QUEERTY EXCLUSIVE

HIV-Positive Olympic Medalist Ji Wallace On Jason Collins, Sports Equality, And Loving An HIV-Negative Man

In 2012, you disclosed that you are HIV positive. Why the big revelation?

Part of the reason I wrote about my diagnosis was reading Anderson Cooper‘s coming out letter. In it he mentioned “the value of being seen and heard.” With the continued discrimination, bigotry and the extreme bullying that has all our hearts hurting, I looked inside myself for any value I could add to the HIV community. I wondered if my little voice could help someone, anyone get through their day knowing that I was living with HIV, and that if I could get through my day, maybe they could through theirs too.

How has your sport community changed since your announcement?

The twists and turns of my private life have never affected the relationship I have with my trampoline community. Many of them remain close friends today.

What about the LGBT community? How has it treated you since you coming out as HIV positive?

The greater LGBT community has been beyond supportive. People living with HIV have messaged me thanking me for bringing a good light to an issue that has taken so many lives, condemned others to a lifetime of heartache and been the bane of some people’s existence. While HIV is not something you want, if you do find yourself with a positive diagnosis, I am here to show you that you can ignite your lifetime dreams, live large and love wonderfully.

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding HIV?

Obviously the biggest myth is death. HIV is no longer the final chapter it once was. When the epidemic hit the west in the early ’80s, it was unknown and untreatable and into the ’90s it could still be a death sentence. Since antiretroviral medications become available, it is no longer a killer. Medication is key and HIV is now considered a treatable, manageable chronic illness. While medication is accessible in richer countries, in developing nations we still see an unacceptable mortality rate. The second misconception is the one I am living – that a relationship with someone who is HIV-positive is not possible. I am here to say YES, YES, YES it is. My boyfriend Shaun says if he had not understood HIV, he would have missed the greatest love of his life.

You both have been open about your relationship, and his HIV status, which happens to be negative. What are your thoughts on being a serodiscordant couple?

It’s possible, very, very, possible. Obviously I don’t look at Shaun as being negative. I look at him as being educated enough to understand you can have a healthy and extremely happy life loving someone who has a condition, but deserves to be loved just like everyone else. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of investing your time in someone who is living with HIV. Anyone, just like us, could find themselves in the grips of the love of their lifetime.

You are now a role model for some and an HIV advocate for others. How are you embracing your new roles?

I am so excited to be able to help and I am taking it all in stride. When I wrote to Piers Morgan, CNN and copied in the Sydney Star Observer, I did not expect the ground swell of support that poured in from around the world. It is truly amazing the messages of support I have received but the stories of heartbreak leave me in tears. Scared, bewildered and lonely HIV positive people tell me I am the first person they have been able to confide in. I have the best possible network of support and I am aware that many people do not, so sharing my story is in part for them.

You have also just recently become a “poz” model for Jack Mackenroth’s HIV dating website, Volttage.com. Why did you decide to be a part of it?

Model hardly, Shaun is the sexy fella, but I do put my hand up to raise awareness. Volttage.com is a dating site for people living with HIV. The idea is to feel comfortable online without having to deal with the stigma or discrimination directed our way on other sites. Jack has taken the lead on HIV awareness for many years and HIV education is something so very dear to his heart. Volttage is an extension of that. Since my diagnosis, HIV awareness and education has been a large driver in my visibility. With the right education, HIV is not something to be afraid of.