"I'm originally from Tampa, Florida, where I was born in 1967. I've always been a creative person and have always wanted to be on stage or at least have everyone's attention. In Toronto, I'm known as DJ Relentless and as drag recording artist Jade Elektra. I'm also known for my activism around HIV/AIDS. My husband and I produce events to create safe spaces for the HIV+ community and to raise funds and awareness for local AIDS Service Organizations."
Unfortunately, I was molested by an uncle from the age of 7 to 10. I believe that this period shaped my behaviour as a teen and my sexual health and attitude. I was very promiscuous when I left home at the age of 16 to be on my own. Living in Florida in the 80s, there was not much education and information about AIDS. And although I tended to practice safe sex, it was a condom that broke in 1989 that began my journey as a person living with HIV.
"I was diagnosed in 1990. There have been many changes since then. For the first year and a half I thought I was dying and planned to take a bank loan to do all the things I always dreamed about. But somehow it dawned on me that I would probably be healthy and in debt for the rest of my life. So I gave up that idea and just started pursuing my dreams."
I moved to New York City with an ex's girlfriend in the spring of 1992. Her name was Grace and she helped me get my first job and introduced me to the Times Square neighbourhood. It was quite the education for this small town Southern boy. Grace was HIV+ as well and sorta told me how to survive in the cracks of no health care.
I really didn't have any medical treatment until 2002 when my diabetes became worse. This was my first time learning that I had diabetes. I believe that turn was what brought on the decline of my T-cells in 2005. The doctor I was seeing at the Callen-Lorde Centre in Chelsea told me that my T-cells had dropped below 200 and I definitely needed to start on meds. So I did. And I took them immediately. My numbers shot up to around 500 within the first two months.
"I came to Toronto in 2009. For my first 8 years here, the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA) was an important source of support for me. Their food bank was a big part of how my husband and I survived."
I was getting DJ gigs here and there, and some drag bookings, but nothing solid as far as work. I finally became a permanent resident back in 2015, at which point I was able to get a doctor here. Until then, I had been travelling back to the States every three months to see my doctor at Callen-Lorde.
HIV/AIDS is complicated and affects different people differently. It's important that there continues to be research into the disease. I survived many years without any treatment while others died even though they were on the meds. Education is also so important - especially for our youth. Even though the meds are keeping people alive, there is so much more that needs to be done to support people - mentally and physically.
"For me, World AIDS Day is a time to remember those who are no longer with us and who have fought to improve the lives of those of us who are living with the disease. It is a day of awareness around the world and I also feel like it should be a day of celebration for those of us who are affected by HIV. To celebrate that we are still here."