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Better Sleep Could Mean Better Sex for Older Women

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By Robert Preidt

A more satisfying sex life may be only a good night’s sleep away for women over 50, new research finds.

Researchers led by Dr. Juliana Kling of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., tracked data from nearly 94,000 women aged 50 to 79.

The investigators found that 31 percent had insomnia, and a little more than half (56 percent) said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their sex life.

But too little sleep — fewer than seven to eight hours a night — was linked with a lower likelihood of sexual satisfaction, the findings showed.

“This is a very important study since it examines a question which has tremendous potential impact on women’s lives,” said Dr. Jill Rabin, who reviewed the findings. She’s co-chief of the Women’s Health Program at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Age played a key role in outcomes. For example, the study found that older women were less likely than younger women to be sexually active if they slept fewer than seven to eight hours per night.

Among women older than 70, those who slept fewer than five hours a night were 30 percent less likely to be sexually active than women sleeping seven to eight hours, Kling’s team found.

The findings highlight how crucial sleep is to many aspects of women’s health, medical experts said.

“Seven hours of sleep per night will improve sexual satisfaction and has been shown to increase sexual responsiveness,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of The North American Menopause Society.

Besides putting a damper on sex lives, she said, poor sleep is also tied to an array of health issues, such as “sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, stress and anxiety.” Other health problems linked to insomnia include “heart disease, hypertension [high blood pressure], arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, depression and neurological disorders,” Pinkerton added.

Dr. Steven Feinsilver directs sleep medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He reviewed the new findings and stressed that they can’t prove cause and effect. “It certainly could be possible that many underlying problems — for example, illness, depression — could be causing both worsened sleep and worsened sex,” he noted.

Rabin agreed, but said there’s been “a paucity of studies” looking into links between sleep and sexual health, especially during menopause.

“We know that obstructive sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction are positively correlated,” she said. “Other factors which may lead to a decreased sleep quality include: a woman’s general health; various life events, which may contribute to her stress; chronic disease; medication; and degree and presence of social supports, just to name a few,” Rabin explained.

And, “in menopause, and due to the hormonal transition, women may experience various symptoms which may impact the duration and quality of their sleep patterns,” Rabin added.

We and our patients need to know that quality sleep is necessary for overall optimum functioning and health, including sexual satisfaction, and that there are effective treatment options — including hormone therapy — which are available for symptomatic women,” she said.

The study was published online Feb. 1 in the journal Menopause.

Complete Article HERE!

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Lacking the desire to have sex with your partner?

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Scientists think they know how to cure your problem – and it’s all down to chocolate

Scientists found kisspeptin, which is found in chocolate, helps to make men much more interested in sex and relationships

By Victoria Allen

A ‘chocolate hormone’ could help to get couples in the mood for sex and fall more deeply in love.

Kisspeptin, which is named after a chocolate snack, is the hormone in the brain which kickstarts puberty.

And it may explain something about the behaviour of teenage boys, after scientists found it makes men much more interested in sex and relationships.

Young men injected with the hormone and then given brain scans showed a flurry of activity in the parts of the brain activated by sexual arousal and romance. It means similar injections could be used to help men to start a family.

Professor Waljit Dhillo, the lead author of the research from Imperial College London, said: ‘Our initial findings are novel and exciting as they indicate that kisspeptin plays a role in stimulating some of the emotions and responses that lead to sex and reproduction.

‘Ultimately, we are keen to look into whether kisspeptin could be an effective treatment for psychosexual disorders, and potentially help countless couples who struggle to conceive.’

One in 10 men in the UK are believed to have sexual problems, many suffering a lack of libido caused by relationship issues, stress and anxiety.

This can cause problems for couples trying for a child and advised to have regular sex throughout the month.

But kisspeptin is hoped to hold the answer, following a trial involving 29 healthy young men.

Those injected with kisspeptin, discovered in the mid-1990s in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and named after sweets from the city called Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses, reacted differently to sexual and non-sexual romantic pictures of couples.

