Dante has been LIVING with HIV since July of 2007. He is one of the people featured in my film “Breaking the Silence”. From the first time I met him, I was impressed at just how well he's been dealing with his diagnoses and his desire to continue to live his life and not become someone that allows HIV to completely take over his life. Recently I asked him to do this interview with me for PositiveLite.com, mainly because I knew he'd be completely honest and because he's such an awesome young man.
Kengi: Before we start, let me first say thank you for doing this interview with me. I really appreciate it.
Dante: Thank you for having me. It's a great thing you're doing and I'm glad to be sharing my story through a magazine. Yay I'm excited okay let's get started.
You once described to me your life before being diagnosed as being in the fast lane. What exactly does this mean?
The fast lane to me was just partying, drinking, having wild and spontanteous sex. I would work in the day and party at night. If I was too tired from partying or the sex was that good I would call work the next day and say I can't come in because my back hurts. Me and a few other friends would get online, meet guys, set up our own sex parties and just have a ball. That's what the fast lane was for me, hot guys, sex, partying and alcohol to let good times keep on coming.
So is it safe to say that you were just living in the moment?
Yes I was living in the moment. There were no boundaries that I wouldn't cross. Like you heard this saying, "I was young, dumb, and full of cum".
There are those who say that younger people just aren't paying attention to the message about HIV and AIDS. Did you hear any messages about HIV or AIDS in your neighborhood prior to becoming HIV positive?
I didn't see any billboards like I do now where they're in your face and you have to look at it and talk about it. On television, yes I may have saw a message but my mind wasn't thinking about HIV.
Ultimately, why did you decide to get tested?
I decided to get tested cause I was in a relationship at the time and things started to progress where condoms weren't being used. So to be on the safe side I wanted to know my status and have a clear head space. I didn't have any symptoms prior to getting tested I just wanted to know my status.
Were you worried you may have caused your boyfriend to be HIV positive?
Yes I was worried. I was scared I never been through something like this, so I didn't know how things were going to play out.
So you're sitting waiting for your test results. What was going through your mind while you waited?
I didn't know what to feel. Part of me felt like this can go either way. In the past I was playing Russian Roulette. So now I see the game caught up to me.
About a year prior to testing positive, you told your parents you were gay. Was there ever a concern that your parents would throw you out or no longer love you?
No, not loving me or throwing me out was never an option cause my parents love me from the day I was born to the day I came out. I'm their child and only son, so disowning me? No, not my parents. They love me to much to do that. I'm grateful to have my parents who love and adore me cause not everyone gets the opportunity to feel that.
Did you feel like you had let them down by not being careful?
Yes, I felt I let them down, but myself as well. How could I be so blind by lust to not take the precautions and protect myself every time I had an encounter. But like I said when you play Russian Roulette you're gambling everything for that good time.
Contrary to what we hear and read about when it comes to Blacks and Latino families as it pertains to HIV and AIDS, Your family has been very supportive. Even going with you to medical appointments.
Yes, once my mother found my doctor's slip, she put two and two together and grilled me. I fest up, told her the truth and then talked to my dad to assure them that I was going to live. I told them not to come, actually and they said no, we're coming with you to the doctor. "We love you too much to lose you to this." So from that moment on I knew my parents were right by my side.
How is life different now that you're HIV positive?
Life is good, real good. My health is 110 percent. I do what I'm suppose to and I look at life in a whole new light. There is life after this and I tell people that all the time because when you going through it it's hard to understand.
Do you ever have feelings of not being able to fall in love because of the HIV?
I did at first, but now I'm in a good place and I stay knowledge up on medical updates and when I disclose my status I can say it proud 'cause I have come so far in this and when I hear the guys' reaction to it, it brings joy to my heart that they still see a person who needs love too.
Do you feel you can only date people with HIV?
I feel I can date anyone who is open to it (HIV) and willing to get educated on it (HIV). if they don't know much about it, whether you're positive or negative ask me questions cause when you know more, you connect more and yes, Kengi, quote me on that. (laughter)
Recently I had the honor of hearing you read something you wrote at a public reading called "Love the way you lie" What was the inspiration behind that?
I was in a dark place at the time and I needed to express myself in the way I know best - which is writing. Once I put that pen to paper I surrendered to what I was feeling. And I'm proud that you and all in the audience loved it, but it was this one person who pulled me to the side and said “you touched me. I'm going through that right now and thank you for letting me know I'm not alone and that hope is still alive.”
You've been involved with two of my projects, the film "Breaking the Silence" and my HIV support group, JustUs. What have these experiences been like?
Being part of the film project has just opened my eyes up to the fact that my story matters and it has value to someone out there who needs to hear it. For the group JustUs, it's refreshing cause we all come from different walks of life and we share our stories without any judgment and to feel safe to open up is pretty special to me.
You're also a writer with aspirations of writing a book or two. How is that coming along?
Its coming along great. I'm in the process of finding an editor that can edit my work and build a close bond 'cause this person is going to be my right-hand man. So the first book is about relationships and the second book is between a collection of short stories or my tips on the do's and don't of styling and designing yourself inside and out.
My friend Carlos asked if he could paint you. What did that feel like?
It was such a surprise that he wanted to paint me and use it for a show I was like wow, really, me? It's such an honor to have someone paint you and display it where people can see, I'm still in shock. Plus he only does woman and this time he decided to paint a man and the man happens to me. June is around the corner and I can't wait to see me live and in color.
So what's next for you?
Working on my baby.... the book, and I want to travel more this year and going into next year. I have a passport and I need some more stamps. So next time you hear from me maybe from a postcard. So watch out cause good things do happen when you push it to the limit.
Dante, again, thank you very much for taking the time to do this. From the time I was introduced to you, I knew you were pretty exceptional and were destined to do great things. I pray nothing but the best for you.
It was my pleasure Kengi thank you for having me on the couch. We made magic today.
When it is all said and done, we are either LIVING with HIV or dying with HIV, but at the end of the day YOU and ONLY YOU can make the choice to LIVE with HIV. Dante has clearly made the choice to LIVE with HIV and because of this, outside forces like guilt, shame, fear and stigma have no place in his life.