What PrEP means for me?

I remember how much I had to adjust myself in order to succeed in a tough city such as New York when I came to the US three years ago. It wasn’t easy. But after so much hard work, sacrifices, and sadness over being so far away from my family and people I love, I must say that it was really worth it!!!

I have always believed that everything happens for a reason. I spent five years studying very hard to get my Bachelor Degree in Human Resources and then four years working in the field; both in my home country Venezuela. The first months I spent in New York, I was constantly fighting a lack of motivation because I felt I was never going to get a job in my field.
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A year and a half later, I got the wonderful opportunity to start working at the Latino Commission on AIDS in the Research and Evaluation department. I must confess that I was so scared because this was a brand new thing for me. I never imagined using statistical analysis software, interpreting data, or networking with important people in the health field and also learning so much about behavioral interventions, capacity-building assistance, advocacy, and HIV testing.

Last year, I heard the word “PrEP” and terms such as “are you PrEPared?” and “#TruvadaWhore” for the first time.   As a person working in the health field, specifically data and research, I had to learn about all of this in order to be updated in my new field. But I didn’t consider the chance of using PrEP myself, because I was scared of possible side effects and also giving a bad impression to the people I would potentially date.

Last November, I decided to put my fears and stigma aside and be smarter, stronger and wiser. If there are powerful resources to keep myself negative why should I not use them?  After six months on PrEP. I must say that I only experienced minor side effects the second week of the treatment. Besides that, I haven’t felt any side effect. On the other hand, I also realize that PrEP isn’t for everybody. I realize that for people that aren’t sexually active or are in a monogamous relationship of many years, where both partners know their status, PrEP may not be relevant.

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Nowadays, I am not ashamed at all of admitting that I am on PrEP . I can’t explain the big stigma that is out there about this. I remember getting weird and negative reactions from some friends, family and guys I have dated. My straight contacts (family and friends) don’t simply believe that a pill can prevent someone from getting HIV. But they don’t call me or consider me a “whore” or “stupid” for doing this. Those kinds of reactions are the ones I have gotten from the LGBT community. My gay/bisexual friends and dates are the ones calling me “whore”, “stupid” (for intoxicating my body with a strong medication) or not “boyfriend material”.

I have experienced that sometimes the biggest enemies of the LGBT community can be ourselves.  I feel very proud of my decision. I define a “#truvadawhore” as a person that is smart, conscious, and holding healthy self-esteem; for protecting himself/herself and the people around them. I think I joined the battle against stigma.  Every day I talk to the people around me openly about this; I break walls and negative impressions about PrEP. So, I would like to invite everybody out there who is on PrEP to feel smart, proud and happy. Let’s all talk about this openly and defeat the stigma once and for all.

Written By: Ruben Rios-Vergara,BBA
Follow @rubendriosv

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