When Masonia Traylor tested positive for HIV in 2010, the then-23-year-old was in a state of utter shock.
See, since Masonia was a teen, she was adamant on getting tested regardless of being in what she believed were low-risk monogamous relationships. And every year, her tests came back negative, until that day, when it didn’t.
“I thought they were lying, that they got somebody’s blood mixed up with mine,” Traylor told HelloBeautiful.
Three days later, after she went to see an infectious disease specialist it began to sink in that HIV was her reality.
“When they started withdrawing blood from me over and over again, I realized that it was real. This is what was happening and happening to me.”
What she didn’t really expect was what she found out next.
Two weeks later, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. However, with the help of her doctor’s support and taking her antiretrovirals, Masonia gave birth to a HIV-negative baby girl, who has remained negative for nearly eight years.
Traylor, who is currently finishing her degree in public policy, has dedicated her work to being an advocate having served as a campaign ambassador for CDC’s Act Against AIDS, “Stop HIV Together” and Kaiser Family Foundation, “Greater Than Aids- Empowerment & We Are Family” projects. She’s also a blogger and Community Advisory Board member for The Well Project, a non-profit organization geared for women living with HIV/AIDS.
For Traylor, she shares her story so that other Black women will see that HIV can happen to anyone.
“I started off as a voice to be out there for other women to see that if I had HIV, being who I am, they could too,” adding, “I felt like maybe HIV was quietly rising in the community and people needed to know about it because I can’t be the only one.”
She also speaks out as a way to pay homage to a friend who passed away from complications to AIDS.
“I lost a friend to complications of AIDS at a time where I wish I known he had known about my status. I wish he would have known that he wasn’t alone.”
For National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), the young mother of two and HIV activist talked to us about what Black women to know about this epidemic, why HIV testing is key and why we need to finally erase stigma for good.
HelloBeautiful: Being an HIV advocate, what do you want our community to know?
Masonia Traylor: I want for us to understand that we have to care and pay attention if we want this epidemic to shift substantially instead of only progressively. I need my community not to feel forced to accept that I have HIV/AIDS but to respect my journey of living with it.
Not to mention, education is an important step towards ending the epidemic but so is taking a stand in our community and honoring values around our sexual health to protect one another. That will put us closer to a cure then we’ll ever need.
HB: What do you have to say to other Black women who don’t think HIV can happen to them?
MT: The first word of HIV is human. And as long as you’re human, you’re at risk for this disease. If anything, we shouldn’t be the last ones to think that we can be diagnosed with HIV, we need to be the first ones. And we need to not only protect the next generation to come, but be extremely overprotective of our own health more than anybody else.
That, and protecting Black women, protecting ourselves, automatically ends up protecting Black men because they end up respecting us more because we respect ourselves.
HB: Even in 2019, there is still so much stigma surrounding HIV. Why is erasing stigma so important?
MT: As a community we need to erase stigma to help encourage those living with the virus to not be afraid nor ashamed to forgive themselves, save themselves, and our community.
Stigma inflicts pain, and digs deep scars across our minds and hearts. In order to live unapologetically strong, support is needed and destigmatizing HIV/AIDS needs to be erased in order to be supportive.
HB: Why everyone should get tested for HIV?
MT: First off, I don’t think testing everyone is realistic due to certain laws [that require patient’s consent to get tested for HIV] and not everyone wants to know their status. And we should respect that choice.
However, I wish everyone would get tested just to help slow down transmission and get control of the spread of this disruptive virus. Although I believe that getting tested is not enough prevention, however testing saved my life and has spared many others. Testing keeps unborn babies from being born with HIV/AIDS too. I think it’s better to know what’s going on in your body then to wait and your body suddenly shuts down due to not being proactive of your health.
Take care of your health and your body will take care of you. Testing is part of that.
HB: Finally, in a world that tries to shame people for being HIV-positive, how you live with HIV with NO shame?
MT: I’m able to live unapologetically with HIV because I understand that no one can judge me harder than I judge myself. I have forgiven myself for trusting someone else with my life over trusting myself more.
I understand how I can and cannot transmit the virus. I have birthed an HIV-negative baby as proof that I can still live a normal life. I KNOW that if it can happen to me that no one is exempt nor excluded from possibly contracting HIV or developing AIDS. Like I said earlier, I understand that the H in HIV stands for HUMAN which means that as long as you are human it can happen to you.
I’m not ashamed of another’s fear.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow Masonia on Twitter @masoniatraylor.