not together anymore, we’re still really, really good friends. And he supported me through my journey of dating HIV negative people and I’m still supporting him and we’re great friends now.

KARL
Yeah, let’s talk about that journey for a second too because at what point do you sort of, I guess get over the initial shock, all the emotions that those of us who get the HIV diagnosis go through. At what point do you realize it’s going to be okay and I can get on with things? Was it pretty immediate for you or did it take a while and how did you get to that place?

JOHANA
It took a few months but when I was first diagnosed, my ex-boyfriend at the time had a lot of gay friends who were living HIV positive and on medication and they were thriving. So I knew that it wasn’t a death sentence. I did believe, incorrectly believe, that I could only date positive people and that my lifespan would be shorter which of those things are not true. I know now that I can date negative people and I know that I can live a long normal life. Took me about a couple months. I would say educating myself on the ins and outs of HIV, asking my doctor every single possible question and feeling confident in the knowledge that I am not at risk to anyone was super important for me. Because once I had that confidence to be able to explain to someone, yes, I have this condition, no, I can’t give it to you. Yes, I can date a negative person and have babies and live a normal life, that confidence and that knowledge is what pushed me through.

KARL
Yeah as you mentioned, you’re a 22 year old single mother at the time with a toddler. Have you had that conversation now with your child? Does he know about you’re a health status? And if so, how did that conversation, how do you have that conversation with a child?

JOHANA
I have not had the conversation with him quite yet, he just turned six, because I don’t think he can grasp the concept of living with a manageable condition. Although I do talk about HIV in front of him all the time, so that if and when he’s ready and curious, me having these conversations around him will encourage him to ask me about it. I definitely don’t hide it.

KARL
Yeah, no, I really like that ’cause you’re destigmatizing already and that’s such an important part of what we do. And I know that you’ve recently set up a support group there in Dallas. Tell us about this support group for women especially, I think it’s a fantastic thing. And again, in part destigmatizing and taking the myth out of what it means to live with HIV.

JOHANA
Yeah, so my journey in starting the women’s group started shortly after I was diagnosed. I was looking for a women’s support group specifically. There were lots of support groups for men in person at least, but none for women. And I’m the kinda person where I wanna be one on one. I wanna hold someone’s hand. I wanna have connection, not just over chat and I couldn’t find any. So I felt very alone in that. And I knew I wasn’t the only woman out there with HIV so that inspired me to start my Instagram page. And from there, I started seeing all of these women on Instagram sharing their stories and instilling hope. And from that, I was inspired to reach out to my clinic AHF to start the first women’s group.

KARL
How do you go about getting them to sort of wanna go and get tested and be actively testing for their sexual health, not just the chlamydias and the syphilis but you know, HIV as well?

JOHANA
The first place that I start with is on my Instagram page where I share my story of me being a female with HIV. So like if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. Normalizing getting tested starts with taking this like uncomfortable taboo out of sex. Like everyone’s having sex, it’s this taboo subject but no one wants to talk about the humanness of getting an STI or an STD. In order to stop the spread of STDs and STIs, we have to normalize a conversation and make it a comfortable normal thing. I think that living in the time that we live in now, you can go to your doctor and have your results sent to your email. You can even have like sent to your app. Like I have my results on my Labcorp app. You can even get a kit sent to your house and you can even make a date out of it. Let’s make it so comfortable that you can have this conversation with someone be like, hey, let’s go get tested together. Or let’s get some delivered to my house, we’ll pop a bottle of wine. We’ll take the test and we’ll send it through whatever, it doesn’t have to be this uncomfortable thing.

KARL
Yeah, I agree. In the last couple of seconds I got you, what’s your message for anyone who might be watching this that is either going through what you went through at 22 or too scared to get the test because they think maybe there’s been a moment of exposure?

JOHANA
I would say that living with HIV is not what it used to be. It’s extremely manageable and it doesn’t make your life much different besides just taking a little pill every day. And then starting and staying on your medication. Two again, one thing I always stress is educating yourself so that when you do disclose your status you’re in your power. You’re confidently getting this message. You’re disclosing your status confidently in your power. You have the knowledge to be able to make that other person feel comfortable in receiving that message. And then lastly, I would say that once you reach undetectable, you can be with someone who’s HIV negative and have a completely normal life with them-

KARL
And make babies, happy healthy babies. Well, listen, Johanna Quesada, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate your honesty and your candor and what you’re doing especially with your women’s support group. Good luck for that kicking off. If you want more information about that support group or you wanna check out Johana’s Instagram page, check out our website pluslifemedia.com. And remember to follow us across all social handles, social platforms rather, we are @PlusLifeMedia. Johana Quesada, thank you so much for your time.

JOHANA
Thank you.

KARL
That’s gonna do it. We will see you next time. In the meantime, stay safe and be nice to each other. See you soon.

Exit mobile version