Cure Chronicles Episode 11: Janeli Alejandra

The Cure Chronicles: HIV with Janeli Alejandra

Janeli is an HIV advocate, TikToker, and a mother of three who was diagnosed with HIV in 2010. Janeli shares her experience to build awareness and give people living with HIV hope.

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Today the Cure Chronicles is joined by Janeli Alejandra, a TikToker and mother of three. Janeli was diagnosed with HIV in 2010. She fell in love and did not let the fact that her soon-to-be husband was living with HIV stop her from marrying him. They were cautious throughout the relationship, but shortly after getting married, Janelli tested positive for HIV. It took her some time to get to where she is now, but she decided to start sharing her story on TikTok to give others helpful information and hope for the future. Today, Janeli is an HIV advocate both on social media and in her real life.

Jeff Galvin: Janelli, thank you so much for joining me today on The Cure Chronicles.

Janeli Alejandra: Thanks for having me.

Jeff Galvin: It’s really our pleasure, and I gotta say, I was really struck by your story, because when I really looked into the articles and read some of the things that you've written, you know, it occurs to me that your story is a love story with a twist or with a complication, right? A challenge. 

And I think everybody in the world can identify with that. I mean, the most famous Shakespeare play, right, it's all about love with the complications that come with it. And it's really interesting how well you put everything in perspective surrounding that story. But go ahead and, for the benefit of folks that haven't heard of you already, give us the background on your husband and your family.

Janeli Alejandra: Of course, yeah. So I'm Janelli. I have been living with HIV for about 12 years now, about as long as I've been married, and that's kind of important to the story, because I met my husband in college. We were amongst the same friends. I came down here to San Antonio from Dallas for school, saw him on the first day of orientation, I had that punch in my gut feeling, everything stopped, and I was like, that's him. 

And I remember hearing that word and thinking like, out loud, that's him. Like, he's not even that cute [Laughter]. Like, I was like, not my type, not my time. He's very, very handsome now.

Jeff Galvin: Yeah, he's quite handsome.

Janeli Alejandra: He's quite handsome, but, you know, back then, he was, you know, I had like this, I was not, not what I was into, like super grungy, he was barefoot on stage, leading like this orientation talk. It was just like, totally not my type. 

Anyway, I met around the same circle of friends, and then I found out through mutual friends and activities we did together on campus that he liked me, and I was like, okay, well, I don't know where this is gonna go. Lo and behold, we start kind of dating a little bit, you know, just casually, and I'm kind of like, "Hey, it's not going to the next step, he's not being serious, what's going on?" And finally, on Valentine's Day of all days, he made me a lobster dinner and made this beautiful dinner, and he was like, "Hey, come over and we just, you know, we're chatting," and I was like, "What's going on with us, why can't we go to the next step?" 

And he just started bawling and crying and said, "I'm dying." And I said, "What do you mean you're dying?" He said, "Well, I have HIV." Then I heard someone say, "Well, you have HIV, you're not dying." And I realized that person was me. It was like a complete out-of-body experience. It was pretty crazy. 

Jeff Galvin: Yeah, the shock must have been incredible.

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, exactly. So, I had been educated about HIV and sex from a very early age. My mom was a practice manager for an OB/GYN. She saw tons of young teenage girls come in, get pregnant, get STDs, not understanding how they got it. So, she made sure that me and my siblings were super educated and given kind of like the hard truth about sex and everything early on. 

So, I wasn't really scared of... I don't want to say I wasn't scared of STDs, but I was educated about them. You know, I approached them from that sense. Anyway, he says, "Okay, you know, I understand if you don't want to be with me anymore," and I thought, "I don't... I don't know. I'm already in love with this guy. I really, truly was." And so, we kind of... He let me... He drove me back to campus, and then he was like, "You know, I'll leave it up to you." I was like, "I can't stop thinking about you. You're the guy for me." And so, we kept dating. 

And apparently, I did... I just learned this a few years ago, was that he, in his mind, thought any minute, any day, she's gonna break up with me. Well, I didn't. And about a year later, he proposed to me, and I said yes if you get on treatment, because I know you're not consistent with your treatment right now. He hadn't been consistent with it. He was too nervous. I think it takes a while to really commit, right, to treatment, now that I know that. 

