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+TALK: MASONIA TRAYLOR

This is a transcript of Karl’s conversation with Masonia Traylor

MASONIA
He said, well, I wouldn’t hug you or kiss you or touch you or anything anymore.

KARL
Welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life, where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. Today we’re talking HIV and pregnancy and someone who knows all about it is my guest, Masonia Traylor. Good to see you.

MASONIA
Good to see you as well.

KARL
And we got the memo on wearing pink so I’m glad about that. Now you’ve got a slogan on your t-shirt. I wanna kick things off ’cause you say, “I’m HIV positive and live a pretty dope life.” Before we get to pregnancy and stuff, when did it come to you that you’re living a dope life?

MASONIA
Oh, when I had to find the positive in everything, everything, because life, I have a saying that I say, “Life be lifeing”, like life does what life does and if you don’t find a positive in it, it’ll never be dope.

KARL
Amen to that. So let’s talk about this. You have been someone that was always quite responsible regarding your sexual health and HIV and all of that. Just give us a bit of a backstory on when you found out about your HIV diagnosis and then what else was going on in your life?

MASONIA
Well, at 15 I had made a conscious decision that I would get tested annually for HIV. I had my first child when I was a senior in high school, I was 16 years old and that also prompted me to continuously get tested for HIV. Because at that time they would say that HIV could lie dormant in the body for at minimum 10 years without you knowing. So common sense says in order for you to know, you have to get tested. Well about my third or fourth year of working in the pharmacy, I decided I needed some extra money and I started working for a natural hair care company, selling their products and while I was at this one event, a young lady had on a t-shirt that said I have HIV and yet on the back of it it said, if only it was just that easy to tell, get tested and that then prompted me once again and I had fallen in limbo of health insurance under my parents and once I was able to realize like, wait a minute, this is the year, I normally get tested every year and I haven’t gotten tested yet. I immediately went to my obstetrician gynecologist. I treated them like my primary and I shouldn’t have, but I did but I knew them since I was 12 years old when I started my menstrual cycle as a preteen and that’s who I trusted. So I went to them and I said, hey, I wanna get tested for everything and of course they looked at me like I was crazy. They were like, are you okay? Are you dating someone new? And I’m like, yeah, I’ve started dating someone new. It’s been about six months. However, I still need to get tested, it’s somebody new and once I requested to get tested, they went through my charts and they said, well, Masonia, you got tested last year and the year before and the year before that, and I said, well, I’m gonna get tested next year and a year after and a year after that because how will I know? I haven’t met that 10 year mark yet. My kid is only seven years old so I got tested. I was 23 working in the pharmacy as a technician and that test result came back positive.

KARL
Hmm.

MASONIA
And I was definitely not expecting that and just two weeks after that, I found out that I was also pregnant.

KARL
So exactly and that leads us to HIV and pregnancy because you do a lot of great work out there. You’re a global activist, you talk to women, young people, let’s clear up some misconceptions about, let’s just put it in plain talk. If I’m HIV, well not me because I’m a man but if you’re an HIV positive female, is it safe to get pregnant? Can you get pregnant? Talk us through it. What do people need to know that they’re still not hearing?

MASONIA
Is it safe? Yes. Is having sex safe? Depends on how you want to define safe. Define safe for yourself. Can a person living with HIV confidently have a child and birth that child HIV negative? Absolutely, yes. Can a person who is not living with HIV conceive a child with someone who is living with HIV and them as well as the unborn child not get HIV? Absolutely. It’s all in the steps that you’re choosing to take around prevention, there’s prep, where you have preexposure prophylaxis where it’s kinda like birth control for HIV where you take a pill on a regular basis to prevent contracting HIV and then you have those of us that are living with HIV where we have the beautiful opportunity to do something that oftentimes someone else didn’t do for us, which is get into care, get into treatment and either choose to take an HIV medication that suppresses the virus where you become undetectable, where you cannot transmit HIV, not only to your unborn child, your born child, as well as your partner and that was one of the greatest accomplishments for myself. Being a mother, living with HIV is birthing an HIV negative baby. That gave me not only an anchor as far as my existence and just beyond just surviving and living through HIV, but also just to catapult, to pushing me to live and continue going after the goals and dreams that I had prior to my diagnosis and it also gave me an anchor for men and women with HIV. Like, hey, no matter your sexuality, you do realize that it’s possible not to transmit it to somebody else, even though someone may have given it to you.

