Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Greg’ry Revenj moved in with his grandmother in Basin, MO at a young age. Much of his curiosity and creativity came from living in this small mining town. An outdoorsy kid, he often climbed mountains, rode his bike, swam in creeks, and spent his winters sledding. In addition, his grandmother instilled a strong ethical and moral code in Greg’ry to which he credits his drive to do good.
“It’s important to live your life with purpose and be careful how you present yourself,” he explains. “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” Building on Greg’ry’s already creative nature, his grandmother taught him how to think outside the box while staying true to himself: “Dance as if no one is watching.”
Greg’ry always wanted to be a fashion designer, so after high school, he attended The International Academy of Design. However, he often clashed with his teachers’ prescriptions and longed to break out and do what loved. Cutting ties with the school, he renamed himself Revenj and launched his own clothing line and website in 2008. Being on his own, he learned how to succeed quickly, establishing a new brand identity and image.
After spending five years in Seattle, he moved to Dallas where his grandmother was at the time. He soon realized the city simply didn’t suit him. Rather, he felt himself being drawn to another Texas town he had heard of: one with a great music scene, hipsters, and weirdness. Greg’ry moved to Austin in 2013 to continue on the next step of his fashion career.
However, his passion had to take a back seat after he learned he was living with HIV.
“I want to put my time and effort into making a difference,” Greg’ry insists. When he was first diagnosed, he was advised to tell only people he was close to, only when he was comfortable. However, even then, he knew he had to tell his story. “Before, I didn’t feel like I had a purpose or a driving force. Even though my original plans [for my clothing line] got derailed, I think it’s for the better.”
Soon after, Greg’ry was chosen to be on the cover of HIV Plus Magazine. Before the issue hit stands, he had no idea what waited in store for him. A friend who was also featured in the magazine, Chris Richey, took him aside to give him a warning: “I can’t change your mind. I know you want to be the new face of HIV, and want to make a difference and do good. But when this magazine comes out, be ready for it.”
To Greg’ry, that was the best piece of advice he could have received.
In just a few weeks, he was flooded with social media followers. Strangers wrote him messages: “You inspired me to get tested.” “I just found out I’m positive and know I’m not going to die.”
Greg’ry still talks to his grandmother every day. “When I came out as gay, she had to learn all the gay jargon. When I came out as positive, she had to learn all the HIV jargon. She was scared when I first told her I was positive. But all she wanted was honesty—to know if I was healthy or sick.” Throughout the past year, she has continued to support him, helping him manage both the virus and being a public figure.
While Greg’ry knows that he isn’t the typical person living with HIV—he is well employed, has health insurance, never misses an appointment, and makes sure to think through even decision he makes—he hopes his experience can give both knowledge and hope to someone else. He has now been on treatment for more than a year and has been virally suppressed since November of 2014. “I didn’t even realize how bad I felt before I got on the medication. I sleep better now and have more energy.
“I feel normal again.”