So anyway, we go to his appointment. He gets on treatment. He had just started. And then, this was in March. We move in together. We set the date in March for our wedding to happen in July. Super quick engagement. In May, we moved in together. And we engage with sex with condoms, and the condom broke. And so, we didn't find out until well after that there was quite a bit of exposure, for lack of a better word. He wasn't undetectable yet. He hadn't gotten that call. 

So, we talked to the doctor about it. He said, "Be careful. Use condoms, but just be careful." So, we're thinking, "We're two young kids. We're like, 'All right.'" They said, "Yes. Let's do it." So, we were really careful about it. And all before then, we were incredibly careful. And actually, we were very sexually active because of it, because we were both too nervous. 

Anyway, when the exposure happened, I thought, "You know what? He's on meds. I'm sure it'll be okay. I know he's not really undetectable, but I'm sure it wasn't that much. I'm sure it'll be fine." And he begged me to go to the hospital. He's like, "Let's go. I don't know what they can do." I'm thinking, "There's nothing they can do, right? There's nothing that they can do." But there was...there's an exposure prophylaxis, which I didn't know about.

So anyway, cut to you know ever, I seem fine. I go, I go get a test, everything's fine. Did it wait long enough to get the test, so I'm like okay, I'll just keep going and see, you know, for three months and see what happens. We get married, we're newlyweds, we're enjoying life, still have this kind of thing in the back of our heads that could be haunting us. It gets to about September and I go for a checkup and I tell them I need to get tested. They test me, I get a call the next day and I'm like, for sure something's wrong. I'm like cancer, like it's something else, like I never... yeah, I did not want to think it was HIV because I was so scared.

We had sold both my parents and his parents on this idea that we would be a mixed status couple, that was kind of how they felt comfortable with us moving forward. We were both very close-knit Latino families, you know, our parents kind of knew everything, we were honest about our situation. But it was kind of like, we'll get married with the caveat of we're gonna be a mixed status couple. 

So anyway, I get the results, I'm positive, it was really tough, just like any kind of diagnosis, it was traumatic and for us, it was really... it was hard because it really forced us to have conversations that we didn't have. I mean when you're newlyweds, you kind of have lots of conversations, you think, dang, why didn't we think of this before we got married, but when you add this to it, it was really tough and he completely understood of us thinking that we might separate, and we kind of did temporarily. We were just like, I just need to figure this out.

Jeff Galvin: Wow. 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, I just... I just needed to get my head around it, you know, so we separated for not very long, maybe a couple of weeks, and just to kind of get my brain around it.

And I thought, you know, I was willing to marry this man and everyone asked me why. They're like, why? People who knew him by the status, they were like, why would you marry him? And I thought, you know, Jake is Jake, right? If I could cut HIV out of him, I would, and I would still marry him. And I thought, you know, we are still who we are, we are not HIV. If I could cut this out of us and move on, he would still be the person I choose. So that's really what kind of led us to where we are today, with three children all HIV-negative, living a pretty boring life, just here in Texas, raising our kids, running them. 

Jeff Galvin: That can't be boring, three kids, right?

Janeli Alejandra: No, I mean, it's not, they're solid.

Jeff Galvin: Let's call it a normal life, right? 

Janeli Alejandra: Normal life, we'll do that, yeah, we'll do normal. You know, we play referees between the kids, making sure they don't kill each other, and then we also, you know, love movie nights and just snuggling on the couch, it's just a regular thing. 

And so, there's a saying that another HIV-positive creator says that he's like, "I forget I'm HIV-positive until I take my meds at night," and it's so true, because you really do, especially once you reach an undetectable viral load, you kind of forget. 

Like, I go to the doctor every six months. The only time it was really kind of always over my head especially was when I was pregnant, but that was really more my own paranoia and fear. The doctors all along were like, "you're gonna be fine." 

Anyway, that was quite a long-winded answer, but that's where we are today.

Jeff Galvin: Hey, you just saved me asking all the follow-up questions. She told a great story there, but my mind is full of questions, so let me start.

