June 27, 2014
Bennettsville, South Carolina
Positive since 1988
As a long-term member of the HIV/AIDS community, I must say that the slogan of the Virginia Slim cigarette ad, “You’ve come a long way baby,” is very true. I am a 48-year-old black gay male who has been positive since 1988. Twenty-six victorious years even though not every day was peaches and cream with a slice of grandma’s old-fashioned homemade butter pound cake. There were days that I got into the boxing ring and challenged Mr. HIV. One day I got tired of him controlling me.
During the late ’90s I was given medications to help me fight Mr. HIV but until I became very weak and feeble, I didn’t want to take the meds. I had to go to a training camp (prison) in 2004 to learn how to fight. I was placed on a series of medicines to make me stronger and to prepare me for this boxing match. For three years I got stronger and increased my CD4 count and decreased my viral load. I was eventually given Truvada, which really helped me from 2007 to the present. For seven years, I’ve been kicking Mr. HIV’s butt. My current CD4 count is 836 and my viral load is undetectable. This is what I consider victorious living.
I would like to encourage my brothers and sisters in the gay community and in the non-gay community to join a winning team and beat the hell out of this epidemic. Let’s continue to be stronger, better, more courageous and to live life to the fullest.
Let’s all join the fight, and most of all, let’s keep hope alive. We must think outside of the box and tell ourselves that there is a cure around the corner. If we have medicines that can treat HIV, trust me, there’s a cure for it. We must believe and do what is required to maintain a full and healthier life. We must not let stigma or other people’s opinions of us make us feel that we are nobody—because every human being on this earth is somebody.
Lastly, I would like to send a shout out to the 100 unsung heroes that were featured in the December 2013 issue of POZ magazine. Keep up the good work! Not a soul had a look on their face like they had eaten a lemon—only beautiful smiles. Two thumbs up to you!
What three adjectives best describe you?
Humorous, outgoing/sociable, energetic/full of life
What is your greatest achievement?
Enabling myself to cope with HIV for 26 1/2 years.
What is your greatest regret?
That I was illegally segrated and discriminated against for 9 1/2 years of my prison sentence. I’m still fighting for my rights and justice.
What keeps you up at night?
Not a thing, because the Atripla knocks me out.
If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
That HIV-negative people would get educated and stop stigmatizing those of us living with HIV.
What is the best advice you ever received?
At one time back in 2005, I wanted to give up until my prison boyfriend/husband told me, “No matter how you feel, keep you head held high, and you will be OK.”
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Since I am an LA Lakers fan, I would say Magic Johnson. Besides God, he’s the reason why I’m still living and healthy.
What’s your motto?
I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. –Psalm 139:14
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on your way out?
The Atripla! Good ‘ol life saving Atripla.
If you could be any animal, what would yo be? And why?
I wouldn’t want to be as big, but I would say an elephant. The reason is because they have a good memory.
Search: Charles Thomas, Bennettsville, South Carolina
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