Tye Fortner has fine, delicate ears, a newly pierced eyebrow, and a trim beard. He’s wearing honey-colored contact lenses and a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. “I wanted to be presentable,” he explains as a photographer snaps his portrait. “I was going to buy an outfit, but it was so hot.”
We are standing outside his apartment block in the Fordham area of the Bronx in New York City on a muggy Friday afternoon in June, a few days before Pride. A woman walks by pushing a wheeled cart from which she’s selling Italian ices. “Hey mama!” Fortner calls to her and asks for a scoop of mango and cherry that stains his teeth red. Refreshed, he leads the way up the stairs to the roof of his building, where he takes out a packet of Newports and, perched high above the city, begins to tell his story.
Fortner was 22 and homeless when he started feeling weak, with crushing stomach pain and terrible headaches. A sex worker from the age of 16, sometimes too high on crack to remember to use protection, he had been putting off the inevitable for weeks before he finally decided to get tested for HIV. The result came back positive.