September #39 : Reality Check - by Manjula Martin

POZ - Health, Life and HIV
Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr MySpace
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join

Back to home » Archives » POZ Magazine issues

Table of Contents

Talking 'Bout Their Generation

Youth to Youth

Bargaining Power

Growing Up in Public

Liver Worst

Family Tree

Blood Lines


To the Editor

And on the 7th Day...

In the Sack

Vertex Vortex

Pump and Grind

Baby Gap

You Can’t Touch This

Aloe Can You Go?

Death by Bureaucracy

Bubonic Tonic

Say What

Say What

All Apologies

Plenty of Nothing

Rough Cuts

POZ Picks

Spin and Needles

No Miss Manners

HIV Confidential

Making a Scene


Presidential Nemesis

Are the Kids Alright?

Kid Gloves

Prime-Time Lives

Don’t Make Me Over

Confessions of a Jerk

Life Lessons

Quality Time

Valuable Kitchen Tool

Better Safe Than Sushi

The Heart of the Matter

To C or Not to C

The Circle Game

Youth on Drugs


Making the Grade

Finger on the Pulses

Fountain of Youth

Where to find it

Reality Check


Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

email print

September 1998

Reality Check

by Manjula Martin

Sean Sasser finds the future in a city from his past

When Sean Sasser answers the phone, he’s immediately disarming. Sweet, calm and confiding, he talks as though he’s known me for years. This is ironic, since for years he’s been known by me and millions of others as one of the real-life characters on MTV’s 1994 season of The Real World. Sasser’s then lover, Pedro Zamora (who died that year), was a regular on the show, and the two plucked HIV from the streets of San Francisco and planted it squarely in the nation’s living rooms.

The star of POZ’s June 1997 cover, Sasser moved back to San Francisco in April after a brief Atlanta respite. He’s now working as media development manager for Stop AIDS!, a San Francisco prevention organization. The 29-year-old is also going back to school to study psychology at the New College of California by way of the unique HIV/AIDS Reentry and Empowerment Scholarship Program. After he graduates, Sasser hopes to provide the kind of support he lacked as a teenager by counseling gay and HIV positive youth on dealing with issues of race, sexuality and health.

It’s been 10 years since you tested positive. How’s your health?

Physically, I’m OK. My T-cells are just above 800, and my viral load fluctuates between 10,000 and 25,000. I hate pills—I can’t take them—so I’ve never been on any meds. But if I got sick and had to, I’d try a combination of holistic and Western medicines. With Western meds, you’re only treating the symptoms, but holistic medicine takes so damn long to show results.

There was a time when I said I’d never go on drugs, but that was during my “I’m gonna die anyway” period. Now I realize I’m not dying. My outlook has changed. I’m getting into the idea of planning my future, which has a lot to do with going back to school. I had given up on school for 10 years. It’s great to have it back.

You tested positive when you were 19 and a freshman at the University of Chicago. That’s a difficult time for anyone. How is testing positive different for kids than for adults?

For teenagers, there’s already a vacuum of support, and testing positive just makes it harder. Young people are not yet initiated into how systems—whether medical or social—work in the world. When you test positive, you have to rapidly learn how to deal with everything, from health care to the possibility of losing the support of your family. It’s like you instantly have to become a grownup.

How did you get the support you needed?

It took me a long time. In college, there was absolutely no support, so I didn’t really do anything about it. I left school and stayed in Chicago, but there was no one I could identify with. I didn’t find a real community until I moved to
San Francisco in 1991.

When I first arrived, I went to the doctor for chicken pox, and disclosed that I was positive. The staff there immediately told me about Bay Area Positives, an HIV support group. I was like, “You mean there are other people?” I thought I was the only one. The reality of HIV in San Francisco makes it such a supportive place.

With you and Pedro on the show, The Real World suddenly became unavoidably realistic. People everywhere watched your lives unfold. Not only were you young and HIV positive, you were famous for it. What was that like?

It’s weird, because I always wanted to be known for something. When you’re young, you wanna be a movie star or a rock star, but I never thought anything like that would actually happen. I certainly didn’t think I’d be famous for something as personal and controversial as being gay and HIV positive. At first, the show was no big deal to us—we were just living our lives—and then it turned into this overwhelming thing for the rest of the world. Of course the hardest part was seeing Pedro through his dying process, and then being left here alone.

What effect do you think you and Pedro had on teenagers who watched The Real World?

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a gay teenager, feeling so alone and watching what we did on TV. I didn’t have any of that when I was a kid. Basically, MTV got lucky. Because they found Pedro, and he was ideal, and it worked. It was real.

[Go to top]

Facebook Twitter Google+ MySpace YouTube Tumblr Flickr Instagram
Quick Links
Current Issue

HIV Testing
Safer Sex
Find a Date
Newly Diagnosed
HIV 101
Disclosing Your Status
Starting Treatment
Help Paying for Meds
Search for the Cure
POZ Stories
POZ Opinion
POZ Exclusives
Read the Blogs
Visit the Forums
Job Listings
Events Calendar
POZ on Twitter

Ask POZ Pharmacist

Talk to Us
Has a pet helped you deal with your HIV?


more surveys
Contact Us
We welcome your comments!
[ about Smart + Strong | about POZ | POZ advisory board | partner links | advertising policy | advertise/contact us | site map]
© 2016 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy.
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.