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Assertive sexuality – yet again, we must fight the politicisation of sex

Everyone has the right to have sex as they choose and we must make sure we protect that right

A gay couple kisses during the Gay Pride Parade in Medellin, Colombia, in 2015.

By Emily Witt

Sexual equality – the right for consenting adults to love who they want, the way they want it – is a human right. In 2017 the right to have the kind of sex we want is still under threat.

Once again gay people, single women, the non-monogamous, the kinky, and many other people whose sexuality does not conform to the heterosexual, child-producing marital bedroom, will be forced to articulate their right to sexual freedom. For many adults, merely having sex, and being sexual, will become a political act. Welcome to the year of assertive sexuality.

In the 21st century the state wields control over sexuality through access to healthcare. In the United States, Donald Trump has appointed an orthopaedic surgeon, Tom Price, as his secretary of health and human services. Price has a record of opposition to LGBTQ and abortion rights and has voted in the past to deprive non-profit organisation Planned Parenthood of taxpayer support.

Even if Trump chooses not to revoke the Affordable Care Act, it’s likely the mandate that covers contraception will be repealed. A woman’s sexual freedom depends on her ability to access affordable contraception, treatment for infections and abortion services. Trump, who has a lifetime of boasting about his sexual promiscuity (both consensual and not), wants to impose a paradigm of risk on women, who will lose autonomy and safety and will face unnecessary and prohibitive expense and inconvenience in their pursuit of sexual happiness.

The United Kingdom also saw an attempt to thwart sexual freedom by denying access to healthcare in 2016. It was only after a successful lawsuit filed by the National Aids Trust and persistent lobbying by activists that the NHS announced in December that it would fund a three-year clinical trial that will make pre-exposure prophylaxis available through the NHS to 10,000 people at risk of contracting HIV. This was a shift from earlier in the year, when the NHS had made it clear that it would limit availability of PrEP to 500 men “most at high risk”.

Denying healthcare to certain populations in a misguided attempt to influence their sexual behaviour is a form of social control and exclusion that arbitrarily codes certain sexual acts as good or bad and certain lives as more dispensable than others. The point of such efforts – and other forms of sexual censorship, like the attempts of the Conservative government to block pornographic websites that show female ejaculation or that break the “four finger rule” – is to assert a hierarchy of sexual cultures in which heteronormativity occupies a place at the top and alternative sexual preferences are maligned as risky or obscene.

Tom Price, US secretary of health and human services, has a record of opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Attempts to re-establish a notion of “normal”, “conventional” and “responsible” sexuality come at a time in which consensus about what an adult life should look like is rapidly dissolving. In the United States and the United Kingdom, adults are getting married later or not at all. In the years of their lives in which they are dating and having shorter-term sexual relationships, technology has offered new ways of meeting people, of fantasising and of finding sexual community.

A shift in cultural morals has opened space for the articulation of a broad spectrum of sexual identities, orientations and gender identifications. If the first decade of the new century was about broadening access to institutions such as marriage, the second might be about taking pride in sex as an end in itself.

The culture finds itself at a crossroads: either attempt to restore a false consensus about what constitutes a legitimate sexuality, an ideal of monogamous fidelity that always contained hypocrisy, that not even the president-elect of the United States can claim to have upheld; or embrace a more honest view of the contemporary way some people relate to each other.

For the growing population of adults who have failed in one way or another to live up to an ideal of what a “good heterosexual” looks like, either because they have never married, or have divorced, or because they are not heterosexual at all, attempts by politicians to marginalise their sex lives would be comical if they didn’t come at such a high cost.

The only response that feels right, at this juncture in history, is to dispense with euphemism. Don’t call contraception “family planning”. Don’t limit the idea of sexual freedom to the right to marry (although even that right remains threatened.)

Don’t let the enjoyment of pornography be pathologised. Don’t meekly try to make your sexuality palatable to the people who are determined to deny its legitimacy.

In 2016 cautious appeals for responsibility lost out to ostentation and lies; 2017 is not a time to be demure.

Complete Article HERE!

10 Things Scientists Discovered About Sex This Year

By Justin Lehmiller

This year has been memorable for a lot of reasons, but one that may not be immediately obvious is that we learned a lot about the science of sex in 2016. Among other things, sex researchers brought us one step closer to a male version of the birth control pill, they debunked the idea that porn kills love, and they discovered that having a cat just might make you more inclined toward kinky sex (yep, you read that right). Let’s take a closer look at these findings and some of the other fascinating things scientists taught us about sex in 2016.

Americans are warming up to the idea of open relationships.

Americans are more interested than ever in consensual non-monogamy (CNM), or the practice of having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research in May found that Google searches for two forms of CNM—open relationships and polyamory—have significantly increased across the past decade. At the same time, a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that more people are practicing CNM than previously thought: in a nationally representative survey of single Americans, more than 1 in 5 said they had been in a sexually open relationship before. Table for more than two, please.

We’re getting closer to a male version of the birth control pill.

