My name is Mary. I’m 23 years old, and I’m bringing swag to HIV awareness. I’m swagtastic.
I was born HIV-positive. My biological mother passed away in 1992 of complications from AIDS. I really felt abandoned. I went through a period where I hated my birth mother, because I felt like, “You just going to leave me here with HIV?” But I loved her at the same time. It was very confusing.
A lot of my poetry has to do with my mom and her absence in my life. One of my first poems was about my father being a drug dealer and my biological mother being his customer/sexual partner—that whole enmeshed relationship that they had. At first in my poems, I spoke about my mother having AIDS but I didn’t share my stories of living with HIV. I have been in circles where people were talking about HIV, like in high school. I stayed quiet because I didn’t want them to be like, “Well how do you know all this stuff about HIV?” It would blow my cover. Then, in 2009 or 2010 I was inspired to write “Dandelions,” my first poem exposing my status. “The sickness she denied lies in my blood with a lesser value.” Every time I get to that point I get this rush of nerves, like, “Oh my God, I’m going to tell them I’m HIV-positive.” It just feels good to tell my story.
Lately it’s been difficult, especially with my mom who raised me. My dad cheated to have me and I think she chose to let me live with her because she wanted my dad around. My mom doesn’t want me to be exposed and she doesn’t necessarily support me being an advocate for HIV. But this is what I feel I have to do.
I love my camera. I named it Scotty. Scotty has to come everywhere with me because she’s my friend. I hope my photographs inspire people who are HIV-positive to tell their own stories. I hope that my photos let someone know that they aren’t alone. I really hope my pictures normalize HIV because I think that if people see the relationships between me and my HIV-negative best friends—who don’t look at me as being any different from them—they’ll realize that we’re all human, and that it’s OK to love someone who is HIV-positive. Yeah.