Facing the Facts

Uncovering the truth about HIV.

By Kellie C. Murphy
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Nov. 12, 2008

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HIV/AIDS had never occurred to her. She thought he just had a really bad cold or the flu, maybe bronchitis at the worst. She was stunned.

Emma's test came back negative. Her children all tested negative as well. There was relief, but she was left wondering who her husband really was.

"He was 10 years older than me," Emma says now, "and I think he took a little advantage."

A kind, quiet woman with cocoa skin and soft eyes, Emma seems familiar and accessible, like a neighborhood librarian who helps you find the right book, measuring each word so she's sure you'll understand.

"We married within six months of knowing each other. He was financially secure, and looking back, I think he used that as leverage. At that time I was financially unstable and had children from a previous relationship. So to me he was this Prince Charming coming to sweep me off my feet."

Tragically, what happened to Emma could happen to anyone. She knew at least some HIV information and wasn't promiscuous. She simply chose to trust the man she married, when the person she should have trusted was herself.


"It's amazing to see low self- esteem in grown women," says Danielle Parks, director of the Women's Anonymous Test Site (WATS) in Center City. "We think of it as a teenage awkwardness thing--something you get over. When you're 32 and still don't feel good about yourself, you're in a relationship where you're not exercising your power, you're putting everything you have into a man because you think that without him you're nothing--I see that a lot. Even with older women."

Parks' first job in the context of HIV/AIDS treatment was eye-opening. She realized even she could be at risk.

"Black women's perception of risk is way off," she says. "We use certain barriers, like: 'Well, I'm married.' 'I'm in a relationship and don't need to worry about it.' 'I'm not on drugs.' 'I have a degree.' Using these excuses can give HIV a 'them and me' feeling."

Parks had what she calls her "a-ha moment" with the first woman she had to diagnose. "She was in her 50s," Parks says. "She'd been married for a very long time and didn't know her husband was shooting up. When he died, she got the death certificate that said the cause was Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome."

Emma didn't need to wait to see her husband's death certificate, yet her denial and her dependence on him ultimately led to risky behavior.

The two of them didn't have a heavily sexual relationship, but her husband wanted an emotional connection. At first, the two practiced safer sex, given that she was HIV negative. But sometimes, in the middle of the night, he'd want to have unprotected sex. She'd battle with him, even going into the kids' room to get away.

She tried to avoid unsafe sex with him for as long as she could, but her resistance to it became more complex. They had decided to be a team, to approach this struggle together, and his emotional need for her as a partner gratified her. Plagued by a low self-image, she couldn't imagine being without him. She felt she had to hold onto him as long as she could. So she took risks.

"I think I tested negative at first because I hadn't had enough exposure to the virus," Emma says. "I was working a lot, had just had a baby, so sex wasn't a priority for me. And it just seemed like when he started to get sick, he wanted to make sure he had someone to share this with."

She found out she was HIV positive on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I was at the Third and Girard Ave. health center when the planes hit. I was in consultation with one of the counselors when the news came over the radio. I will never forget that day. Each year it's a built-in anniversary. They made everyone leave, and I was right there in the midst of the Center City chaos dealing with the realization that I had HIV. I was devastated. I was like, 'Oh good. The world's ending right now. Why don't they drop a bomb right here? and that way I can get it over with right now.'"

Emma and her husband eventually separated. She's rebuilt her life and does what she can to live in a healthy way. She's now an advocate for a local HIV/AIDS organization and tries to "spread the word, not the disease," as the saying goes, while raising her three children, all of whom are still HIV negative. She understands now the importance of staying true to herself and bonding with those close to her, to ensure that what happened to her won't happen to anyone else she knows.

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Ouch! said... on Nov 14, 2008 at 07:45AM

“The number of Black men who have sex with other men is also alarming. What is more disturbing is the number who don't think it is "Gay Sex" because they also sleep with women. These same men are coming home to their wives and kids after doing there homeys... pretty much disgusting and an obvious factor of where it's spreading from.”

