I Am HIV Positive And Want To Break The Misconceptions Within Hispanic Community On STDs

Elisabel Balderrama

I am an HIV positive woman. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with “coming out” with my HIV status. For a while, I was ashamed. Then, I felt like it was no one’s business. But truly, I’ve just been scared. I’m done living in fear. I’ve fully accepted my status and the woman I am today. The virus is not what it used to be. I live a full and happy life. I’m proud to have given birth to three beautiful HIV negative children and fully expect to meet and spoil my grandchildren one day.  

MORE: Dulce Candy Shares Her Personal Experience With STDs To Raise Awareness

I’ve lived with HIV since 2010. I should say, rather, HIV has been living with me since 2010. A few months after I married the love of my life, our honeymoon phase came to a screeching halt.  

I knew he was positive the entire relationship.  He had contracted HIV-through unprotected sex. Friends and family told me not to be with him and definitely protested us getting married. But I was already in love and felt that God assigned Jake to me. But we did our due diligence to ensure I wouldn’t be exposed.  

When he proposed I said yes, but 10 minutes later I told him I wouldn’t marry him unless he started and stuck to a treatment plan. I wasn’t going to marry someone to become a widow.  

About a week later, we went to the doctor. His blood levels were terrible, and he was on the brink of AIDS. You wouldn’t have known it just by looking at him. He looked like any other healthy person. Jake began taking medication and 3 months later got married. A week after we said “I do,” we got the call he was undetectable.   

HIV treatment uses two metrics: 1.) a viral load, the number of copies of the virus in the body, and 2.) The CD4 count, which makes up the immune system. A person living with HIV should have an undetectable viral load, and a high CD4 count. When a person living with HIV achieves an undetectable viral load, the virus is untransmissable.  

Months later, I went for my annual pap smear where I requested a complete STD workup. I had taken several HIV test before, which always came back negative. I figured this one would too. Two days later, I got the news that the test came back positive. My husband and I were devastated.  

I campaigned our entire relationship that we’d be the mixed status couple to makes a happy life together. “I’ll show them,” I thought. Now, I know you’re thinking “duh, girl!” but it’s not like we took the virus for granted. We knew we had to protect ourselves. But sometimes, that protection fails. Meaning- condoms break. 

But I didn’t know I should’ve gone straight to the hospital the night of BreakGate to receive Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent the virus from spreading….a case of miseducation. There I was, a college educated woman who learned about sex, STDs, and pregnancy early in life living with misconceptions and miseducation. 

Our world still holds outdated misconceptions about HIV. Misconceptions which lay atop a veil of stigma and silence. Our culture frowns upon a woman speaking of sex/STDs because that’s not what a girl who’s “bien portada” does. But this silence makes the veil of stigma and ignorance grow thicker. And the side effects of this aren’t “hijas bien portadas” but rather, increasing new HIV infections, especially among Latinxs. 

HIV aside, I’m like any other happy mom and esposa who’s loud, messy, loves family, dancing and laughing and who’s still trying to learn how to make tortillas the way her abuelita does. I used to be scared of how people would treat me after they found out my status. Now I know that how others treat me says more about themselves, than me. Other than the one pill I take every night and seeing my doctor every six months, HIV doesn’t play a major role in my life. I’m not trying to diminish the virus and its severity by any means. But rather, show everyone what the face of treated HIV in this day and age looks like.  

PLUS: How At-Risk Are You to Catch an STI?

That’s why I’m coming out. I’m ready to pierce this veil of stigma and live out loud to help navigate the discussion and work towards finally ending HIV/AIDS, I want everyone to feel empowered by my story so they know that although those three letters can be terrifying, they’re not a death sentence. Hope is alive and well and should be synonymous with HIV. This isn’t the Eighties anymore. Believe it or not, HIV doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight. I know I’m coming from a place of privilege. As a white-passing Latinx, cisgendered woman in a heteronormative relationship, I am privileged. This privilege affords me an acceptance and ability for people to listen to me, so I need to speak up for those who aren’t being heard.