Trans Empowered: JoAnne Keatley in Conversation w/ 5 Women about HIV & Transgender Health (23:35)
[music] I do feel like we have a community of trans
women who are empowered today. We don’t have to live in the shadows anymore. Trans people definitely need to have their
own voice within HIV we’re trans, we’re not black gay men. HIV hasn’t stopped me from dating, and it’s not going to stop from getting married. To step into this life, you have to have tough
skin, it’s about you standing in your truth. It is okay to live with HIV. It is okay to
be accepted. This is who I am, I shouldn’t be ashamed of
that. I am a transgender woman I am so proud to say that. [music] When it comes to really having an impact on HIV as a threat to this community, the only
way that we’re going to move beyond it is really by working together. [music] We’re finally on the forefront. You’re seeing transgender shows everywhere. We are finally
on the forefront, and we need to take that platform and really use it.
Our stories make an impact, whether we see the results right away or not. They are making
an impact and we have to continue to get everyone to understand this community better.
Trans people definitely need to have their own voice within HIV; we’re trans, we’re
not black gay men. And we’re starting that work here, right?
We have this opportunity to really speak with each other and get real. We know that HIV
impacts so many of our lives, right? Is this something that is well known and understood
among transwomen in your communities? I definitely think it is not.
To be honest, in my own community, the conversation isn’t happening. To be black and trans, knowing
that we are disproportionally affected by HIV and for people to still think that it’s
not like a necessary conversation, like it’s completely crazy, completely crazy.
I think people have this false sense of security when it comes to HIV. I didn’t realize it
was an issue for me personally until the first person I knew living with HIV disclosed to
me, and it just made it personal, made it close. When I decided – well, when I came to the conclusion that HIV was an issue that impacted
me, I realized that so many of my friends were positive. Recently, three of my friends
have died because of HIV complications. It’s dark, it’s a really dark area, and I think
that – I think that ignorance is – most of the time – the perpetrator.
My teenage years, I was naïve, ignorant. I was not educated properly. I was not brought
up with making sense of a lot of things, someone to teach me a couple of things – diseases,
how to use a condom, how to protect myself, the proper advice, how to prevent me from
getting infected. And why aren’t trans people having these
conversations in communities like yours or communities where all of us come from? Why
are these conversations not taking place? I don’t think we really feel safe talking
about that because we feel like we are adding to the stigma of ourselves when we talk about
that with each other. Like in our own community I don’t feel like we have that conversation
where we talk with each other, like this is what HIV is, this is what it can do, this
is what you can do to protect yourself against these things..
Just the fact that we are trans, and because of how we get criticized on the street, how
we get laughed at, how we – they take us like we are a joke, like we are a clown, they
don’t take us serious. So it’s fear. It’s other people finding out. It’s embarrassment
and it’s shame. Sometimes we just don’t want to go see doctors, don’t want to get
medical care, don’t want to talk about HIV itself because it’s so fearful.
These are real things we just need to talk about it, whether we have fear talking about
them or not, it’s the importance of talking about it to make it okay.
I want to be able to talk about it, I want to be able to change the narrative, and I
want to be able to have agency to be able to say these are things that happened to me
and that nobody can be able to like say or speak for me.
As almost coming into 30 that I shouldn’t care what people think about me. I have been
living with this for 12 years, I have been healthy for 12 years.
This is a part of who I am, and if I’m going to stand in my truth, I need to stand in my
entire truth and so, I feel very empowered to do that. [music] I myself suffered from my own internalized transphobia myself. I’m learning to accept
the word transgender – to me was so hard because often in my past, I ran away from
it. Because I saw the stigma and I didn’t want to identify that way. And so I kept running.
Definitely. The self-love is probably one of the hardest things for me. Just walking
around, I’m six foot three, and you know, walking around, being happy in my skin is
one of the most toughest things to do. Everywhere I go there’s always like, oh, that’s a man.
Oh, you know, you’re too tall to be a woman, and you’re this and you’re that and it really
bothers me sometimes because I don’t care how successful you get or whatever, there
is nothing like loving yourself. So you know, how does all of that play itself
out though? I want to get us back to the risk for HIV. How does it connect back to the risk?
A lot of times our self-esteem gets lowered if we are not a part of the cis hetero normative,
like community. We get beat up so much that we don’t have much of a spirit to fight
or to even pay attention to certain things. We are constantly walking around, dealing
with trauma. How do you expect people to be healthy, how do you expect people to advocate
for themselves and use a condom? How do you expect people to know the difference between
a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship when every day that we wake up and walk out
of the house, we are dealing – or we are being re-traumatized every day.