In an MRI scanner, where their brains were monitored, there was greater activity in the parts of the brain typically activated by sexual arousal and romance than the men given a placebo.

Professor Dhillo said: ‘Most of the research and treatment methods for infertility to date have focused on the biological factors that may make it difficult for a couple to conceive naturally.

‘These of course play a huge part in reproduction, but the role that the brain and emotional processing play in this process is also very important, and only partially understood.’

The effect is likely to come from kisspeptin’s role in starting puberty, by stimulating the release of reproductive hormones.

A study from Edinburgh University previously found it fuels the production of testosterone, which is key to male libido and fertility

The researchers now want to study how the hormone affects women as well as men, while kisspeptin might also work as an antidepressant.

Volunteers shown negative and fearful emotional faces in pictures said they felt less bad in follow-up questionnaires after receiving the hormone, with less activity in brain structures important in regulating a bad mood.

Dr Alexander Comninos, first author of the study at Imperial, said: ‘Our study shows that kisspeptin boosts sexual and romantic brain activity as well as decreasing negative mood.

‘This raises the interesting possibility that kisspeptin may have uses in treating psychosexual disorders and depression which are major health problems which often occur together, but further studies would be needed to investigate this.’

Complete Article HERE!

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Demisexuality is an orientation—not a condition of ‘being picky’

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It’s not a matter of fixing their libido.

by

The demisexual flag

You know that feeling. You’re at a friend’s party and you see a cute guy or girl. You begin to sweat just a little and smile, the kind that makes you bite your lip. The other person approaches, and you make small talk. As you discuss shared interests, the stranger casually looks you up and down, assessing. He doesn’t think you notice, but you notice. You’re thinking the same thing. After some time passes, he asks if you want to get out of here, and you do. You go back to his place. He doesn’t call the next day. You don’t text.

This scenario is familiar to many of us, a rite of passage on most college campuses. For Dill Werner, though, the concept of having a one-night stand is both alien and terrifying, like slipping through a wormhole into an alternate universe.

That’s because Werner, 30, identifies as demisexual. The term, which originated on the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network in 2008, denotes someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction right away. These feelings often take weeks, months, or even years to form, the result of building a special bond with another person. The Demisexuality Resource Center describes the label as someone who “may experience secondary sexual attraction after a close emotional connection has already formed.”

Werner, a young adult author who focuses on LGBTQ themes, describes the process of developing attraction as “unique” to each individual that identifies as demisexual.

“It’s almost describing your soulmate. You know when you meet that person and something changes within you,” Werner said.Your body is giving you permission and your mind is giving you permission to click with that person and say, ‘Now we can take it to a more physical level.’”

The word demisexual has gained greater visibility in recent years with buzzy articles in Wired and Elle shedding light on the complex romantic lives of members of an emerging identity. It’s also gained a great deal of traction on Tumblr, a microblogging website that has also popularized labels like “sapiosexual,” describing someone who is attracted to others’ intellect. On Twitter, people along the asexual spectrum regularly meet for “Ace Chats,” which provide support and space for the community.

For those unfamiliar with the term, think of it as between the poles of asexuality, where you feel limited or no attraction to others, and what we think of as normative sexuality, where such feelings are frequent. If demisexuals do feel sexual attraction to someone they don’t know—a sexy train passenger—these moments are fleeting. They pass long before you get to the bedroom, and it’s different for everyone. Some will never have that experience.

Because demisexuality is along the asexual spectrum, it’s frequently referred to as “gray sexuality.” You might also hear words like “asexual-ish” and “semisexual” used to describe the phenomenon.

 

Although experiences vary for people who identify as demisexual, they often describe themselves as feeling “different” from a very young age. While schoolmates develop crushes on the cute boy in first period and go out on dates, they don’t. Instead, many demisexuals feel as if there’s something wrong with them. Why can’t they experience what everyone else does?

