What motivates you as an activist and educator?
When I was a journalist I interviewed Barbara Walters. I traveled to Spain. They were heady times. But it didn’t bring me the satisfaction I get when people thank me for the work I do now. It’s so much more meaningful.
How would you define your role as an activist?
My standard line is “Look at this old, wrinkled, jowly face. This is another face of HIV.” I’m not the stereotype. That’s why I decided to be public. I always end my presentations in middle schools by asking kids to talk to their parents and grandparents about sex. They’ll look at me like I’m crazy, and I’ll say, “Yes, your parents and grandparents are still having sex.” And they’ll go, “Eew!” But it’s true!
Tell us about your Oprah appearance!
I can’t tell you what I expected, except maybe that I’d represent older women with HIV. I certainly didn’t think I was going to be on a show about brothers on the down low. The man who infected me was leading a double life, but that’s not the point of my story, because you never know the sexual history of anybody but yourself. Oprah asked me two questions. I don’t even remember them now. She doesn’t greet you beforehand, but she came by and shook our hands afterward. Then she had to go change clothes and tape another segment.
What would you say to HIVers over 50 who haven’t told their children or grandchildren?
It was so liberating for me to be able to talk about this, but I also know some people can’t. A woman I know who got HIV through a blood transfusion had a daughter-in-law who wouldn’t let the grandchildren around her at first. I fully understand why someone might not want to disclose. But I think most people will find that there is support out there. I remember when my son Steven first moved to San Francisco in 1986 and I thought, “Oh Steven be careful. You’re moving to the land of HIV.” Then, who turns out to have it? Mom.