Jazmine, Los Angeles

Back in 2008, when I was 16, I was having stomach problems. I went to the hospital and the doctor said I had a cyst on my ovary and he was going to remove it. When he did the surgery, he found an infection in my womb, so he ran more tests. After a week of being there, some doctor came and told me, “Oh, you’re HIV-positive,” and walked out the door. I didn’t know I was being tested for HIV.

I was heart-broken. It was about to be my senior year, I was playing varsity basketball. I decided to be home schooled instead of finishing and going to prom and doing all the fun stuff you do in senior year. I missed my senior year, but I’ll get over it.

I got HIV through unprotected sex with my ex-boyfriend. I told him, “If I have it, I believe you do, because you’re the one I lost my virginity to.” And he’s like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” I was trying to make sure we were both on medicine, that we were both okay. But he doesn’t want to come to terms with it. It bothers me still.

The house where I stay, everyone there is HIV-positive. At first, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. But then I had a horrible break-up and the people where I live were very supportive. They’re like my aunties and big sisters.

I got a tattoo of the word “Love” where the L is an HIV ribbon. I got it because I think I’m still lovable, even having HIV. I still go out to parties. I put my freak ‘em dress on. People think that people with HIV are dirty. I remember telling this boy and he was like, “What! You can’t have HIV. You don’t even look sick.” I don’t have to look sick to have HIV. I’m straight, I had sex, I got HIV. It can happen to anybody.

A few of my co-workers at Home Depot know that I’m HIV-positive, and they’ve all been supportive. But it’s not like you just go up and say, “Oh, you know, I’m HIV-positive,” and keep walking. After doing this photography project, I want to go out and make people more aware of HIV. We’re not different. We’re not this weird group of people. We’re just like you.

About Through Positive Eyes

Through Positive Eyes [ThroughPositiveEyes.org] tells the story of HIV/AIDS at the end of the third decade of the epidemic, when potent antiretroviral medication has been devised, but when treatment access is far from universal. Through Positive Eyes is an attempt to address key themes of the AIDS epidemic: widespread stigma, extreme social inequality, and limited access to lifesaving medication. The project is based on the belief that challenging stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS is the most effective method for combating the epidemic—and that art is a powerful way to do this. HIV-positive people take part in this unique initiative, creating powerful personal photo essays. From these images, we create local and international advocacy materials including exhibitions, short films, and website. Read more about Through Positive Eyes at artglobalhealth.org/ThroughPositiveEyes.

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