For all the progress made in the fight against HIV and AIDS, the largest and most constant struggle has always been with stigma. Greg’ry Revenj knows all too well how even someone who loves you can fall into the mentality perpetrated by stigma.
“[My grandmother and I] were in LA right before HIV Plus magazine came out,” he remembers. “We stopped to get food, and my grandmother ordered a soda. I asked her for a sip, but when I gave her the cup back, she had a funny look. ‘Are you sure it’s okay for me to drink after you?’” She was worried that she might get HIV from just sharing a drink with him.
“We’re going to stop stigma through knowledge,” he explains. “We aren’t doing enough to get the right message out there.”
Greg’ry made sure his grandmother understood how HIV was transmitted and emphasized the difference between HIV (the virus) and AIDS (the condition caused when the immune system is compromised). After HIV Plus magazine came out with Greg’ry on the cover, he launched “Educate Yourself,” a tour across Texas to talk to small LGBTQ organizations, HIV organizations, and schools. By telling his story, he was able to demonstrate that HIV is not the death sentence it once was.
Showing people HIV is not the end meant living his life publically.
Greg’ry finished the final leg of his tour at the Q Austin, ASA’s Mpowerment program. Soon after, he was invited to speak at the Hill Country Ride for AIDS’s (HCRA) opening ceremonies. “In 2014, when I was doing intake at ASA and getting care at David Powell, HCRA was out there raising money for me. So it was cool to see the other side of it in 2015.” Greg’ry felt incredible being able to speak in front of so many people involved with the cause, not just his generation, but even people who had lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80s. “To me it was a thank you. You guys raising money might not see the end result, but I am the end result. You really saved my life.”
Looking to the future, Greg’ry wants to do more for the community. To that purpose, he started a support group called “Talk Positively,” which meets monthly at an Austin restaurant to just talk about what it’s like to be positive. While the dinner is sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Gilead, Greg’ry emphasizes that the group is a safe place to learn without being sold anything.
“We talk about what we want to talk about. What this community needs. What they feel the community needs.” Greg’ry feels that the gay community does not have enough leadership, so he hopes he can provide that for the Austin community.
With all that he has gone through, Greg’ry feels fortunate to have a good head on his shoulders. While he describes his past self as feeling invincible, he has since become a cautious person who thinks things through before acting.
Before he got into care, before he isolated himself in Chicago, and before he even knew his status, Greg’ry had been on the verge of starting a romance with a young man named Nathan. Overwhelmed by learning he had HIV, Greg’ry stopped talking to him. When Nathan finally demanded to know what had happened, Greg’ry told him, unsure what his reaction would be.
Nathan’s response: “You shouldn’t have had to go through that alone.”
They have now been together over a year. “He wanted all the information,” Greg’ry explains, “And wanted to be by my side.” Although at first, Greg’ry didn’t want Nathan to be at risk, he now he knows that serodiscordant couples have a multitude of options to protect themselves. “It’s nice when you have someone who cares for you completely.”
Throughout his journey, Greg’ry has battled misinformation and stigma, educating himself, teaching his loved ones, and even helping strangers connect to face HIV together. “If I can give knowledge to anyone, men or women, gay or straight, that’s what I want to do.”