Finding My Voice as a Woman Living with HIV

By Naimah O’Neal

While I try to be nice, I know that you can’t change anyone, you can only change yourself. I hope that this blog won’t make anyone mad, but give you something to think about. I am happy that I am HIV positive. So right now I know that anyone reading may think that this woman has lost her mind, and well, maybe I have, but hear me out and keep an open mind.  

I am the oldest of nine children.  I was the first person in my family to do anything. I was raised to be a Muslim, and in my household, my father had a heavy hand on his children and being silent was the key. I don’t blame my parents for anything because they gave me a strong foundation. I will say though that it was the beginning of not having a voice.

I started the journey doing what I was told, always being helpful and never sharing my opinion–I had an opinion, but for some reason, I never thought I had a right to express my feelings. I went though most of my childhood with my mouth closed, not speaking up for myself and having my voice silenced. As I became a young adult my voice was still silent to things that I heard, and I did not often voice my opinion or stand up for anything because I had not learned to hear or use my voice.  

The effect of this helped shape my life and is part of the reason that I became HIV positive.

I had sex when I was 23. I knew nothing about what to ask; condoms were not in my frame of understanding, so I placed myself at risk, due to my lack of knowledge. (This is me owning my virus and helped me to heal.) I don’t think that my husband knew that he had HIV, but I knew that he was using drugs, and because no money was missing from the house, I closed my eyes to how he was getting high. “HOW WAS HE SMOKING HIS CRACK?” MY MIND WOULD SAY BUT MY MOUTH WASN’T ASKING ANY QUESTIONS.  

I realized everything happens for a reason. So I must say that being positive helped me to gain and use my voice. Not only did I learn that I could be at the table, I learned that I have a right to be there. I could ask a doctor questions, and know that if they had not time to talk with me, I could change doctors–this was my right. HIV did that for me. I learned that I could have an opinion, share it and that I had the right to have my opinion heard. HIV did that for me. When my husband died, I went back to school and became a social worker. HIV did that for me.

I want to say to the person reading this blog today: go look in the mirror and say, “WHO ARE YOU NOT TO BE A LIGHT IN THIS WORLD?”  Let no one stand in your way, and that includes YOURSELF …..  Love and peace