Let’s just be real. You know, there is going to be a lot of places that is going to automatically
discriminate against us. So, you have to understand we have to have something to fall back
on, we have to survive. Not everyone has a good job like you, and is successful and so
we have to mindful of that. From the mind of someone who has been a sex
worker, who participated in survival sex to make sure that I had a place to say and food
to eat, I did not want to hear anything about STIs and HIV from someone who I knew thought
that they were better than who I was. It saddens me, it makes me – it makes me
sad that we can’t talk about that with each other because we feel like that’s going
to be stigmatized against us. I think that people who are stigmatized often,
you know, use this notion that oh, I’m not as bad as she is in order to make themselves
feel better about who they are, right? Do you think that goes back to that kind of internalized transphobia? I think when you can say oh well, that’s
not my situation, my situation can’t possibly be as bad as that because this is who I am,
this is what I do. You know, at least I don’t snort coke or whatever. If you can find something
that you deem lower in another person, it definitely boosts your self-esteem for the
next couple seconds. [music] I’m going to go back to the – if they know
my t part, I want to go back there, girl. How do they know you are t?
Me being transgender, I’m almost 6 foot I think, broad shoulders but for whatever reason…
You’re a beautiful woman. Right – that’s what they say. But [sighs]
sometimes I don’t have to disclose. Other times I have to let them know, hey, I’m a
woman but I’m a very different kind of woman. I think all starts at the beginning. Before
even starting a serious relationship, being honest with the person who I’m going to date.
And the hardest part is not so much the gender part, the identity part as transgender – it’s
disclosing HIV. Revealing that I’m HIV positive, that will the harder part for me to do. And
the reason is he is going to ask me questions, how did you get it? How long have you had
it? Are you really ill? Are you going to die? Am I at risk? That’s the hardest part to
explain to the pers- my partner. He might understand, he might not.
That’s how it’s always going to be when you meet someone, and if you feel that ya’ll
are going to go a long way, you know, that’s always the big obstacle that you have to get
over. Some people like to wait till up until the time they are a little more intimate,
and it’s just like oh my gosh, are they going to leave me? What’s going to happen? And
sometimes, when you really, really like somebody, you don’t want them to go. But on the other
side of the fence, you have to understand something, if that person does not like that
about you, they’re not worth keeping to begin with.
Being a trans person was more of an issue in my dating life than having HIV. Because
I know how it felt for me to like not be aware of someone else’s HIV status and having
that choice kind of taken from me. And I don’t want to put anybody else through that situation.
I feel like it depends upon the nature of the situation. Because I feel like – responsibility
for your health should be yours and yours alone, just completely honestly. Now if in
fact, you’re in a relationship with someone, that’s a completely different situation
and you will want that person to know where you are at. But people have to start taking
responsibility for their own health and stop blaming people for – you know what I’m saying,
their own situation. With all the prevention tools we have, why
might a trans woman with HIV choose to not disclose her status or wait to do so?
There are several reasons behind it. My case was in order for me to speak up or to be comfortable
or to be able to even say that I was positive, sometimes it’s not that it’s approval, but
it will start within the home. If I’m able to communicate with parents or sister or somebody
in my family that will support me, and that will say to me it’s okay, I have your back,
I support you 100%, and I’m going to walk with you every step of the way. If you get
shut down immediately by family, then right away rejection kicks in. I hid it for so many
years. I put myself in a place where I wanted to hide it as much as I could.
I know for me personally, my HIV status was something sacred. If we were not intimate,
if we were not in a relationship, you know, I felt – if you were not like my family
or someone of that nature or whatever, it wasn’t your business.
I feel like disclosure of anything about our personal lives is so immensely personal.
I think for myself, the disclosure of being trans. I had to learn how to accept that within
myself first, and then from that place, I learned that it’s okay to just be and just
talk about it because I have accepted it in myself and now I know that nobody can ever
bring me down because I know who I am, this is my life.
I take charge of it, I write my own destiny, this is my path, this is my book, none of
your pages are added, thank you, bye. [all laugh] [crosstalk] So Bre and V, you’re both in committed relationships. And – [laughs] Congratulations, girls. So
was HIV something that came up with your partner and if so, how did – what was that conversation
like? After we started communicating with each other,
and before we actually met, we had the discussion because we were aware, and especially with
the work I do and that we needed to have this conversation about HIV, and getting tested
before we did anything sexual at all because our health is very important to us. And we
just wanted to know our statuses before we got serious.
So social media helped you in being able to kind of have that conversation.
Communication, even through email, through text, through Facetime, that’s what helped
us to have this conversation, to make us feel comfortable enough to ask each other these
important life questions for each other. I met my partner last summer, we were both
interning at the same organization, and I had spent the whole summer talking about being
a board member of the positive women’s network, and talking about being a women living with
HIV so I was under the impression that once we started – developed feelings for each
other, that was something that he knew walking into the relationship. We were talking on
the phone and I was like yeah, as a women living with HIV, and he was like what? And
I freaked out, like I had never freaked out that much in my life, it was not something
that I’m – I hide form any of my partners but it’s a very sensitive topic, and he was
like is that your way of telling me? And I’m like I thought you knew, and he was like I
mean, I don’t really care, like it doesn’t change like how I feel about you or whatever.