“I wanted to have the sorts of casual relationships other people were having because, to me, that’s what was ‘normal,’” Werner said. “That’s what it felt like I should have been doing in my 20s and late teens. I wanted to be like everybody else, but my body and my mind wouldn’t let me. Even when I tried to—with people I was in relationships with—alarm bells went off. It wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t the right circumstances.”

Meryl Williams, a writer for the Establishment, said that what made being demisexual particularly difficult is that she wasn’t aware—until recently—that the label existed.

“I didn’t have a name for it,” the 30-year old said. “It was this long, bumbling explanation. And it’s an uncomfortable topic! It’s hard to talk about, especially with someone you don’t feel comfortable with yet. I never really know what’s going to happen when I bring it up, which is scary, because it’s such a vulnerable subject.”

Williams claimed that being demisexual often makes dating “frustrating” because there’s no guarantee that she’s going to develop sexual attraction to that other person at all. Many people, she said, haven’t been willing to wait around to find out.

“It takes a lot more time for me than it does for most people,” she said. “Most people, they can tell pretty early on if they’re sexually attracted to that person. They know. And if they’re not attracted to them, they’re probably not going to continue seeing that person. But with me, I’ll probably give relationships a lot more time than I necessarily need to because I’m not sure. I want to go down that road of dating someone for a while, but nine times out of 10, I’m not going to feel attracted to them.”

What makes discussing demisexuality with partners and even friends and loved ones difficult is the great many misconceptions many people have about the term. After she came out as demisexual in the Washington Post, one reader told Williams she should go to conversion therapy.

Werner said that the most common myths about gray sexuality fall into five different camps. There are the types of people who believe that demisexuals are just waiting until they meet the right person. Others believe it’s a choice, akin to a young Christian waiting until marriage to have sex. Many might claim that demisexuality isn’t an orientation but instead the result of a low sex drive. Some claim that demisexuals are just “really picky.” The last, and perhaps most pernicious group, is the people who claim it’s merely a made-up label.

Cara Liebowitz, a 24-year-old disability activist, understands the confusion but says that these criticisms can be delegitimizing and invalidating, as if others would rather erase her experience than listen.

“I’m confused about my label, so anyone who is confused about my label can join the club,” Liebowitz said. “It makes me feel frustrated because people often tell me that it’s not a real thing. And I say, ‘I’m a real person, so obviously what I feel is real.’ People are so quick to judge, especially on the internet. It would be nice to talk about our sexuality without shame.”

A 2004 study conducted in the U.K. found that 1.1 percent of the population identifies on the asexual spectrum. If those numbers were the same for the United States, it would represent over 3.5 million people. That’s about the size of Connecticut.

While critics might lump this group in with people who experience “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” there’s a difference between gray sexuality and a lack of libido. People with a low sex drive often feel intense depression and anxiety over their limited feelings of arousal. Most demisexuals, however, don’t want to change. A 2014 survey from AVEN found that two-thirds of demisexuals were not interested in having intercourse. It’s low on their priority list.

Werner, who is currently in a long-term relationship, said that it can be difficult to find someone you bond with, who brings out those feelings of sexual attraction. For many demisexuals, it only happens once or twice in their lives. But when it does, those feelings of connection are powerful. It’s worth the wait.

“When you meet the person you bond with, the heavens open up,” Werner said. “You see colors for the first time. Everything finally makes sense.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Redefining Sexuality after Stroke

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You can have a healthy sex life after having a stroke.

By StrokeSmart Staff

You can have a healthy sex life after having a stroke. In fact, it’s a key part of getting back into a normal routine. The need to love and be loved is significant. Also, the physical and mental release that sex provides is important.

The quality of a couple’s sexual relationship following a stroke differs from couple to couple. Most couples find that their sexual relationship has changed, but not all find this to be a problem. The closeness that a couple shares before a stroke is the best indicator of how their relationship will evolve after the stroke.