An October study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reported the results of a clinical trial in which men were given hormone injections designed to suppress their sperm production. The results were stunning: over the course of a year, the pregnancy rate for couples taking part in the study was just 1.57 out of 100. Unfortunately, however, the rate of side effects was very high, which led an external review board to recommend shutting down the study. Although this injection won’t be hitting the market, this study provides optimism that we’re not too far off from having a male equivalent of the female birth control pill.

Millennials are identifying as LGB at much higher rates than Gen Xers.

In January, the CDC released a report revealing major generational differences in Americans’ sexual identities. Specifically, millennials aged 18-24 were almost twice as likely to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual than Gen Xers aged 35-44. Millennials were more likely to report having engaged in same-sex behavior, too. However, whether this means same-sex attraction is actually increasing or if it’s just a sign that younger folks are more comfortable acknowledging their non-heterosexuality, we can’t say for sure.

The HPV vaccine has been wildly effective at reducing cancer.

In August, scientists reported that, in the ten years since the first vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) was administered, rates of cervical cancer have been halved. If we can increase vaccination rates even further, there’s a chance that HPV-related cancers—including those of the cervix, anus, throat, and penis—could be eradicated within just a few decades.

Porn doesn’t change how men feel about their relationships.

A classic study from the 1980s found that heterosexual married men reported less love for their wives after viewing images of sexy magazine centerfolds compared to images of abstract art. This year, researchers tried three times to replicate the effect, but found nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. These findings suggest that porn probably doesn’t kill love after all.

BDSM acts can produce an altered state of consciousness.

In May, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the psychological experiences of people who took part in an extreme masochistic ritual in which their skin was pierced with hooks that had weights attached. These participants demonstrated evidence of an altered mental state known as transient hypofrontality, described as “reductions in pain, living in the here and now, little active decision making, little active logic, and feelings of floating and peacefulness.” This suggests that BDSM acts have the potential to be a very spiritual experience.

We might be able to treat low sexual desire by electrically stimulating the brain.

In a November study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that delivering electrical stimulation to the brain changes the way we respond to sexual stimulation. Specifically, a targeted cranial “zap” appears to enhance the response that occurs in the brain’s pleasure centers. This suggests that we might actually be able to use brain stimulation as a treatment for people who complain of low sexual desire in the not too distant future.

Sexual arousal puts us in a risk-taking state of mind.

A January study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that being horny can make us susceptible to taking risks, including those that are both sexual and non-sexual. In one study, participants who watched an X-rated film subsequently expressed more willingness to keep having sex after noticing a broken condom. In another study, sexually aroused participants made riskier moves in a game of computerized blackjack. These findings suggest that, when we’re feeling hot and bothered, well, we can’t be bothered to properly evaluate risks.

Women can detect when other women are ovulating, an ability they might use to protect their relationships.

In an April study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers showed female participants photos of a woman who was either ovulating or not. Those who saw an ovulating woman were the most worried about keeping their partners away from her, but this was only true for participants with attractive partners. This suggests that women may have evolved the ability to pick up on other women’s ovulation status as a means of helping them to guard desirable mates from potential relationship threats.

Having a cat might increase your interest in kinky sex.

A July study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology reported that people’s attraction to kinky sex depended upon whether they had been infected with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that can be passed from cats to humans. Specifically, those who said they had been infected were more into bondage, violence, zoophilia, and fetishism. Why is that? The researchers suspect that it’s because this infection affects the circuits of the brain involved in fear, given that in mice and rats, toxoplasmosis switches their natural fear of cat smell into an attraction toward it.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is another mind-blowing year for sex research!

Complete Article HERE!

Staying Married Through a Gender Transition

“Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t.”

By Evan Urquhart

Six years ago, Cassie and I met and began dating as lesbians. At the time, I didn’t know I was transgender. Then about two years ago, just nine months after we were married, I told her I thought I might want to transition and live as a man. It’s hard to overstate how difficult this was for us at first, but we stuck with one another and managed to preserve our marriage. I spoke with Cassie about staying together, and about being a lesbian (or maybe not) in a relationship with a trans man.

Think back to when I first told you I thought I might want to transition. What was your initial reaction?

When you first told me, I was surprised by how angry I was. I mean, you weren’t my first experience with a trans person. I’ve had a number of friends come out, and it’s never been hard to adjust. Plus, I was in the queer dorm at UMass, and many of the kids I lived with were trans. I always figured I was well prepared for the possibility of a romantic partner coming out. I didn’t know what I’d do, exactly, but I didn’t think I’d be angry. But when you told me, I don’t know … We were trying to get me pregnant at the time, and all I could think was that you were fucking up my adorable little lesbian life.

I wasn’t!

I know. It just felt like you were. I know that’s unfair, but it’s true. I was also angry at myself, because I wasn’t actually that surprised by the news. There was no way I could convince myself that it was just a passing thought. I knew it wasn’t. We’d talked about your gender in the past, and I told you I thought you had some issues to work out. We had so many conversations about how you thought every woman would want to be a man if they could, and I would tell you, no, I wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t believe me. It was frustrating, but I forgave it, because I sensed you had some internal issues to work out. But I guess what I thought (or maybe hoped) was that one day you’d recognize a sort of queerness in yourself and stop arguing with me about my own gender, not that you would go full-on with testosterone, surgery, changing your name, everything. Now I tell people I have a husband.