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2. Brook Singletary said... on Nov 17, 2008 at 09:13AM

“Being someone who is committed to preventing, treating, and eradicting HIV/AIDS, I was excited to read this article. I must say I was extremely disappointed. To begin, it was an interesting aspect of the disease to write about but it was obvious the writer was not familiar with the disease. The statement, "Grandma has AIDS" is offensive and tackless. The stigma that still exists with the acronym AIDS is very real and reading this statement immediately gave the impression the author is not senstive to the real discrimination facing people living with AIDS. Her statment, I'm sure, was to breathe some type of light humor into an otherwise heavy topic. It was out of place and not appropriate. Secondly, the phrase, "full-blown AIDS" does not exist. No one on Earth has "full-blown AIDS". Someone is either CDC-defined as having AIDS or they are not. If they are suffering from an opportunistic infection because of a compromised immune system, they are still living with AIDS, not "full-blown AIDS". Again, this was another sign that the author is not familiar with the world of HIV/AIDS because, while this phrase is common is street-vernacular, it is not accepted or used in the medical field of HIV/AIDS. Therefore, if you are going to write a credible piece on HIV, please check your facts. Lastly, the statement of, "Philadelphia-specific HIV statistics are grave..." is interesting. I say this because, perhaps had the author looked at national statistics, or was familiar with HIV, it would be rather apparent to her that Philadelphia statistics may be grave, but not for the staggering numbers. In fact, they are staggering because they are so low. By this I mean the amount of people identified as living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia is so low that it is obvious that people in Philadelphia are not getting tested for the disease. This points to the grave fact that there is still overwhelming stigma regarding the disease and what it means to be HIV+. While I was excited to see a paper cover the disease, I was ultimately disappointed to see that it was yet another piece that was not researched and lacked sensitivity to the subject.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 7, 2009 at 11:11AM

“Yes, enough black men are sexing other men to be a problem in this respect-but it's still the exception, not the norm. Most of the black men who get it got it from illegal drugs or a woman-please let's stop believing that a straight man can't get HIV if he's never been with a man. I'm a transplant from DC, the population that is most likely to be gay there (wealthy white men) is also less likely to have HIV than straight Black people, male or female. AIDS IS NOT A GAY DISEASE!”

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4. student said... on Dec 9, 2009 at 03:38PM

“To Anonymous above me- well said! This is an important thing for people to remember.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 22, 2010 at 10:56AM

“The reason I think the media made people living on the DL as a major reason why people were getting HIV is because it's true. All you have to do is read reports from the cdc. Also, I would like to say, Yes hiv is not a gay disease, but it's easily spread by anal sex so yes they are more vunerable to get it. I think you should be honest and let people know that hiv is not as easily contracted as you make it seem. I'm assuming you make it like it's so easy to contract so your organization can get more funding.”

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6. Alex said... on May 11, 2010 at 12:51AM

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 11, 2011 at 09:41AM

“The reason people have this is cause they don't care what happens to other people. This is against the law, a person should be tested for this before they sleep with someone, and if they don't the person that they gave HIV to should put them in JAIL. I spoke with a doctor that told me that anyone can get this, and what goes around comes around, I think god protects those that are not wanting to do this, people make false statements against others all the time, and they will have that done to them, and when I say anyone can get this its not just the black race. With the trouble in the areas of nudity and woman allowing men to hurt them is wrong. If I was to give this to someone, I would walk my set to the jail sell and rest my self for murder.”

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8. Jake said... on Mar 15, 2012 at 01:25PM

“It's so important that we get tested for HIV frequently. I was just tested at GALAEI and I would recommend that anyone do it. They are at 1207 Chestnut St, on the 5th floor.

Their website is: http://www.galaei.org/programs/hiv-testing/”

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9. sabun said... on Oct 1, 2013 at 09:31AM



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