However, having sex after a stroke can present problems and concerns for both you and your partner.

Stroke survivors often report a decrease in sexual desire. Women report a strong decrease in the ability to have an orgasm and men often have some degree of impotency. A stroke can change your body, how you feel and impact your sex life.

Having good communication with your partner, managing depression, controlling pain or incontinence and working with impotence can all help you resume a healthy sex life.

Communication is Key

Talking about sex is hard for many people. It gets even more complicated after having a stroke, when you may be unable to understand or say words or have uncontrollable laughing or crying spells. But it is critical to talk openly and honestly with your partner about your sexual needs, desires and concerns. Encourage your partner to do the same. If you are having a difficult time communicating with your partner about sex, an experienced counselor can help.

Depression, Pain and Medication — How They Effect Your Sex Drive

It is common for stroke survivors and their partners to suffer from depression. When you are depressed, you tend to have less interest in sexual intimacy. Depression can be treated with medications. You may also be taking medicine for anxiety, high blood pressure, spasticity, sleeping problems or allergies. Addressing these medical concerns can increase your sex drive. But know that some medication can also have side effects that interfere with your sex life. If your ability to enjoy sex has decreased since your stroke, talk with your doctor about medicines that have fewer sexual side effects.

Many stroke survivors also have problems with pain, contributing to a loss of sexual desire, impotence and the ability to have an orgasm. This is a normal reaction. Work with your doctor to develop a program to manage your pain and increase your sexual desire.

Controlling incontinence

If you are having trouble with controlling your bladder or bowel, being afraid that you will have an accident while making love is understandable. There are a few steps you can take to help make incontinence during sex less of a concern.

  • Go to the bathroom before having sex
  • Avoid positions that put pressure on the bladder
  • Don’t drink liquids before sexual activity
  • Talk to your partner about your concerns
  • Place plastic covering on the bed, or use an incontinence pad to help protect the bedding
  • Store cleaning supplies close in case of accidents

If you have a catheter, you can ask your doctor’s permission to remove it and put it back in afterwards. A woman with a catheter can tape it to one side. A man with a catheter can cover it with a lubricated condom. Using a lubricant or gel will make sex more comfortable.

Working With Impotence

Impotence refers to problems that interfere with sexual intercourse, such as a lack of sexual desire, being unable to keep an erection or trouble with ejaculation. Today, there are many options available to men with this problem. For most, the initial treatment is an oral medicine. If this doesn’t work, options include penile injections, penile implants or the use of vacuum devices. Men who are having problems with impotence should check with their doctors about corrective medicines. This is especially true if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for a heart attack. Once you have talked to your partner and you are both ready to begin a post-stroke sexual relationship, set yourself up to be comfortable. Start by reintroducing familiar activities such as kissing, touching and hugging. Create a calm, non-pressure environment and remember that sexual satisfaction, both giving and receiving, can be accomplished in many ways.

Ask the Doctor

Things to discuss with your doctor:

  1. Medications for depression and pain that have fewer sexual side effects.
  2. Changes you should expect when having sex and advice on how to deal with them. Be sure to discuss when it is safe to have sex again.
  3. Impotence and corrective medications.
  4. Incontinence — a urologist who specializes in urinary functions may be able to provide help in this area.

Tips for Enjoying Sex After a Stroke

  • Communicate your feelings honestly and openly.
  • if you have trouble talking, use touch to communicate. It is a very intimate way to express thoughts, needs and desires.
  • after stroke, your body and appearance may have changed. Take time for you and your partner to get used to these changes.
  • Maintain grooming and personal hygiene to feel attractive for yourself and for your partner.
  • explore your body for sexual sensations and areas of heightened sensitivity.
  • have intercourse when you are rested and relaxed and have enough time to enjoy each other.
  • try planning for sex in advance, so you can fully enjoy it.
  • Be creative, flexible and open to change.
  • the side of the body that lacks feeling or that causes you pain needs to be considered. Don’t be afraid to use gentle touch or massage in these areas.
  • if intercourse is too difficult, remember there are many ways to give and receive sexual satisfaction.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women with HIV, after years of isolation, coming out of shadows

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Patti Radigan kisses daughter Angelica after a memorial in San Francisco’s Castro to remember those who died of AIDS.

