The Positive Side

Fall/Winter 2005 

10 Things You Don’t Know about HIV+ Women

River Huston speaks out on behalf of her positive posse

THERE ARE SO MANY ASSUMPTIONS about women with HIV: for example, that we’re easy, addicts or have real poor judgment when it comes to picking a partner. Some and all of that may be true for some of us, and so what? The point is, like any group, we are individuals falling under the category of HIV positive women. We come from every walk of life, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic background — which makes each story unique. One thing that’s clear is that HIV is a medical problem and not an adjective to describe who any of us are.

1.  We are not heroes, courageous or brave. We’re just trying to get through life the best way we can.
A hero is someone who runs into a burning building to rescue a wheelchair-bound woman or dives into the water to save a child from drowning. I’ve been called a hero, courageous and brave from the beginning, but really I’ve found that every woman I’ve met who lives with HIV and doesn’t let it define, destroy or devastate her life is just a strong woman living her life to the best of her ability. When you make me the hero you put me on a pedestal I am sure to fall off of.

2.  We can still have great sex.
But first I have to recover from everything they say is safe sex. Starting with the female condom, by the time you get this thing in, you don’t want sex — you want a Valium. Only second to that atrocity is the dental dam and I really don’t need someone to use a latex glove to touch me. There is so much more to sex than conventional intercourse and oral sex. In the long run, my sex life has improved because I’ve learned to communicate by talking about safe sex and exploring other options such as toys, fantasy and outfits.

3.  We can have a full life including a career.
This is a choice I can make. Treatment access has made it possible for me to have a future with plans that include long-term career goals.

4.  We can give birth to HIV negative children.
Medical knowledge has greatly reduced the chances of passing on the virus to my children and has given me the strong possibility of watching them grow up and become adults.

5.  We are not the face of AIDS.
I do not have to be the poster child for a disease. Whether I disclose publicly or not, I am not defined by my illness. HIV is a virus and I am much cuter than that.

6.  We still want romance.
I need to be treated with respect, adoration and gifts. HIV did not erase my desire to be wooed and romanced.

7.  We can be with an HIV negative partner.
Most people assume that my husband must be HIV positive. I’ve got news for them: He is negative and HIV plays such a minor role in our lives. Positive women do not rule out being with a positive partner but we don’t have to be limited solely to that population.

8.  We can live in the moment.
HIV is not a gift; if it is, get me to the return department. But it has given me the insight to not dwell on the past or worry about the future. We are all going to die someday. I’ve been given the urgency of living each day to the fullest, so I don’t spend them thinking about the music I want played at my memorial service.

9.  We do not have to settle.
I am not damaged goods. I am an amazing, sexy, smart and attractive woman. I can choose who it is I want to be with. I do not have to be with someone who treats me poorly, does not have a job or a future or is just a poor match because I think no one else will be with me.

10.  We are happy.
Being HIV positive does not have to intrude on my happiness. My birthright is a life of joy. Once I made peace with the fact that “I have a virus in my blood that causes trouble but for many of us can be managed” I could get on with my life, which includes lots of laughter, friends, family and contentment. I am in the bonus rounds of life and loving every magnificent minute.

River Huston is an award-winning poet, journalist and performer. She is the author of five books, including A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living with HIV. She is currently performing her one-woman show, Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment: One Girl’s Guide to Living and Dying across the United States. For more info, go to