Words by Sydney MacDonald
We’re taught to envision individuals who are HIV positive as sickly and weak. For Missoula native Reece Pierce, that misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Pierce tested positive for HIV in December of 2017 after a previous partner reached out to him and advised him to get tested for the virus.
CONVICTS got a chance to talk to Pierce about what being HIV positive looks like today, how he’s working to create a voice for himself in his community and promoting change in the conversations surrounding HIV.
What was your idea of HIV growing up?
Growing up in an impoverished area in Montana where sex education is very minimal and very heterosexual, my idea of HIV was misconstrued. At a young age I remember watching people’s reaction to the topic of “HIV” and seeing how fast it would be correlated to gay men; but then growing up I saw otherwise. There are HIV positive individuals of all genders, sexuality’s and races. From there, my idea of HIV has continued to evolve.
What did you think a person with HIV/ AIDS typically looked like?
I thought someone with HIV to typically looked ill because many positive people are often portrayed through media and as sick or weak. Rarely are they people with success stories.
Can you take me through the day you found out you were HIV positive.
December 2nd 2017 was the day I found out my status as a HIV positive man. I had been contacted several times within several days by a man whom I had slept with twice asking if he could “call me” or “speak to me alone”. I was in traffic when I noticed that my phone was ringing. I looked down and saw that it was him and my heart completely froze because I just knew that something dark was waiting for me on the other end. I pulled over and immediately got out and began to walk and dial him, and when he answered I heard the quiver in his voice and tears began to form and quickly turned to sobbing when he told me he came back positive for HIV. I felt those words take the breath out of me, panic set in super quickly, but I knew that I had to get to Planned Parenthood. My friend Mary was thankfully with me at the time and drove me to the clinic and was there to sit with me. The waiting room was where the full range of emotions started to be felt. I felt that I had to contain my emotions in front of the other people waiting even though I felt that it had been already stamped on my forehead. Nurses’ questions became blurred as I dove into a deep mental questionnaire of my own, trying to answer questions I know wouldn’t be fair or understandable at the time. The nurse took the rapid test and then returned what seemed to be days later with results. I already could feel the answer. When the nurse told me that I was HIV positive I checked out mentally as fast as the snap of a finger and knew that I couldn’t stay in the stale-aired doctors office anymore, and proceeded to storm out of Planned Parenthood. Out front, I seemed to hit another wave of emotions because that was where I decided that I was going to kill myself because I felt I had just been given my death notice. After getting home I just sat and thought about all of the shit I’ve been through in my life and couldn’t believe it had come down to this. I slept for 15 hours and it took me three days to truly talk myself down.
In terms of medication and your daily routine how does being HIV positive affect your daily life?
In terms of daily routine being positive hasn’t affected me even close to as much as I had thought it would. My health has remained the same, if anything it’s made me eat and live healthier because I feel like I’ve gotta be a little extra cautious when it comes to my health now. Medication is a way easier routine than I had expected as well; I take two pills once a day.
What do you think would surprise most people about what it means to be HIV positive?
What surprises most people about what it means to be positive is that it can be surprisingly relatable and almost comforting for people who have been through private sexual situations.
How has the culture around being HIV positive changed in the last 20 or 30 years in your eyes?
Positive culture has changed so rapidly over the last 20/30 years because within my short lifetime of 22 years I’ve seen such a dramatic shift towards physical interactions with the positive community and very much so with relationships because we’re now seeing stigmas not holding true. I’ve seen a lot more couples with only one partner that’s positive.
Why don’t you think we see a large amount of conversations about HIV in the media?
HIV is like most other “taboo” topics in the media in the sense that it’s used as a scare tactic or is exploitable in someway. HIV is a subject that scares people the same way race and sexuality does and sometimes even more so because HIV is so closely related to both of those other subjects, so media tends to remain silent on HIV because of the politics that have now become one of the key factors now of HIV.
What are some of the misconceptions about being HIV positive?
The way a pos(itive) person confidently carries themselves can be a misconception because many people assume a person with HIV to be sickly or a junkie.
Moving forward how has this changed your outlook on life?
My current outlook on life has been extremely positive and yes all puns intended because if you can’t laugh about it what can you do? I feel like it’s given me an oddly strong sense of purpose knowing I have the chance to shed a new light on HIV.
Do you want to be more involved in the HIV community and help bring awareness and education to those who aren’t well informed about HIV?
Working with my positive community has become of huge importance in my life and I’ve started working on a book about HIV (can’t give all the details away gotta stay tuned). I’ve always been a voice-full person and I’m using this tool for my positive community talk about issues and topics that others are afraid to address.
In terms of being an active member of the gay community do you feel inspired to speak freely about being HIV positive and what ways have you already done so?
Being gay has definitely given me a confidence to speak freely because our community has been living and learning and growing with this for decades now. I’ve publicly announced my status on Instagram and I’ve gotten closer with other gay men because there’s an almost unspoken commonality within the gay community when it comes to HIV.
What’s been the most challenging thing since you were tested as being HIV positive?
Learning to be comfortable with my body and blood again and adjusting to certain lifestyle changes.
What gives you the most strength to stand up for your community everyday?
I want people who know nothing of HIV to at least learn parts here and there when I speak about my gay and HIV communities, because something here and there is better than knowing nothing at all.
What do you hope to teach others about living with HIV?
Strength is something that many people’s opinions differ on but I hope to show people that it can come in all forms and to remain unique and unclassified by your status.
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