Positively Me – The Mallery Jenna Robinson Story
As an Afra Caribbean trans woman, I have learned to live in my power and truth for 16 years, with 11 of those years living with HIV. This World AIDs Day I have been asked to share my story about my journey and tenacity to get to the place where I am at today. On May 12, 2011, I was living in Montgomery Alabama, a junior in college and in a monogamous romantic and sexual relationship with a cisgender man. One day I became violently ill and collapsed while working as a server at a local restaurant. I was rushed to the emergency room where several tests were conducted, including blood work.
I received a phone call from the Montgomery County Health Department on May 21, 2011, and I was asked to come into the health department to receive an update regarding my bloodwork. The medical provider walked into my exam room, where I was waiting anxiously. The doctor informed me that I was HIV positive.
I was then referred to The Copeland Care Clinic, also known as The Montgomery AIDS Outreach, where I would be linked into care utilizing the Ryan White Program. I was completely nervous and overwhelmed as a then 21-year-old black trans woman. I was working on my Dual Bachelor’s at the time, Biology and History, but nonetheless I was determined to not let this diagnosis deter me from living my best life. When I arrived at the Copeland Care Clinic, I was provided with training on best practices such as: taking my Anti- Retroviral Medicines (ARTs), maintaining both a healthy lean diet and physical exercise, and managing my blood pressure, so I could live a long healthy life. My Primary Care Physican Dr. Prashanth Bhat informed me that if I adhere to those best and recommended practices, I will become undetectable and remain undetectable.
Dr. Bhat, who recognized that I had no access to hormone replacement therapy(HRT) , prescribed HRT for my gender transition along with my anti-retroviral medication. Initially I was told to come into the clinic for blood panels twice a month, and eventually, due to taking my HIV medication which I still to this day refer to as my multivitamin, that frequency changed to once a month. Now, I only need to have blood panels done every six months. Despite and in spite of my medical diagnosis, I was determined to continue to live my best life and not let HIV define my existence.
I went on to graduate with dual degrees in May 2014, which led me to professionally begin teaching as a Middle School Science and History teacher in Duval County, Florida. Additionally, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris France, and London England, which eventually led me to work up the gumption to move to Los Angeles, California. I remained in care with The Copeland Care Clinic until moving to Los Angeles, California. After arriving in Los Angeles, I was linked to care at The Los Angeles LGBT Center. It is here that I have stepped into my purpose, and I became a transgender and HIV healthcare advocate raising awareness through advocacy in assuring accessibility, visibility, and equity for all trans identities.
My advocacy is based on destigmatizing HIV and professionally speaking about my own journey living with HIV as a black trans woman. I empower and encourage trans women of color and all trans identities to get tested by participating in outreach efforts with other community leaders and partners and getting linked to care. I voice that far too often individuals see/hear the letters “HIV” and instantly view it as a death sentence when it is not. We can and will successfully live with HIV as long as we take the steps necessary to practice health and wellness strategies that ensure we are maintaining an undetectable status. As a black trans woman who has been living with HIV for over 10 years I just want to say that it’s okay to be nervous and overwhelmed; but dig deep and find that determination to thrive so you too can motivate and inspire others to stay undetectable by investing in your health care.