First of all, I love this. It was love at first sight. Yeah, wow. I mean, he knew this is the guy for you, even though he wasn't wrapped the way he could be wrapped, right? Like somehow you just, I don't know what it is, it's like it was actually like souls meeting. That's really, yeah, a very cool part of the story. And then, um, you know, it's also interesting that it was really hard for him to come clean with you about his HIV status. Right? Now, he was being really, really careful, but he was keeping it all inside of himself, right? When in fact, what's amazing is how supportive you ended up being about it, and that you just happened to have a background where, again, you were kind of meant for him, right? This was, you know, all of these things were still open discussions.

Jeff Galvin: Now, what struck me was that he knew he was HIV positive, he had been diagnosed with HIV for a while, and he wasn't good about taking his antiretrovirals, and you said you feel like it takes some time to get used to that idea or whatever. Like, yeah, what is it that prevents people from just jumping on, you know, especially the latest meds? What was stopping him, in your mind, or even information that you know since then, if it's okay for you to talk about it?

Janeli Alejandra: From my conversations with him and with other people who are newly diagnosed, we have to remember that getting diagnosed with HIV is quite traumatic, and it often, not always, but it often comes from a place of extreme vulnerability, which is sexual, right? So there might be some fear there with your sexuality. You know, maybe you're not fully out of the closet because that intimidates gay men, but you know you might just be dealing with it. And I think as an American society, we're still not quite open-minded about sex in a really positive way.

Jeff Galvin: You bring up something very interesting. 

Janeli Alejandra: I'm sorry, no, it's okay. 

Jeff Galvin: Because I just want to point this out is that, yeah, I mean, you just hit the first stigma point, right? Like, you know what's the first question you think of when somebody gets HIV, especially if they're male, yep, right? And yet it is just a stigma, it has no connection with reality, and yet it remains from even the 80s where it was considered a gay disease, right? 

Okay, so anyway, he's dealing with it, and so yeah, I think he was just dealing with how it happened for him, and then also, like you said, it's much easier to just keep living your life, especially since he had no symptoms. He’s had to this day, he's had no symptoms, right? So he didn't have to deal with it, and it wasn't until, you know, he was met with the possibility of being with someone new who didn't know about it, who he didn't have to report his HIV status to, because he called everybody and was like, "Hey, I'm going to be honest with you. I'm sorry this is what happened. Go get tested." And I was kind of like a new piece, like an anonymous piece of a whole bunch…

Jeff Galvin: He was trying to keep you out of that group.

Janeli Alejandra: He was, correct. Yeah, like he was. I was a new person. He didn't have to ever tell me if he didn't want to unless he wanted to keep going further. So, it really wasn't until I challenged him and was like, "Look, I know you like me. Like, you made this lobster dinner for me dude on Valentine's Day." 

Jeff Galvin: "Yeah, you're not hiding your affection very well. And I can tell you're attracted to me also. Yeah, there's little breadcrumbs here, so, yes, like what's going on?"

Janeli Alejandra: And that's kind of where it was. I can't tell you why I didn't while we were dating push him to go get treatment. I would bring it up, and I could tell it was just so painful for him that I didn't want to. I was too nervous. I figured, you know what? That's bigger than me. I don't know what I could do.

Jeff Galvin: This is really interesting. Yeah, like you, he was having trouble putting pressure on himself to go ahead and get treatment, you know, to become fully suppressed of the virus, right? And you even were hesitant to put pressure on him because you could feel it. You could actually empathize with it. What is it? 

Janeli Alejandra: It's stigma. 

Jeff Galvin: It's stigma. What are the characteristics? What's the wall that people are having trouble breaking through here? 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, I hear you. It's what I mentioned before, right? So my husband, at that time, he's since grown. He was incredibly, you know, ashamed of his past sexual history. I think he had a lot of shame about it. And so, just like you said, he wanted to keep me separate because he was like, "You are going to be my wife one day." I, you know, he kind of almost put me on this pedestal that I eventually had to be like, "Dude, don't put me here. I'm on the ground with you." 

