May #123 : Mentors-May 2006 - by Nicole Joseph

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Table of Contents
One Tough Pirate

Seeing the Future

Mentors-May 2006

Medicine Men

Custom Care

Early Birds

Simply Irresistible

The Topic of Cancer

Sow Your Oats

Trainer’s Bench-May 2006

Hustle and Flow

Animal Attraction

Purrrfect Health

Women on Top

PEP Rally

POZ Personals Catch of the Month-May 2006

First Aid for Your Medicaid

Shall We Dance?

A Will & Grace-full Exit?

Ratings for a Serial Virus

Squeaky Clean?

Prescription For Change

Bono’s Red Alert

One Hot ASO

Banned Aid

It’s Not You; It’s Me

Near Dead Again

Editor's Letter-May 2006

Mailbox-May 2006

Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

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May 2006

Mentors-May 2006

by Nicole Joseph

HIV rookie Craig Smith asks veteran Denise Drayton, who contracted the virus while working as an AIDS educator, about how to handle people’s criticism over the fact that he contracted HIV in the 21st century

Craig: People think that since I’m an intelligent gay man who’s part of a high-risk group, I should have known better than to get HIV.  

Denise: Well, I was an HIV outreach worker before I contracted it. I was in the field, telling people about condoms but not always practicing safe sex myself. People would say, “You’re an AIDS educator—what happened?” I contracted it from a person who did workshops on HIV prevention, too. People think education has everything to do with it, but all the education in the world won’t help unless you apply it. It’s the human factor that prevents you from thinking about HIV in the heat of the moment. It’s that whole
notion of “It can’t happen to me.”

Craig: So how do you deal with open criticism from people when disclosing? My first reaction is to get defensive or just plain mad. Like everyone, I want to be liked. That’s why I haven’t told my family. But some days, I wake up and want to scream to the world that I’m positive.  

Denise: You’re right. The initial reaction for me when people give me a hard time is anger. I’m angry that people are so behind the times. People often want to set up a barrier so they don’t have to deal with the pain of losing you later on. Or they’re angry that you put yourself at risk and contracted an illness they can’t save you from. You have to get past it by educating them.

Craig: I think some of my friends couldn’t handle any “education.”

Denise: You’re responsible for getting the word out; you’re not responsible for whether people accept it right then and there. After you disclose to someone, find out how much they know about HIV; then tell them how much you know. Say: “I’ve brought something for you to look at if you feel like reading it.”  

Craig: And educate yourself, right? Growing up gay in the ’80s, I thought I knew a lot about the virus until I
contracted it.

Denise: This is a chronic illness that is often manageable with medicine. But because it’s so stigmatized, you begin to feel like “Maybe I did deserve this.” But nobody deserves HIV.

Craig: It took me a long time, but now I’m a little more comfortable saying I got it through unprotected sex. I beat myself up over that for a long time. Do you think that if you had contracted HIV a different way than unprotected sex that people might treat you differently?

Denise: Sex is vilified the most. Even with substance abuse, people think of you as the hopeless addict. With sex, it’s like you brought it on yourself. There is a lot of stigma around being female and positive. The assumption is that you’re promiscuous.

Craig: Yeah, that assumption exists in the gay world, too. It’s as if you sleep around and have unprotected sex
with everybody.

Denise: But people’s initial reaction isn’t their permanent reaction. Many will be OK as long as they know you’re taking care of yourself. Sometimes, people don’t know you’re happy or how you’re managing. Instead of asking how you’re doing, they’d rather lash out. Don’t adhere to one way of responding to their questions. It’s not one-size-fits-all. And a lot of times, you can teach only by example. Show them that even though you’re living with this, you’re living a full life.

Interested in becoming a mentor? Looking for advice? Visit to sign up.  

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