By Erin Allday

Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.

Schools, 59, lives in Emeryville near the foot of the Bay Bridge, walking distance from a Nordstrom Rack and other big chain stores she can’t afford. Off and on since April, her granddaughter has lived there too, sleeping on a blow-up mattress with Schools’ daughter and son-in-law and another grandchild.

Five is too many for the one-bedroom apartment. But they’re family. They kept her going during the worst times, and that she can help them now is a blessing.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Schools was diagnosed with HIV, it was her daughter Bonnie — then 12 and living in foster care — who gave her hope, saying, “Mama, you don’t have to worry. You’re not going to die, you’re going to be able to live a long, long time.”

“It was her that gave me the push and the courage to keep on,” Schools said.

She had contracted HIV from a man who’d been in jail, who beat her repeatedly until she fled. By then she’d already left another abusive relationship and lost all four of her daughters to child protective services. HIV was just one more burden.

At the time, the disease was a death sentence. That Schools is still here — helping her family, getting to know her grandchildren — is wonderful, she said. But for her, as with tens of thousands of others who have lived two decades or more with HIV, survival comes with its own hardships.

Gay men made up the bulk of the casualties of the early AIDS epidemic, and as the male survivors grow older, they’re dealing with profound complications, including physical and mental health problems. But the women have their own loads to bear.

Whereas gay men were at risk simply by being gay, women often were infected through intravenous drug use or sex work, or by male partners who lied about having unsafe sex with other men. The same issues that put them at risk for HIV made their very survival a challenge.

Today, many women like Schools who are long-term survivors cope with challenges caused or compounded by HIV: financial and housing insecurity, depression and anxiety, physical disability and emotional isolation.

“We’re talking about mostly women of color, living in poverty,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Oakland’s Positive Women’s Network, a national advocacy group for women with HIV. “And there’s not really a social safety net for them. Gay men diagnosed with HIV already historically had a built-in community to lean on. Women tend to be more isolated around their diagnosis.”

There are far fewer women aging with HIV than men. In San Francisco, nearly 10,000 people age 50 or older are living with HIV; about 500 are women. Not all women survivors have histories of trauma and abuse, of course, and many have done well in spite of their diagnosis.

But studies have found that women with HIV are more than twice as likely as the average American woman to have suffered domestic violence. They have higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

What keeps them going now, decades after their diagnoses, varies widely. For some, connections with their families, especially their now-adult children, are critical. For others, HIV advocacy work keeps them motivated and hopeful.

Patti Radigan (righ) instructs daughter Angelica and Angelica’s boyfriend, Jayson Cabanas, on preparing green beans for Thanksgiving while Roman Tom Pierce, 8, watches.

Patti Radigan was living in a cardboard box on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when she tested positive in 1992. By then, she’d lost her husband to a heart attack while a young mother, and not long after that she lost her daughter, too, when her drug use got out of control and her sister-in-law took in the child.

She turned to prostitution in the late 1980s to support a heroin addiction. She’d heard of HIV by then and knew it was deadly. She’d seen people on the streets in the Mission where she worked, wasting away and then disappearing altogether. But she still thought of it as something that affected gay men, not women, even those living on the margins.

Women then, and now, were much more likely than men to contract HIV from intravenous drug use rather than sex — though in Radigan’s case, it could have been either. IV drug use is the cause of transmission for nearly half of all women, according to San Francisco public health reports. It’s the cause for less than 20 percent for men.

Still, when Radigan finally got tested, it wasn’t because she was worried she might be positive, but because the clinic was offering subjects $20. She needed the cash for drugs.

