Straight to the Point
Author Precious A. Jackson on Heterosexual Men, HIV Prevention & Thriving While Living with HIV
by Stevie St. John
Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black
Through her writing and public speaking, Jackson has shared many facets of her life, including her own story of living with HIV. In addition to her current professional work with the City of Pasadena Health Department, Jackson has in the past done other HIV advocacy work. However, she says that she has pulled back from activism and advocacy because of “unnecessary politics” in that arena.
Jackson’s story began with a letter from her ex-boyfriend. He was HIV-positive, the letter said. Jackson got tested. When she learned she was HIV-positive, she said, “The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Who is going to want me now?’”
That was in 1998, the same year that President Bill Clinton acknowledged AIDS as a “severe and ongoing health crisis,” and just one year after antiretroviral therapy became “the new standard of HIV care,” according to AIDS.gov, a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.
Jackson was twenty-six years-old.
“I was young, outgoing, and vibrant and went to being depressed, and my self-esteem and self-worth was at its all-time low,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t until I went to my first HIV support group in August 2000 [and saw people] who looked like me living and thriving [that] I decided that I wasn’t going to be defeated by this disease.”
Sharing Her Story
After finding the support group that served as her turning point, Jackson wanted to share her story. She wasn’t a part of any of the groups considered most at-risk for HIV, yet she had become positive. She wanted others to realize it could happen to them, too.
“I decided that I wanted to tell my story to other women,” she said. “I wanted women to see me in themselves, and I prayed they would listen to the message and make better choices for themselves.”
In addition to public speaking, Jackson has shared her story in a biography, Revelation: Unveiling the Mask, which was published last year. She told the African Americans on the Move book club (www.aambookclub.com/unveiling-the-mask-in-the-situation-room-with-precious-a-jackson) that “I needed to write about my struggles of making poor choices, which led me to being a survivor of intimate partner violence. During my journey, I learned how to love myself and understood my worth as a woman. My book is dedicated to women who still suffer in silence from intimate partner violence. I want to send the message just because you’ve been through it or going through this situation, there is life after abuse.”
Away from Activism
Previously a proclaimed AIDS activist who worked with an initiative to train ministers about HIV and AIDS, Jackson has retreated from those aspects of her work because of what she sees as “unnecessary politics.”
“I feel the people who make the decisions for funding to be allocated to the various services for HIV-positive individuals look at them as numbers and not people. The humanity side has long been gone since HIV has become an industry,” Jackson said.
Jackson also objects to HIV-prevention messaging that she believes excludes heterosexual men.
“If I was involved in HIV advocacy/activism, I would advocate for prevention messages be created and targeted to heterosexual men who are living with and at risk for HIV,” she said. “In this industry, they are not inclusive of heterosexual men. I’ve seen it firsthand since I’ve been in a relationship with my significant other…who is also HIV-positive. We’ve been in some of the HIV community meetings in Los Angeles, and I’ve seen how people dismiss him or don’t listen when he has had the floor to speak….
“Now the prevention messages address women adequately, but…for heterosexual men, [they don’t] at all. All of the prevention messages I see are for women, gay, and bisexual and transgender….Just because the numbers aren’t high like fifty percent or eighty-four percent doesn’t mean heterosexual men are not at risk of acquiring HIV….
“HIV-prevention messaging needs to have billboards of straight men from all walks of life from entrepreneurs, college graduates, working-class men, and men who are the ‘school of hard knocks.’ The messaging can say ‘I strap up,’ with a condom in his hand alongside a beautiful female. Or create videos on YouTube and other social media outlets showing a straight dude having a conversation with a female that he likes, discussing getting tested for HIV. I also would like to see more barbers having discussions with their clients around sexual reproductive health, and if they get tested then they can get a free haircut.”
“A Life of Wholeness”
Nearly two decades since receiving the letter that marked the beginning of a life-changing journey, Jackson has come a long way from the young woman struggling with depression and poor self-esteem.
“It’s been seventeen years I’ve been living and thriving with HIV, and my perspective has changed a lot,” Jackson said. “I know I can live a life of wholeness, achieve all of my dreams, and die of old age. I’m now discussing other struggles I’ve overcome like intimate partner violence, low self-esteem, [and not fully embracing] the importance of spirituality.”
Jackson believes that addressing such issues plays an important part in HIV prevention.
“I believe people engage in risky behaviors due to underlying issues they are not dealing with. Some of these issues are low self-esteem, trust issues, abuse (sexual, emotional, and verbal). I feel once people deal with their issues…they’ll feel better about themselves and make better decisions,” she concluded.
Stevie St. John is an assistant editor at Brief Media, a veterinary medical publishing company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her byline has appeared in many LGBT publications.