Friday, February 24, 2012
INTERVIEW with CANADA'S ONLINE HIV MAGAZINE POSTIVELITE.COM
Justin B Terry-Smith, Author, Advice Columnist, Award Winning Activist & Video Blogger has been infected with HIV since 2005. Diagnosed in 2006, he has made his mission to educate others about HIV and to make sure the community and the world are aware of the disease. Since 1999 he has been an activist for Gay rights and in 2004 began HIV activism. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He is currently residing in Laurel Maryland living and loving life with his husband. Dr. Philip B Terry-Smith. Terry-Smith will be pursuing his Master's in Public Health this year and will not stop activism until the day he dies.
People have asked me why I am doing this, why have I put my personal business out like this. I tell them it is to help educate people, to make them aware and to make them think twice about having unprotected sex. This is my personal journey that needs to be told to help the community and the world
I was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland with a silver spoon in my mouth. Even though both my parents were present in my life, growing up wasn’t easy for me.
I left my home in search of a life that would make me feel freer to explore my sexuality, but that freedom came at a cost. Living in NW Washington DC I had to try to hold down three jobs to keep my head above water. In the daytime I worked for the government, in the afternoons I worked as a waiter and at night I worked as an exotic dancer under the name, “Justice”, which I have now tattooed on my right arm. I took a look at my face in the mirror and realized that I looked like I was 19 years old going on 91 years old; I had to do something else with my life.
In the fall of 1999 I saw a metro bus drive by with a sign that said, “United States Air Force - AIM High”. That was all it took, so I joined the U.S. Air Force and it was one of the best times of my life. I wound up being stationed at Dover AFB, Delaware. But also I have to admit that it was one of the worst I went through hell and back in the military, because I was gay and felt enclosed that I couldn’t love openly who I wanted to.
I had good and bad experiences in the military but the worst was being sexually harassed, domestically abused and raped. I couldn't escape because if I told someone about it then questions would arise and I would have surely been kicked out under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
I met my then partner in the summer of 2003 when I was still in the military, when I was stationed at Dover AFB and he was living in DC. After being honorably discharged from the military I moved back to the Washington DC area and within 2 years my relationship with him would come to its conclusion.
I ended up living in an apartment in SW DC at the Waterfront, with two friends of mine named Anthony and David. My behavior then was erratic and out of control. I started doing things that just really weren't me. I started stripping again and started heavily drinking and sometimes doing drugs. All this and I still was able to land a contracting job with Department of Justice.
David became very sick and could barely walk; after battling HIV he was told he had full blown AIDS. I knew when I moved in that he was not doing so well. I helped bath and feed him. Sometimes I would even help him when he needed to get sick or use the toilet. Anthony and David got along for the most part but it got too much for Anthony to handle and he was the only person on the lease. I came home one day to see a woman in my apartment. It was David’s mother and she said that Anthony had called to have her take him back to her house in Baltimore, Maryland. David had once told both of us that is where he did not want to go. Two weeks later I got a phone call from David’s mother that he was dead.
Anthony began to hit on me at one point but I refused his advances. He eventually changed the locks on the apartment door and I didn’t know why. I quickly tapped my resources and found a small studio apartment down the street.
In the latter part of 2006 I would often get sick and I didn't know why. I had to call into work several times because I was so under the weather and I eventually lost my job. I knew something was wrong with me and I knew I needed to get checked for HIV. One morning I woke up and threw up 5 times. I had flu-like symptoms and my satin sheets were wet with sweat.
I decided to call my best friend Bryan and have him meet me at Us Helping Us People Into Living Inc. (UHU). UHU is where people can get tested for HIV in the Washington DC area for free. I had felt comfortable being at UHU because I used to work there and still had friends who were employed there. I ended up getting there before my best friend and decided to go get tested. I was administered the Orasure Test which can come up with the results within 20 minutes.
I was so nervous. I honestly didn't think that I had HIV. I came up with excuses and said things to myself like, 'I don't feel sick now, nothing could be wrong with me', 'I'm 26 I couldn't be HIV+'. By the time the test was ready I had smoked about 10 cigarettes. I walked back into the HIV testing room and the reader asked me, 'Are you ready to hear your results, Mr. Smith?' I said, 'Yes I am'. She said, 'Mr. Smith you've tested positive for the HIV virus'.
I was devastated. I couldn't believe it. The first thing I thought was I can't have any children. My second thought was what am I going to tell my parents, they would be destroyed. Then the final thought is I'm going to die.
Bryan arrived at the clinic and saw it in my eyes. He held me tight as I wept in his arms and I felt comfort and security in his arms.
I decided to fight, to fight to stay a live. When I told my father he handled it any way a father can handle their son telling him he has HIV, but my father is strong. Unfortunately a close family member told my mother. I got a call from my family and they were all crying; I thought someone in my family had passed away. My brother asked, “Justin, be honest with me. We heard you have AIDS, is that true?” I quickly said, “No”. He said, “Are you lying to me?” I said. “No I do not have AIDS?” He then asked. “Do you have HIV?” I said, “Yes I have HIV”. He started crying and so did my mother and other family members. I could hear them in the background. I told my brother to put me on speaker phone. I told them, “I need you not to cry for me, be strong with me”
After about 2 years of being HIV+ I was forced to go on meds with a T-cell count of 261 and Viral Load of 77,000. I did research and tried to find someone (a black male) that was documenting their lives while on meds but sadly I couldn’t find one. I decided to do it on my own, so I created “Justin’s HIV Journal” on YouTube. I started my first entry with an introduction and why I was doing what I was doing. It began to help me because it forced me to be honest about what was happening to me.
When thast first entry had gotten its first comment I was so excited except when I saw what the person said. “So you got poked by a dirty dick, so what”. I couldn’t believe it I had poured my heart and soul out and someone who just felt like stepping on it because it suited them. I thought how heartless can someone be. Then I got my second comment and it was a lot more encouraging and made me keep going.
I thought that I needed to expand and so I went onto to blogspot.com and started writing, with the videos that I would make for Justin’s HIV Journal and I put them there for the world to see. Then I opened up a Myspace and Facebook account and started pasting my entries there. I even have my video entries on black gay chat.com. Because of Justin’s HIV Journal I’ve written for Black AIDS Institute, Gay Life Newspaper in Baltimore MD, thebody.com etc. The more I do this the more people are aware of HIV and keep in the back of their heads that they too can be infected. I began to speak out on HIV and my personal journey at engagements, seminars, universities, high schools, and prides.
I also came out with an HIV-themed children’s book called, “I Have A Secret”. I love children and my husband and I hope to adopt one day. Children that are HIV-negative need to know that children who are HIV positive want the same things as they do - namely, love and affection. I also finished up my Associates in Communications and my Bachelor’s in Political Science. I will be started my Master’s in Public Health in a couple weeks as well. I also recently started writing an advice column called, “Just*in Time” for A&U Magazine America’s AIDS Magazine.
As you can see, I DO NOT let HIV have the upper hand over me.
Presently, I am married to my husband Dr. Philip B.Terry-Smith and all my family and friends know about my status. They have given me the love and strength to help me through this journey. This journal is to tell people that being HIV+ is not a piece of cake. People need to know what they might have to endure if they decide to put themselves at risk. HIV is neither glamorous nor a rite of passage. In the words of Pedro Zamora, 'I'm not dying. I'm living with it'
Justin B. Terry-Smith
Creator of Justin’s HIV Journal
Author of I Have A Secret
You can also find Justin on on twitter at @JustinBSmith79