To Destigmatize HIV We Have to Talk About It: A Conversation with Noquisi

My name is Noquisi. I’m 22, Cherokee. I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m HIV positive. I’m an artist and a model. I paint, I do pottery. I’ve recently started to work with an artist supported by the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, which is a foundation that supports artists to live and work in Tulsa.

I’m really open about my HIV status, because I want to show that if a 22 year-old can be out, anyone can be. I’m trying to change stigma around HIV. Being open about it creates less stigma than being hush hush about it. I don’t want anyone to feel that being HIV positive makes you a dirty individual or even means something’s wrong with you. I’m trying to show the Native community in Oklahoma, and everyone in Oklahoma, that it’s not a thing to be ashamed of.

HIV is here in our communities. It’s not something that only happens in faraway cities. Here in Oklahoma, people don’t talk about being gay or HIV-positive, but I feel like it should be talked about more. In New York, I heard, they have billboards telling people to get on PrEP and where to find it. Here it can be hard to know where to go or how to access that medication.

The very first thing with any type of movement is you need to start a conversation. Before any big changes happen, we have to get people talking to each other. Destigmatization requires conversation. We need our friends and family to understand HIV is a chronic illness like diabetes. We do not need our HIV diagnosis to solicit some sort of moral judgment. I didn’t and don’t “deserve” it.

I still have to remind myself this is not my fault. I did not purposely do this to myself.

I don’t know what makes it easy for me to talk about HIV. I’m a pretty open person, I guess. My very first doctor’s visit, I told my doctor, I’m not gonna be one of those people that lets this beat me down. I was just like, it is what it is. If you’re in a positive mindset, and doing what you’re supposed to do in terms of medication and healthcare, that’s how you survive.

When I talk about healthcare, I’m talking about mental healthcare, too. HIV takes a toll on your mental well-being. Mental health is a big part of treatment. I found a support group organized by an older native lady, and she’s big on like talking about HIV in the Native community. When I need advice, I go to her. Having somebody that has HIV, too, and is older, and is open about it, that makes it easier to tell people about it, because you have somebody there for support.

And culture, too, has been part of caring for my health as a person with HIV. Culture helps me feel proud of who I am, grounded and happy. It reminds me I’m not just this illness. I got even more into culture after my diagnosis. I needed something to focus on. I started praying more often. Praying helped keep me motivated to get up and take my medication and go to the clinic or the treatment center. It’s like my coffee in the morning—gets me up and keeps me going.

Traditionally, Two Spirit people are the ones that pass on knowledge to the next generation, like the medicine people. So talking about difficult things, sharing knowledge with others, supporting others—that’s hardwired into me. I support people in my community with HIV to take their medication the way they’re supposed to, to communicate their status to partners. I try to get people to acknowledge that HIV is here, that people within our community are living with it.

And to anyone out there with HIV, who’s afraid to talk about it or just got diagnosed, I just want to say, HIV is an illness. It’s not you. You shouldn’t have to be ashamed of who you are, of an illness you have, or of help and support you need.

And if they’re not there for you, I am. I’m here for y’all.

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