It’s been really tough. How do you think we’ve managed to stay together?

A lot of things. I think I was scared at first because I didn’t think I’d end up breaking up with you. We’re so compatible in so many ways. Part of me was afraid that your personality would change so much I’d not want to be with you, but I didn’t really think that I would leave.

You felt trapped?

Marriage is a trap. That’s a weird question.

Argh. My nonjudgmental leading questions don’t work on you—you’re on to me. What eventually made it OK, when at first it didn’t feel OK?

We talked a lot, all the time, about everything. Even when it was hard, we hashed things out rather than ignoring them. And should I talk about the open relationship? We opened things up, as we’d done before, but I think it was especially important in this case.

The release valve. Not feeling like you’d never be with a woman again. Being able to explore other relationships with other people without ending everything we had to do it.

Something like that.

Do you still consider yourself a lesbian?

Oh, geez. We’re jumping to that question now?

It seemed relevant.

Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t. Part of me thinks it’s wrong to consider myself a lesbian because if I do, and I remain in a relationship with a trans guy, or even admit attraction, on a certain level, to any other trans guys, I’m effectively invalidating their gender. That said, coming out to myself was such an important thing for me. It made so much about myself make sense, not just who I was attracted to but my personality and how I interacted with the world. It made me so much happier. I don’t want to let that go.

I always said I didn’t have the power to unilaterally change your orientation.

Right, but your transition did make me think about my sexuality in a different way. A number of different people that I’ve been attracted to, whether I dated them or not, were people I thought at the time were cis women who came out later as trans men. If it was really just you, well, you could be the exception. You could be grandfathered in. But I feel like it might say something about me—about the sort of people I like—that you’re not the only one.

I’ve always butted heads a little with the lesbian community, anyway. But at the same time I feel like that’s part of what it means to be a lesbian, to butt heads with the lesbian community. I once got into a fight with a girl who said I wasn’t a real lesbian because of what I was wearing. I got kicked off a lesbian forum for saying I thought you could still be a lesbian if you had enjoyed sex with a penis, even once. God forbid.

This reminds me, we’ve been talking about trans men, but what about trans women? Are you attracted to trans women? Have you ever been with a trans woman? Do you think you can be with trans women and still be a “real lesbian”?

Yeah, I’ve been attracted to and been with trans women. I know it’s a point of contention for some people, but I think that’s silly. At least for me, if I’m hanging out, flirting, feeling attraction and chemistry with someone, then there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy having sex with that person if I get the chance. I guess if you’re only attracted to genitals, that could be more limiting, depending on the specifics, but I feel like you’re probably having pretty boring sex. Maybe I’m wrong, and to each their own, but it’s not an issue for me. And I kind of suspect it would be less of an issue for other people than they think, but they just don’t want to think about it.

So, my being a trans man was more of a threat to your sexuality than your being attracted to a trans woman was.

Yeah. I’m really not worried at all about sometimes being attracted to trans women.

Talk about my physical changes, and how you feel about them.

Well, it’s better now that you’ve come out of the weird little hole you were in. You were spending all your time on Reddit or in the other room, alone, doing God knows what. You acted so weird at first, so totally in your head about things. You never wanted to have sex, and having a conversation with you was like pulling teeth. I was more annoyed with that than anything. The actual changes didn’t bother me as much as I’d feared. I guess they’ve been gradual enough it’s been easy to get used to. But then you’d do things like repeat the same phrase three times in a slightly deeper voice, and I just had no patience for it. I was finishing a master’s degree and dealing with infertility, and I didn’t have time for your issues.

And I’ve settled down now?

Definitely. We’re about back to normal, I’d say. I’ve settled, too. At this point I’m just kind of embarrassed by how I reacted early on. I think that once I just chilled out and accepted your transition as what was happening, and as a good thing for you, our relationship could just be what it was. No pressure. We started getting closer again, and you started relaxing. Plus, we had a friend at the time, a trans girl, who helped a lot.

Because she was very political.

She was very no-nonsense. She handed you a trans pride flag at the pride parade when you were still only partially out. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that happened. She also started using male pronouns for you and calling you Evan and told me to just get over it. And I did. Probably in part because I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think I was mean. But still, it helped.

So, how are things now for our relationship?

They’re really good. I mean, there are no guarantees. Changes are still happening, and I’m sure we’ll have some ups and downs in the future. I don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re connecting again, we’re having sex again, and sometimes when someone from your family forgets and uses your old name, I have a moment where I’m not even sure who they’re talking about. You’re just my Evan. It works.

And, how do you feel about your sexuality?

I think I still see myself as a lesbian in a lot of ways, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that, but I’ve been referring to myself as queer more often, and I like that as a compromise. I feel like that word fits me pretty well, and maybe I’ll ease into using it completely in the future. But right now I’m not completely over thinking of myself as a lesbian, especially since I’m still generally more attracted to women.

Complete Article HERE!

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

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!

Have yourself a… 2016

Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

 

teddys

Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.