She was scared enough after the diagnosis — and then she got pregnant. It was the early 1990s, and HIV experts at UCSF were just starting to believe they could finesse women through pregnancy and help them deliver healthy babies. Today, it’s widely understood that women with HIV can safely have children; San Francisco hasn’t seen a baby born with HIV since 2004.

But in the 1990s, getting pregnant was considered selfish — even if the baby survived, its mother most certainly wouldn’t live long enough to raise her. For women infected at the time, having children was something else they had to give up.

And so Radigan had an abortion. But she got pregnant again in 1995, and she was desperate to have this child. She was living by then with 10 gay men in a boarding house for recovering addicts. Bracing herself for an onslaught of criticism, she told her housemates. First they were quiet, then someone yelled, “Oh my God, we’re having a baby!”

“It was like having 10 big brothers,” Radigan said, smiling at the memory. Buoyed by their support, she kept the pregnancy and had a healthy girl.

Radigan is 59 now; her daughter, Angelica Tom, is 20. They both live in San Francisco after moving to the East Coast for a while. It was because of her daughter that Radigan stayed sober, that she consistently took her meds, and that she went back to school to tend to her future.

For a long time she told people she just wanted to live long enough to see her daughter graduate high school. Now her daughter is in art school and Radigan is healthy enough to hold a part-time job, to lead yoga classes on weekends, to go out with friends for a Friday night concert.

“Because of HIV, I thought I was never going to do a lot of things,” Radigan said. “The universe is aligning for me. And now I feel like I deserve it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.”

Anita Schools, who says she is most troubled by finances, listens to an HIV-positive woman speak about her experiences and fears at an Oakland support group that Schools organized.

Anita Schools got tested for HIV because her ex-boyfriend kept telling her she should. That should have been a warning sign, she knows now.

She was first diagnosed in 1998 at a neighborhood clinic in Oakland, but it took two more tests at San Francisco General Hospital for her to accept she was positive. People told her that HIV wasn’t necessarily fatal, but she had trouble believing she was going to live. All she could think was, “Why me? What did I do?”

It was only after her daughter Bonnie reassured her that Schools started to think beyond the immediate anxiety and anger. She joined a support group for HIV-positive women, finding comfort in their stories and shared experiences. Ten years later, she was leading her own group.

She’s never had problems with drugs or alcohol, and she has a network of friends and family for emotional support, she said. Even the HIV hasn’t hit her too hard, physically, though the drugs to treat it have attacked her kidneys, leaving her ill and fatigued.

Like so many of the women she advises in her support group, Schools is most troubled by her finances. She gets by on Social Security and has bounced among Section 8 housing all over the Bay Area for most of her adult life.

Schools’ current apartment is supposed to be permanent, but she worries she could lose it if her daughter’s family stays with her too long. So earlier this month they moved out and are now sleeping in homeless shelters or, some nights, in their car. She hates letting them leave but doesn’t feel she has any other choice.

Reports show that women with HIV are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Khanna, with the Positive Women’s Network, said surveys of her members found that 85 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and roughly half take home less than $10,000.

Schools can’t always afford the bus or BART tickets she needs to get to doctor appointments and support group meetings, relying instead on rides from friends — or sometimes skipping events altogether. She gets her food primarily from food banks. Her wardrobe is dominated by T-shirts she gets from the HIV organizations with which she volunteers.

“With Social Security, $889 a month, that ain’t enough,” Schools said. “You got to pay your rent, and then PG&E, and then you got to pay your cell phone, buy clothes — it’s all hard.”

At a time when other women her age might be thinking about retirement or at least slowing down, advocacy work has taken over Schools’ life. She speaks out for women with HIV and their needs, demanding financial and health resources for them. In her support group and at AIDS conferences, she offers her story of survival as a sort of jagged road map for other women struggling to navigate the complex warren of services they’ll need to get by.

