For years Natasha Io carried survivor’s guilt after being diagnosed with HIV, but now she educates others on her lived experience as a poz, trans woman.

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For several years, I have been giving talks on living with HIV and being transgender as an out Positive Speaker to schools, health professionals, and business organisations.  

The ice breaker I like to use is, ‘I’m trans, over 50, and poz – not a winning trifecta in the relationship marketplace.  

While this little piece of self-deprecating humour may be seen as just that, like all humour there is a kernel of truth in it.

I was diagnosed with HIV in 2008, and my partner was diagnosed the week before. Both of us skipped HIV and had AIDS-defining illnesses.  

She died and I lived, and with that came the beginning of a new life.  

Living as a HIV-positive trans woman, I discovered that I didn’t exist.

HIV-positive trans women have only ever existed as an ‘other’; an invisible subset of gay. This has been the case for years.  

It is symptomatic of the overt and covert stigma and discrimination that trans people face on a daily basis.

It can be as subtle as a misused pronoun or as in-your-face as verbal abuse. Remember the hate and prejudice unleashed during the marriage equality postal survey?

Negative stereotypes surrounding trans women suggest we are ‘easy’, drug addicts, sex workers, or a combination of all three.  

‘Tranny’ porn only fuels this misrepresentation where we are relegated to fetish objects for the sexual fantasies of men.

I’m here to tell you, there are positive trans role models out there if you look beyond the noise.

Detractors dismiss the emerging visibility of trans people in the media and popular culture as a ‘fashion’ or cultural anomaly. But no, we aren’t an aberration, we have always been here.

Trans rights and recognition are about a decade behind the rest of the gay community.

As we gain our voice, there is movement here in New South Wales with the opening of the T150 clinic at the Albion Centre, the opening of the first trans legal service at the Inner City Legal Centre, and the supportive voice of Positive Life NSW.

For me, being trans cannot be separated from my living with HIV.  

For anyone who is HIV-positive, disclosure remains a major anxiety. To disclose or not to disclose; that is the question?  

For years I carried the survivor’s guilt of somehow being responsible for the AIDS-related death of my partner while I survived. Nothing good comes from such a negative self-perception.  

Then I realised that being poz is only a small part of who I am as a person. This led me to an openness about my undetectable status.

The 2008 HIV diagnosis took away everything from me including the love of my life.  

Out of this came a choice: be the victim of life’s misfortunes or look for the opportunity to be found in adversity.  

I choose the later.  

Today I view being HIV-positive as one of the best things to ever happen to me.  

As for the why? That’s another story.

T150 clinic at the Albion Centre – (02) 9332 9600
Inner City Legal Centre (Transgender Legal Service) – 1800 244 481
Positive Speakers Bureau – (02) 9206 2177

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