KARL
Yeah and you’re talking about undetectable equals untransmittable and that’s same for me. It was a complete game changer. I mean, like you said, it suddenly made me realize that those hopes and dreams didn’t just have to stay hopes and dreams. I could actually action them and here we are today with Plus Life and Plus Talk. You bring up a really good point there about prep because so many people still think, oh that’s that pill the gay guys take so they don’t have to worry about it but women can be taking prep as well, can’t they?

MASONIA
Yeah, I think that prep is a… it’s still kind of like a unique tool for women because the marketing doesn’t really target us. So I think that prep is a really great tool for people who want to be involved in a relationship, to destigmatize HIV as well by saying, hey, I know it’s there, I know it’s a potential I could get it because of how prevalent it is where I live, the culture, the community that I’m in. However, instead of putting all of this responsibility on the person living with HIV, here’s a point in time that I can be more accountable for myself. Here’s an extra step and extra tool beyond condoms or other methods of prevention to not get HIV and including encouraging the person living with HIV.

KARL
You are a proud mother of two children. Talk to me about the conversation that you have when it’s time to talk about HIV with your kid in the last few minutes that we’ve got.

MASONIA
All right. Well, initially my son was seven and my daughter was four months old maybe and we were headed to the AIDS walk here in Atlanta and my son didn’t understand why we were going and did not wanna go and so I had to find a way to explain to him and I had made a conscious decision at that time that I would not disclose my HIV status unless someone specifically asked me if I had HIV and that included my seven year old. So he asked why we were going and in explaining to him why we were going, he immediately stated he did not wanna be around people with an AIDS diagnosis or with HIV but he didn’t even know what HIV or AIDS was. He automatically took it as something negative and I asked him, I said, well, what if mommy had HIV? He said, well, I wouldn’t hug you or kiss you or touch you or anything anymore.

KARL
Did that break your heart?

MASONIA
It did.

KARL
Of course.

MASONIA
It took everything in me to not say I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out of it and I said, no, sweetheart, that’s not how you get it. That’s not how you get it and although I was not comfortable with explaining to him the sexual acts in which you can transmit HIV, I did talk to him about bodily fluids. I talked to him about blood and sperm and vaginal fluids and saliva and urine and just what fluids can you not versus you can get HIV from, right? And from there he was like, okay and from there, I was able to just disclose to him in that moment, even though he was so young, he was in second grade. Following up from there, my daughter, when she turned four, I realized I had been doing a lot of work in HIV and I didn’t want her to be stigmatized because people know that I’m living with it, they will automatically assume my children have it as well. So I figured I’d give her something to anchor herself too which is why do you wear a red ribbon? And she says, because I was born HIV negative. And I figured that if I could give her that language alone, that would not only empower her but empower others to have a conversation when they’re assuming one thing and then also not to look at me as such a negative because I have HIV and I took a what some people would look at as a risk or a chance of having a baby while living with HIV. But I understood the science, I had the education, I had the support to be able to navigate that and here I am today, I have an 18 year old HIV-competent, educated son and now I have assumed to be 11 year old HIV negative and well educated, competent daughter and both of them have enough knowledge to take note that if they wanted to date somebody living with HIV, they know what tools they could use to not only prevent it, I’ve done everything that I could, now they have to do everything that they can.

KARL
Well, Masonia, we appreciate all that you do and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us on Plus Talk at Plus Life today. Keep doing the great work As we always say, it just takes one conversation. We don’t always have to agree, but if we’re talking about it, it takes the sting out of the stigma. Masonia, thank you very, very much for your time.

MASONIA
Thank you so much for having me.

KARL
That’s gonna do it for this episode of Plus Talk. If you want more information about what we’ve talked about and to check out Masonia’s nonprofit Lady Burgundy Inc., go to the website pluslifemedia.com and you can follow us across social media platforms. We are at @pluslifemedia.

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