Bob Leahy: Trey, thank you for telling your story to PositiveLite.com. Now you're climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. That’s Africa tallest peak at 5,895 metres (or 19,341 feet). That’s an impressive feat, but more so for someone living with HIV. I’ve been reading your blog and I don’t see any mention of any previous climbing experience, am I right?
Trey McCrary: Oh god yes. The biggest mountain I have ever climbed would be the hills in between port wine houses in Portugal earlier this year. I did the whole summer camp hiking thing as a child, but mountaineering was not a part of the Camp Monikiwa experience. Needless to say, this is some craziness of a new found level even I did not think I was capable of!
OK, the obvious question. Why?
Growing up, I had a French teacher who without fail asked all of her students the same exam question at the end of every term. It was a very simple question: pourquoi?
All of her students always tried to impress here; magic sentences en français filled with past participles and hanging indirect objects peppered with idiomatic phrases like window licking came back to her year after year. Then I came along and gave her the one answer she always wanted, but never expected: pourquoi pas?
I guess that is what started this journey. The why not of it all.
I was going through a monthly newsletter and saw that Positive East was inviting people to climb Kili and I thought to myself, "why not?". Why not show the world what an overweight, HIV positive man could do if he put his mind to it.
So much good work was done in the 80's scaring the living shit out of people about HIV that I find a lot of people are still convinced that HIV is a death sentence. That we end up with lipodistrophic sunken faces a la Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. I guess the why not of it all is just to show just how alike a positive person is when compared to a negative person. To show the benefits of early testing and treatment. To show people what positive living looks like.
Positive East is what? Tell me what kind of work they do and where the money you raise will go.
Positive East is one of the few local truly HIV charities left in London. Whilst there has always been a very strong local community response to the epidemic here in the UK, the current funding climate and continued advances we have made in research have forced a rationalisation of services resulting in a few large national charities like the Terrance Higgins Trust and even fewer locally based ones . Thankfully for East London, we have our very own voice in Positive East.
Our main thrust here is to help positive people build positive lives for themselves. To create a safe space to deal with HIV and it's impact on the lives it touches. We also have testing programmes and education programmes, but unlike other organisations we don't just stop with a negative test. There is a real holistic approach to HIV which Positive East engenders from prevention, testing, to fighting stigma.
This climb will directly benefit the African community in East London and help to combat the isolation, stigma, and fear that exists within this community. We have very high numbers of African HIV positive people in our community and this climb will address the different needs of this community through outreach programmes, further education, and training for the staff here at Positive East.
Tell us - and I think this is important to you - who else will be with you?
There will be 16 other climbers with me on this trek, but most importantly in this group I will have some very close friends and my husband joining me.
When I decided to climb Kili, I sent a text to one of my friends who just happens to be the Speaker of my local council asking her to join me. Imagine my surprise when not only did she agree to come, but also informed me that she was choosing Positive East as her charity for the year. This brought along her husband, which then steeled my own husband to join us as well! From there two other local councillors from the London Borough of Hackney decided to answer this challenge making this a truly remarkable team of local politicians embarking on one hell of a mental and physical challenge to support our positive brothers and sisters and the local charity that provides desperately needed services to us all.
I am quite literally moved beyond words at their generosity of spirit.
Tell me about the climb itself. You’ve called it “this ridonkulous mental and physical challenge” and I see the description on the Positive East website is “not for the faint-hearted” Tell us a little bit about it, Trey.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa! It will be a ten day climb that will entail climbing high and sleeping low so we don't end up having to be rescued along the way and being brought back down in an artificial altitude chamber by the Tanzanian park serviced. Whilst it is not like climbing K2 or Everest, for six people who have never climbed anything more than the stairs when the lift is out it will be a monumental challenge to take on.
And ARE you faint-hearted? Because you said back in May “the thing that i know scares me the most right now is that i am not ready to do this. There is a part of me that does not think i can do this and even with all of those great people, until i have myself on my own team this is going to scare me.” Tell us how you’re feeling now.
I'm still in the shit scared stage of this whole thing. I guess, though, knowing my husband and closest friends will be there next to me cheering me on and taking the challenge themselves, I am a little less terrified. Alongside this, the response from the local community has been amazing and the support is steeling my nerves. I know that if I had to do this tomorrow, I probably wouldn't hit the the summit, but with the kind words of genuine love and support coming from all corners, I know that I will be able to not only take on the challenge, but conquer it.
Are you in good shape? Again in your blog you’ve said “I am like a million stone overweight and we all know me and the physical activity are not all that close buddies.” But I’m reading too that you’ve been working hard to get in shape for this. Tell me what you’ve been doing.
I'm getting there! The calorie counting has begun and I have taken to one damn stair at a time whenever I can. I am taking the training regime slowly to make sure that I do not over do it and end up hurting myself but now that Cllr Husband is on board, the long walks and trips along places like Hadrian's wall have been put in the diary. Taken alongside a personal trainer, I have no worries that I will be in top form to take on this challenge in February and, fingers crossed, will find my 34 inch waist again!
So you’ll be staying in tents for six nights, right? How good are you at tents? Do they speak to you with thoughts of a romantic tryst in the wilds of Africa or “I want my bed back in Hackney – right now!”
Luckily for me growing up in Texas was filled with camping trips in Colorado and New Mexico. I might be a princess at heart, but as they say, "You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of the girl"! I'm more worried about Cllr Husband as he likes his creature comforts, but I know that the task at hand will have him enjoying washing from a bowl in no time.
You have been HIV-positive since 2003? Do you think this adventure poses special challenges for a person like yourself living with HIV?
