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Albany Rio de JaneiroAlbany

I have had to change my story, my life. I have suffered a lot with HIV, but today I am sure that I have changed.

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My name is Albany. I’m 41 years old, and I live in São Cristóvão. I have been HIV-positive for the last ten years.

I used to be a very naughty person, very crazy and totally irresponsible. I had no love for my body; I had no love for myself. When I discovered my diagnosis I was very fragile. The doctor said, “Albany, today you’re a person living with AIDS.” At that time my doctor told me I had contracted HIV about eight or ten years before.

What got me down the most when it came to this period of the disease, the ten years, was an opportunist disease, meningitis. For a time I lost my eyesight, I couldn’t talk, I lost my sense of touch, I couldn’t hold things. I almost died, and God gave me everything again. I was on the brink of death and the doctors gave me all their support, moral and ethical. I knew then that I had to be different, that I couldn’t live with the mistakes of the past. I couldn’t waste any of this.

So I have had to change my story, my life. I have suffered a lot with HIV, but today I am sure that I have changed. I have balance, and I have goals to live by, because I contracted something very serious.

Today I’m an AIDS militant. I left the nightlife, the nightclubs. I’m not dating anymore, but I’m always with my activist friends, and this is how I survive. This is how I live and I love those close to me, how I’m coherent and how I’m patient. I am open, I show my cards, and I’m much better now, thank God.

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I have told my family, who is very strict, who are in the military, who are Jewish. I told them my status and today they accept me more, they love me better than before. They are aware that I can live with HIV, but I have to protect myself. I have to police myself everyday, in every step of my life.

I do STD prevention work with ABIA and with Pela Vida. It’s very cool to be engaged in activism with an NGO, because of the importance of passing on information to those with less privilege. Though we have health professionals, we still have people who are lost when they catch the disease. In the group Pela Vida we have an AIDS hotline, where people can call when they are freaked out, and want to kill themselves.

When I’m volunteering, on the street or in a nightclub, I pass on the right information: “At the end of the tunnel you might see your Prince Charming, or a Greek god, but use that thing you keep in your pocket. You can be with him, but you have to know that life is to be lived with dignity, loving your fellow man, not with lack of caution or irresponsibility.”

People don’t care. They misunderstand the disease, and they don’t care. This carelessness is taking over our society, especially the younger generation. They shine bright like the midnight sun—I have this inside me, so I see it inside them. I pass on this information to them because they have a lot to learn. You don’t have to stop loving, but do it with prevention, care, with love and tenderness, and respect.

When I talk to people I don’t want them to think the danger of AIDS is less because of the medication. I want them to use condoms. I want them to do the right thing, to really love themselves. The drugs are here, and the Ministry of Health gives them away, but the side effects are very bad. It’s very arduous, and they leave us feeling really bad. So people have to realize that in every sexual act it really is mandatory to use condoms. This is my message: we need to use condoms constantly, not only one time, but in every circumstance. We have to be aware that we all have to play a role, that we can’t just ask the powers-that-be, but we have to be accountable. We are all human beings.

I experience loving what’s around me. And in terms of the gay parade where I was on Sunday—it’s glamorous, and there’s a crowd, glitter, beautiful people.

At first when I was photographing the parade I was a little tense, but then I started to loosen up, seeing all those people, gay and straight, supporting equality. They have such a glow, from the right to express themselves, and to love one another, independent of who they are, men or women. But my focus in the gay parade is the fight for equality. This is primordial. Of course we see nudity, seduction, beauty, but my focus is activism.

It’s really cool, and we are close to winning the fight over our sexual rights. This is very important to me. That, and all the glitter…

I am in love with art, and I am always going to cultural outings. I’m always in playhouses, movie theaters. I don’t go to the bar scene until the early morning anymore, and I like to enjoy my house, organize the closets. My house is a sacred space for me, and I live in a relationship to everything around me. I like tidying up, cleaning. It makes you forget the negative things that are on your mind.

My mission is living the good things and not letting HIV—a disease that I contracted—take over my universe, my life. My focus today is on having a stance, doing the right thing, and helping people in easy and possible ways. I am passing on experiences to other people. I have been positive for more than twelve years, have contracted many opportunistic diseases, and today I’m here living.

This is what God gave me. He made me fall; He caught me by surprise. I shed many tears, but today I am a happy person. Happy, but with the goal of passing on this information in the right way, with respect, love, with dignity. This activism means I am living as a part of society, and not denying my HIV status, denying AIDS. AIDS is living inside me, it’s part of my body.

With a goal, with insurance, with prevention, with clarity, I’m totally ok with AIDS in my life.

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