FARIA CHIDEYA, host: Most black women living with HIV or AIDS get infected through high-risk sex with men. Marvelyn Brown says she's HIV positive because she did not consider the risks. She's a former athlete who now travels the country telling her story and championing personal responsibility. She's written a memoir about her journey. The book is called "The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and HIV Positive."Marvelyn, thanks for joining us.
Ms. MARVELYN BROWN (Author, "The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and HIV Positive"): Thank you for having me.
CHIDEYA: So, you were 19 when you found out you were HIV positive. You get very specific with your story. You say the moment took place at 2:15 pm on July 17, 2003. So, obviously, you were keeping track.
Ms. BROWN: Yeah, and it was like 53 degrees outside. Yeah, I know everything.
CHIDEYA: What else do you remember, and what do you remember feeling?
Ms. BROWN: I remember a blank feeling because I did not care about HIV. I never thought it could happen to me. It was just wasn't an issue for me, so I didn't know anything about it. So, when the doctor gave me the information, I just looked at him, and he was like, I've never got this reaction before. And I'm thinking, because I don't know what it is. And I could tell on his face that it was something a little bit more serious, and you know, that's when it hit me that this may be something, you know, I'm concerned about. So, I was basically blank because I didn't know what HIV was, but I was also curious to learn about it.
CHIDEYA: You literally didn't know what HIV was?
Ms. BROWN: I had heard about it, but I did not care at all. I mean, it wasn't like HIV was never there. I just never thought it was an issue for me, especially being 19. I was more concerned about my social life, or my friends, I was an athlete, you know, the prom, things of that nature. Never HIV.
CHIDEYA: Now, after you were diagnosed you went on to have a relationship with someone you call Prince Charming. You know, or you wanted to be with him again, let me say, and you went back after you were diagnosed to be with him. Tell me what happened? It sounds like it was very surprising, and kind of a wake up call.
Ms. BROWN: Well, I call him my Prince Charming because I was 19, and he's everything a 19-year-old girl would want. He was a man with his own place, his own car, you know, a job. And so, you know, me growing up, you know, watching Disney movies, and fairy tales, and things of that nature, I wanted that fairy tale ending. So, after I discovered I was HIV positive, and I had actually contracted it through him, and you know, I found out, you know, he was HIV positive, and things like that, I'm thinking well, you know, it sucks that I'd just gotten HIV, but in my mind I'm thinking, you know, we may actually live - have a happy, positive life afterwards. And you know, I still wanted to be with him, although he didn't want to be with me because at that time, HIV - basically my community had found out that I was HIV positive, and it was spreading, and he didn't want to be affiliated with that. But it came one time, and you know, when we were going - when we did have sex again, and he pulled out a condom. And we used a condom that time after, you know, I'm HIV positive.
CHIDEYA: After he infected you?
Ms. BROWN: Yeah, yeah.
CHIDEYA: So, let me get this straight. He infected you. You went back to him, and then he didn't want to be associated with you because other people knew about you?
Ms. BROWN: Right. And he was scared his own status would be revealed. They would, you know, he was scared people would think, oh, she got it from him, and things like that.
CHIDEYA: What was it that you think made you go back to him when many other people would say I'm so angry I want to smack this guy up the head, or worse?
Ms. BROWN: It went - first of all, I was 19, very naive, and very vulnerable. But that's why I call him my Prince Charming, because he was, you know, my everything. And I'm like, this is, you know, at this time I'm thinking this is such a terrible situation, you know, at this time. My family's, you know, like, why aren't you mad at him, and things like that? But I was really trying to be with this guy.
CHIDEYA: When you talk to young people now, and you have traveled the world talking to young people, what do you tell them about decision-making?
Ms. BROWN: I tell them decision making is so important because it is unknown whether he knew he had HIV when he had given it to me, but he probably did know. And I tell them choices are everything, because I have to be responsible for the decision that I made. Because I look at it as I chose not to use a condom, and I chose to have sex with him, and so now I have to deal with the consequences of HIV. So, responsibility is very important. Actually being 19 years old, and diagnosed with HIV, you know, being an athlete, and spoiled in a lot of ways, I did not want to take responsibility for my actions.
CHIDEYA: Your book is subtitled "Young, Beautiful, and HIV Positive," and the cover is a picture of complete glamour. You know, you have pictures of when you were a teenager, you look great on the cover, you look great. Do you think that helps you in a way in telling your story?
Ms. BROWN: Well, thank you first because I know I do look good. But in a way, I feel like young people can connect with it more. You know, here lately I've been constantly accused of glamorizing HIV because of the way I look. In no way am I glamorizing HIV. I'm talking about it. You know,Marvelyn is glamorous, fabulous, all these things, but HIV is still a very hard disease to live with. So, I look at it like, you know, young people look at me and say, oh, she's beautiful, you know, she's cute, she could be my friend, or you know, I could be her, or I want to be her, and that leaves that dialogue open, you know, to want to know more about HIV because they can see myself in them.
CHIDEYA: Do you think that when it comes to sexual responsibility there is - do you believe in the idea that some people have that a culture of glamour, including hip-hop's culture of glamour, actually can help enforce stereotypes that lead to sexual behavior that's not smart?
Ms. BROWN: I know as far as me in the glamour I always go back to self-responsibility. It really does have to start with the person. They have to make a choice to want to get educated about HIV, and learn about it. And I really think that people should realize that it's a 100 percent - 100 percent preventable disease. It's a disease you don't have to get. It is something you have to acquire. So, I really want people, you know, to get that in their head. Like, quit blaming, you know, the media, or rap videos, or you know, school systems. It really has to start with you.
CHIDEYA: If you had to describe in one word what keeps you going when you're down, what would it be?
Ms. BROWN: Life. You know, just me. I'm my own motivation, I'm my own role model, you know, I love me, and I'm very happy, you know, that HIV presented itself in my life. You know, a lot of people would regret it or whatever, but it really taught me self-love, self-acceptance, and self-responsibility. And that's the best thing I could possibly ask for.
CHIDEYA: Well, Marvelyn, thank you.
Ms. BROWN: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Marvelyn Brown's memoir's called "The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and HIV Positive." She joined us from our studios in New York City.
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