I've always seen my HIV as an additive to my life! Whilst it is important to remember that untreated I do have a fatal condition, I firmly believe that medical science can and has put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Thanks to the great public health service we have in the National Health Service here in the UK, I am acutely aware of just how closely my health is monitored by my great HIV team at Homerton Hospital in Hackney. So not only do I think HIV will not inhibit my journey, it is adding to it by ensuring I have great medical minds watching out for me. Positive living is just that, living as positively as possible.
HIV does not restrict my life. Indeed, I am of the firm personal belief it has enhanced it!
This may seem like an odd question, Trey, but would you have made this trip WITHOUT being HIV-positive?
I want to think that I would have found the courage to do it. I really really do. But there is a part of me that knows that without HIV, I might be busy elsewhere fighting some other stigma trying to do some good.
What other blessings in your life do you attribute to being HIV-positive?
Knowledge is power. And knowing my virus has given me the peace to go out and teach others about my condition, and to show the world just how far we have come. I have met many wonderful people along my journey whose stories have impacted my life in ways that I do not think I will ever be able to quantify. Listening to the differences between a heterosexual African woman's story as opposed to my middle class gay white boy one has given me lessons upon lessons in communication skills and if it meant never being able to meet some of the amazing people I have. I wouldn't wish away my HIV, ever!
For me it is about going out there and teaching people to find their own voices again. And I know that my HIV is not just a part of my story, but now other's as well. And I couldn't take that away, I just couldn't.
I’ve read your story and you’ve gone through some tough times in your life. But now you're living in London England, a city that you love with a man you love, and you seem blessed, am I right?
I feel blessed and I feel at home. That is all a boy from Lubbock, Texas could ever wish for.
And you are a political wife. Me too! Well, I’m not married to him but we’ve been together for 31 years and he’s a local councillor. Tell me about your hubby.
Oh, where to start? Phil has been such an amazing influence on my life that words could never pay justice to the wonderful man he is.
When we started dating, I had a tenuous grasp of UK politics, but I knew that Labour were the good guys and I had bagged myself a Labour councillor. Coming from a long line of politicians and their wives, I have first-hand knowledge of the differences between someone who wants to be in power and someone who uses power for good. It all came crashing down around me one day when we were walking by a school that had burned down in his ward and I looked over to see him crying - and they were real tears! He muttered something about the effect on the kids' lives and stability but I couldn't pay attention. I was so taken aback by this visceral reaction in him, this love of his community and ability to take on board the seriousness of the situation. He was crying because these children who needed stability in their lives (he represents one of the most socio-economically challenged wards in the whole of the UK) were going to have to uproot their frenetic lives and move into an already overcrowded school. He was crying because single parents would have to change their entire work schedules to take their kids to school. He was crying on behalf of his constituents. And it is right then and there I knew it - I knew that he was the real deal. Not some fly by night councillor after a seat in Parliament one day, Phil represents the good side of politics. Someone who wants to make our ever constantly ugly world a little more beautiful. Someone who knows what being a leader is about.
Phil has enriched my life in so many ways, but I think the one thing that cements our shared love of monkeys and sorbet is our genuine desire to serve the public. To make tomorrow better by making today easier. Sure, he is dealing with savage cuts to just about everything being made by the current coalition government, but I can truly say - hand on heart - that he is one of the good guys and I am just so proud to be a part of that story.
Ah, that's nice. Now, you sound like a busy guy yourself. But what’s your passion? What do you like doing more than anything else in your free time?
I love to create. Either through words or paint, I am constantly finding myself trying to make sense of what is going on around me through art. I took me a very long time to realise that I am an artist, but now I am here I want to spend my life trying to make the world a more beautiful place somehow. I strongly believe that we are all artists in some form, and my art just happens to take form in words and colours.
And you’re an enthusiastic, cook, right? Tell me if I visited you for dinner tonight - which is unlikely because I live in Canada - what would you make me to impress?
I would probably start off with a tuna sashimi stack I first encountered at the Willard hotel in Washington DC. There is something really rewarding about cutting though hot crispy potato and soft cold tuna topped with a kick in the teeth dose of wasabi!
From there, we would cleanse our pallets with some Pimms sorbet and move onto a good old fashioned rib-eye smothered in 'shrooms and secret goo. Side orders of cinnamon sweet potato and purple stemmed broccoli dancing with ginger.
As for pudding, I do not think anything beats a good old fashioned piece of chocolate cake, but being a Texan there would be a hint of heat in the hidden chillies all cooled down with some tequila ice cream.
That and copious amounts of wine.
I’m there! Trey, it’s been great learning about you and your bid to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in particular. If people want to help you folks get to the top, how can they help?
If any of your readers wish to donate to the climb, which is directly funding Positive East's African outreach programme, they can visit my justgiving page here. If they are a UK tax payer they can even claim gift aid to give the charity just that little bit more. Any amount helps and I would be honoured to know there are people out there cheering me on! If your readers aren't able to help financially, i would like to invite them to join the journey by visiting my blog here.
I really want to build a global community to take up the mountain with us and I want to thank you guys at PositiveLite.com for giving me this amazing opportunity to tell my story. You're good people, as we say back in Texas.
Trey – thank you – and good luck. We want to hear all about it when you get back. OK?
I can't wait to tell you all about it...
Trey McCrary was born and raised in Texas but moved to London in 1998 to chase his dreams. Finishing a drama degree, he found himself putting on corporate drag for a few years before realising that the suit and tie was just not for him. He now spends his time volunteering for Positive East trying to help other HIV positive people find their voices to live the most positive lives they can while juggling the life of a political wife to a local Labour politician.
He also really loves monkeys. A lot
Follow his journey up Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for www.PositiveEast.org.uk at www.mountainmonkey2013.blogspot.com or www.twitter.com/MountKiliMonkey