The work gives her confidence and purpose. She feels she can directly influence women’s lives in a way that seemed beyond her when she was young, unemployed and directionless.

“As long as I’m getting help and support,” Schools said, “I want to help other women — help them get somewhere.”

Billie Cooper is tall and striking, loud and brash. Her makeup is polished, her nails flawless. She is, she says with a booming laugh that makes heads turn, “the ultimate senior woman.”

For Cooper, 58, HIV was transformative. Like Radigan, she had to find her way out from under addiction and prostitution to get healthy, and stay healthy. Like Schools, she came to understand the importance of role-modeling and advocacy.

Cooper arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 — almost a year to the day before the first reports of HIV surfaced in the United States. She was fresh out of the Navy and eager to explore her gender identity and sexuality in San Francisco’s burgeoning gay and transgender communities.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she’d known she was different from the boys around her, though it was decades before she found the language to express it and identified as a transgender woman. But seeing the “divas on Post Street, the ladies in the Tenderloin, the transsexual women prostituting on Eddy” — Cooper was awestruck.

She slipped quickly into prostitution and drug use. When she tested positive in 1985, she wasn’t surprised and barely wasted a thought worrying about what it meant for her future — or whether she’d have any future at all.

“I felt as though I still had to keep it moving,” Cooper said. “I didn’t slow down and cry or nothing.”

Transgender women have always been at heightened risk of HIV. Some studies have found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women is infected, and today about 340 HIV-positive trans women live in San Francisco.

What makes them more vulnerable is complicated. Trans women often have less access to health care and less stable housing than others, and they face higher rates of drug addiction and sexual violence, all of which are associated with risk of HIV infection.

Cooper was homeless off and on through the 1980s and ’90s, trapped in a world of drugs and sex work that felt glamorous at the time but in hindsight was crippling. “I was doing things out of loneliness,” she said, “and I was doing things to feel love. That’s why I prostituted, why I did drugs.”

She began to clean up around 2000, though it would take five or six years to fully quit using. She found a permanent place to live. She collected Social Security. She started working in support services for other transgender women battling HIV. In 2013, she founded TransLife, a support group at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“I was coming out as the activist, the warrior, the determined woman I was always meant to be,” she said.

Cooper never developed any of the common, often fatal complications of HIV — including opportunistic infections like pneumonia — that killed millions in the 1980s and 1990s. But she does have neuropathy, an HIV-related nerve condition that causes a constant pins-and-needles sensation in her feet and legs and sometimes makes it hard to walk.

Far more traumatic for her was her cancer diagnosis in 2006. The cancer, which may have been related to HIV, was isolated to her left eye, but after traditional therapies failed, the eye was surgically removed on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

The cancer and the loss of her eye was a devastating setback for a woman who had always focused on her appearance, on looking as gorgeous as the transgender women she so admired in the Tenderloin, on being loved and wanted for her beauty.

Rising from that loss has been difficult, she said. And she’s continued to suffer new health problems, including blood clots in one of her legs. Recently, she’s fallen several times, in frightening episodes that may be related to the clots, the HIV or something else entirely.

Since Thanksgiving she’s been in and out of the hospital, and though she tries to stay upbeat, it’s clearly trying her patience.

But if HIV and cancer and everything else have tested Cooper’s survival in ways she never anticipated, these trials also have strengthened her resolve. She’s becoming the person she always wanted to be.

“A week before they took my eye, I got my breasts,” she said coyly one recent afternoon, thrusting out her chest. Behind the sunglasses she wears almost constantly now, she was smiling and crying, all at once.

Aging with HIV has been strangely calming, in some ways, giving her a confidence that in her wild youth was elusive.

Now she exults in being a respected elder in the HIV and transgender communities. She loves it when people open doors for her or help her cross the street, offer to carry her bags or give up a seat on a bus.

Simply, she said, “I love being Ms. Billie Cooper.”

Complete Article HERE!

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