We’re just a couple, HIV hasn’t stopped me from dating in the past, and it’s not going
to stop from getting married [laughs] and I do believe that HIV shouldn’t take up
as much space as it does in a lot of situations. [music] Does PrEP play a role in your interactions
with any of your potential partners? Okay so, let me sit up. PrEP is pre-exposure
prophylactics which is basically keeping you from getting HIV, which is another shield
in your arsenal. I think that when I talk to people about PrEP – like – especially
guys, their first response is what the hell is PrEP? What is – I ain’t ever heard
of no – So having to break that down, it’s like are you serious? They didn’t know that
already? [laughs] It’s crazy. When you explain to them like you don’t have to catch HIV.
Does PrEP make you feel empowered to make decisions around who you are having sex with?
I love the option of PrEP because it makes me feel like I’m protected from something
that has stigmatized my community. It’s a big plus for me because to be able to know
that I take PrEP, and take it faithfully that I don’t have to necessarily worry about
getting HIV. It doesn’t protect from other STIs, but HIV is one of the biggest diseases
among black trans women, and to know that I am protected.
How did you hear about PrEP? I was speaking among some friends, and they
were telling me about what PrEP is, what PrEP does and I was like okay, break it down, what
is – what exactly is PrEP? So they broke it down and told me, like you know, well you
can take this pill and never get HIV. And I was like never? What’s the numbers on that?
What’s the percentage? And it’s like 98%, and I was like that’s amazing, so like,
I was pondering it because I had questions about it, and also being on HRT, hormone replacement
therapy. And once I found out from my doctor, there are no negative side effects to mixing
those two medications. I was all for it. [laughs] For those of you that are taking anti-retroviral
therapy, do feel that being on ARVs, and reducing your viral load, does that help you
in making decisions about your sexual lives? Blossom?
If your viral load is undetectable, the chances of you passing HIV is very slim but some of
us tend – some of us tend to get a little excited about that, but I feel like it’s important
that we still making sure that we are using condoms and kind of getting the education
and stuff out there. I started taking my anti-retroviral medication
two weeks before I had my next doctor’s appointment, and at that point, I was told
I was undetectable, and I was like two weeks? Like medication that’s supposed to be saving
your life can work in two weeks? I continued to take it, and I saw that my viral load was
undetectable and my CD4 count just kept going and going and going to the point to where
it was like past the thousands. So for me, like I think they are lifesaving.
I’m HIV positive right now, and I’ve been positive for so many years, I’m taking care
of myself, I’m on medication, I’m healthy, that’s the only issue with me right now.
You can definitely live a long, healthy life on your HIV meds and transition. It’s very
possible that you can do that, it starts with you and what you are willing to accept about
yourself. I wanted to live, and so I feel like that was something that I needed to do.
I felt like that was something that I wanted to do, but I needed to do is to take care
of myself first. As trans women, many of us – not just us – but our community, are also taking hormones, and there could be concerns about anything
that might negatively impact the effect of the hormones including HIV treatment or prevention
tools like PrEP. When I decided to get on PrEP, my first question
was about hormone replacement therapy, and my doctor, like, you know, because I was nervous
because as we all know, the hormone replacement therapy has its side effects emotionally and
physically and I was wondering are those side effects deadly to mix with each other? When
I found that it was like – it was basically null and void, there is no – there is no
reason why I couldn’t transition and be safe. [laughs] I was hype, I was happy.
That’s why it’s really important to kind of keep a close relationship with your doctor.
When I came into my transition, I didn’t know where to go and what resources were available,
so honey, I got on the internet, googled, and I started ordering there. And my HIV doctor,
when he saw how I was wanting to transition so bad, with everything going on with me,
that’s when he decided to step up and he consulted a colleague about hormone replacement
therapy and he ended up prescribing it to me. If he hadn’t done that, I could’ve
injected something in me that was just dangerous, silicone or anything could have went to my
heart and I wouldn’t be sitting here. So I think keeping a relationship with your doctor
is super, super important. It’s critical. They will prescribe you exactly what you need
and if you’re not happy with it, they will switch it right away. There is so many levels,
there is estrogen, there is primeron, they will give you whatever your body is comfortable
with and if it’s not working for you, they will give you something that will work and
they will work versus taking something really risky. [music] This campaign is about being empowered to take control of your health, our health and
our lives. Where do we go from there? What next?
Continue to do what we’re doing now, and have this conversation. Even if it’s walking
away, each individual one of us, to create that space where we go back to.
And us being here today, we are speaking for a lot of our people in our community, for
a lot of the trans women in our community and I feel like we are going to see some results
when we come back. We will be able to say you know what? I started this, join me and
we can all work on it together. What gives you ladies hope for the future?
Love. I second that. What I really hope to see is keeping the hope
alive for our trans women. Especially those that are living with HIV, who are afraid to
come forward and think that they are alone. It is about empowering us to be together and
to build together. I just want to thank you all for being so
real, so brave, so courageous. It’s been such an honor to be in the same space with
you. Thank you. [applause] [music]