Living With HIV And Hope

Published December 18, 2007

Updated Oct. 20, 2007 - Jonathan Perry headlines his blog with the Maya Angelou poem "Surface," which ends "yet somebody survived."

It's been Perry's mantra - constantly reminding the 31-year-old that no matter what humiliation, frustration or hurt he endures because he's a young, Black HIV-positive gay man, he will survive.

Lately, he's been doing more than just surviving. He's been flourishing as he prepares for graduate school in Atlanta, where he moved recently from L.A.

But for Perry, survival wasn't always a sure thing.

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Born a military brat at Goldsboro, N.C.'s Seymour Air Force Base, Perry recalls how he was often ostracized because he is gay and suffered a humiliating type of hazing while a student at Johnson C. Smith University.

"One guy tried to kick my door down," he says. "And then somebody pissed on the door and put shaving cream on the door knob."

He says he contracted  HIV  when a condom broke during sex with his long-term partner. Although his partner had tested positive for HIV, Perry said he never shared his status with him.

For more on how to keep sexually healthy, see "Sex & You."

"He said he loved me. I believe he loved me. Love makes you do strange things," Perry says. "He loved me so much that he was afraid I would leave him if I knew his status. That wasn't his decision to make."

After being unable to shake what he thought was a cold in 2001, he got tested. He was positive. Three weeks later he tried to commit suicide. "I felt I was the only one going through this," he says.

"I remember sitting back for the longest time and waiting for somebody to save me," says Perry, recalling that he was beaten up and harassed in college for being gay. "I'd say 'God I'm going through so much I don't think I can make it.' I closed my eyes and saw my reflection. It was like God said 'that's who I sent to save you - you.'"

Ironically, Perry says, it wasn't until he told the student body during an HIV awareness program that he had tested positive that his classmates finally embraced him. He also met a friend who gave him hope.

"He taught me it's OK to hurt. But it's also OK to be positive, to receive love," Perry says. "He made me realize that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I respond to it."

The slightly built Perry says he doesn't know where he'd be if he hadn't contracted HIV six years ago. What he does know is that he's not going to let the disease that can wreak havoc on his immune system also wreck his whole life.
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His first drug regimen, which was prescribed as part of a study, required that he take four pills a day, and led to him to  experience "drug fatigue."  "I didn't have any side-effects. I just couldn't get the pills to go down," he says.

He was able to maintain a healthy immune system for nearly two years without drugs. But stress from living and working in LA got to him. His viral load soared and t-count plummeted. Now, he's on the popular Atripla one-a-day HIV drug.

When he was first diagnosed Perry thought that he was just another statistic, a Black infected with HIV contributing to all the bad things people say about Black folks. After training under the Black AIDS Institute, a Los Angeles-based awareness and training center, he realized, "I can also contribute to the healing by sharing a message of hope," he says. "That's what makes me want to be around a lot longer."

Perry, who has counseled and consoled other HIV-positive people, vows to never deceive anyone about his status the way his ex-partner did him.

"A lot of people I meet feel it is inevitable for Black people to get HIV, so they have reckless sex," Perry says. "It's important that we present people with the truth and let them make their own decisions so they know the consequences... We can prevent people from contracting HIV. Anything we think we want to do, we're perfectly capable of doing. You have to remember that your life isn't contingent upon anybody but you."

Written by BET-Staff

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