NOTE: The content of this post may be triggering to some readers.
In 1988, at 13 years old, I appeared female although I was born male, and I was required to use the male public restroom. The last day of school before Christmas break, I went downtown while waiting for my mom to get off work. I used an executive level restroom to avoid the awkward stares a transgender child receives, and a very large tall African-American man followed me into the restroom and pushed me up against the sink, forcing his Coke-can-sized penis into my anus. I was terrified -- too scared to make a noise.
It hurt so terribly bad as he ripped his way inside of me. It seemed like forever, but I am certain it was over in moments. I was incredibly sore and bleeding, but left feeling alone, as if somehow my appearance was the cause. I had all the stereotypical rape guilt feelings and responses. I pulled my pants up and said nothing. I rode home next to my mother, saying nothing, although I could barely sit because I was so sore. I went home traumatized. I bathed and cleaned myself, and applied ointment to my wound for the next three weeks. I didn't even know what AIDS was yet.
In 1993, people had been dying and Ryan White had lost his life leaving a legacy and network of support for people with HIV and AIDS. I had remained relatively sexually inactive, so when a friend suggested we go get tested, the rape was heavy on mind -- I had a feeling I was positive. I had not experienced any symptoms, but the brutality of the event scared me. It took two weeks, and the test came back positive. At the time it felt like a death sentence -- like I would never be loved or live to marry or ever be a mom.
But, I didn't die. Instead I thrived. I learned all I could; I saw the best doctors that community health, and occasional private insurance, could provide. And today, 27 years post infection with an AIDS diagnosis, I am undetectable with a healthy t-cell count.
What I found is that people fall in love with people regardless of what each of us may have to deal with in life. In 2007, I met my late husband, firefighter Captain Thomas Araguz, at church. Within a month of us hanging out and dating, I told him that I had been assaulted as a child and infected with HIV. We discussed the risks and my treatments, and ways that we could have sex while ensuring he remain HIV negative.
And he said, he was in love with me, and was so sorry that happened to me, but he wasn't afraid. As a post-operative transsexual I don't produce vaginal fluids, and the risk of transmission through vaginal sex with me is decreased. Along with safer sex practices and nonoxynol-9 products, we had an incredibly fulfilling sex life, until he was killed in the line of duty on the fourth of July 2010.
I was subsequently sued for the widow's death benefits by his first wife and while my marriage was initially voided as a same-sex marriage by a small town in Republican Texas, it was overturned on appeal on February 13 2014, and is now in front of the Texas Supreme Court, awaiting a hearing. (Although, a ruling by the United States Supreme Court would cause the case to be moot, and I would then head back to the original Republican judge who would have to reverse his own ruling, and reinstate my marriage, and give me what has been long over due.) Throughout this struggle, I have been able to heal and find love yet again.
In 2012, I met American contemporary artist, William Loyd. Our first date was at my cousins wedding. I caught the bouquet, and William caught the garter. Afterward, we were busy falling in love and being passionate with one another in a private area of the wedding facility, and we discussed my HIV status. He said that he had read about that online, and wasn't worried at all -- he was just waiting for me to tell him. Needless to say William and I married on September 18, 2013 in a historic marriage equality statement in Texas, and are living happily ever after.
I share this story to encourage all people, but especially my HIV positive and transgender sisters and brothers, that you are lovable; you are worthy of everything you ever dream. Just walk through life with no shame, and be filled with self pride, honesty and love. And, also, to remind people that in the restroom, it is transgender people who need protection, not to be protected from.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.