The only time I think about HIV is when I take my pills—and when I’m making long-term plans. When I tested positive at 18, I was unwilling to make plans. I was more comfortable planning on not being here. Plus, I felt very much swept along with the AIDS epidemic. What’s different now is that although I’ll live with HIV for the rest of my life, I plan on being here.

I left Health Initiatives for Youth in San Francisco when I was 28. I had spent 10 years providing health services and education for youth, and most of what I brought to that came from being a young person with HIV. But as I got older, it didn’t feel the same. I was able to start questioning what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to go back to school—I’m getting my doctorate in anthropology.

When I moved to LA three years ago I had no insurance, and it took me over a month just to get into the system. By the time I saw a doctor, my meds had run out. I was sick of side effects, and the doctor and I agreed that I should stay off meds. My health was OK. Smoking has taken more of a toll on my health than HIV. (I’m back on meds now.)

I grew more between 25 and 30 than I ever did during my teenage years, because I had experience you only get with age. I spent several years not being in a relationship, and I learned more about myself than I would have if I’d kept on dating. There are positive benefits to aging. I don’t have the body I did when I was 18, but I have a lot more developmentally and spiritually to reflect on, and that’s as valuable to me now.

When I was young, HIV was my  identity. I had not yet developed an identity of my own. When I realized I could have a future and a career, it totally changed my perspective. Suddenly, there was something important in my life that had nothing to do with my disease. Of course, HIV still has an impact. But now it’s something I live with rather than something I identify as.

I met the man of my dreams—at a nightclub of all places—and fell head over heels. We’ve been together for three years. I had always said I could never be involved with a negative person. Now I find that other aspects of relationships matter more to me than serostatus. We don’t discuss serostatus in our relationship, and that’s his choice. If people know I’m positive, they assume he is too, and he doesn’t want people making assumptions about his status one way or the other. I respect his anonymity.

I turn 31 on June 19. I haven’t made any plans to celebrate. Possibly a trip up to the Pacific Northwest. I love forests, and I have family up there. My boyfriend and I love the sun and the snow, and we might take a weekend trip, but nothing big.