But he, I think he had to deal with just the stigma of or the shame that he had to deal with. And by kind of facing his previous actions, his, you know, what he did as a young college guy, just like not thinking, like he's, you know, living careless and free. And so, yeah, I would say it was that. And for me, I was also, I didn't know about his sexual history too much other than, obviously, he had been at one time, he was promiscuous and was careless and that he didn't use protection. And I didn't want to think about it, really, honestly, too. And then also, I just felt like that was really his kind of his, it had to be in his court. It didn't matter if I, like, dragged him to the clinic and made him take medicine, and the ball really had to be in his court until he proposed to me, and I was like, "Okay."

Jeff Galvin: You really have a stake in it at that point.

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, right. Exactly. I basically told him, I said, "I am not marrying you to be a widow."

Jeff Galvin: That's another really great point. So he breaks down that night and says that he's dying. I mean, like nobody who's diagnosed with HIV anymore needs to think of themselves as dying, right? I mean, am I correct about that?

Janeli Alejandra: From what I know, yeah.

Jeff Galvin: From everything I know, you get on treatment and you basically have a normal lifespan. And in fact, you know, here's a bunch of other things that come out in your story. So if he had immediately gotten on antiretroviral therapy and taken it, taken it religiously, he would have probably established such a low level of viremia that he would be uninfectious. 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, yeah, because, because it happens, let's be honest about it. Like every, and it's not just, you know, guys. It's people, you know, when you're young, you're out there, you're living your life, and you're doing, you know, you're exploring.

Jeff Galvin: It's a time of experimentation.

Janeli Alejandra: Totally, 100 percent. And I think at a, at a very, at that young age, like I, like I felt even, and even though I was married to this person, I got married very young. He's about four years older than me. I got married at 21. He was about 25. And I even felt when I was exposed, like, I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be fine. Yes, there's like this, but I'm sure like my body's just gonna like-

Jeff Galvin: Well, look, I mean, that's the thing is that, yeah, you know, we're actually evolved to ignore reality when the pain is too much, right? You know, there is actually like a mechanism in there where we can detach from, from that until we're ready to deal with it, right? I mean, your journey includes going right in there and dealing with it, not just for him, but for yourself as well. So that's an important thing, you know, that your story brings across. Hey, get on treatment. It's not as bad as it sounds, and forget about it. Like, we all own and feel some guilt or shame or whatever, about all different aspects of our past, and the taboo subject of sex, there's no place where there's more sort of untethered shame or, you know, misunderstanding or whatever than something that, you know, we still haven't managed to talk about openly in our society.

You notice like if you go to Europe, there's a lot more openness about sex. 

Janeli Alejandra: Yes.

Jeff Galvin: You go to Japan, there's less, right? 

Janeli Alejandra: It depends on where you are. 

Jeff Galvin: Yeah, it depends on where you are, but we're somewhere in the middle. And the reality is that we're not getting educated in ways that could be really beneficial as we deal with the complexities of making real-life decisions as young adults. So anyway, so lesson number one is, hey, get on the meds. Lesson number two is the post-exposure, right?

I get it that you didn't know it. I didn't know until I started working at AGT and we started handling HIV in our laboratory because we have post-exposure prep here. 

Janeli Alejandra: Oh, okay, right.

Jeff Galvin: Because somebody could get a needle stick, and if they immediately take a high dose and it's a sickly dose by the way.

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, it's quite intense. 

Jeff Galvin: It is. It's intense. Um, but worth it, right? To reduce your chance from one exposure is about a 10% chance of getting it. Yeah, right, you know in most cases but right, you know this is too much.

Janeli Alejandra: And I think that's a huge lesson to take too. Um, and what I want to say also is when my husband went to treatment, I mean, his viral load was so high, it was in the hundreds of thousands, it was so high. 

Jeff Galvin: Wow.

Janeli Alejandra: And his CD4 count was quite low. It wasn't at AIDS level yet, but it was quite low. So it does take a little bit to get there and I just think that  it was a scary time for us even when we went to go get treatment to see like, "Wow, this is how bad it's gotten, right? This is could have stopped this sooner." And the doctor was honest, he was like, "Why didn't you just come sooner?" And he wasn't saying it in like a…

Jeff Galvin: Judgmental way?

Janeli Alejandra: Not in a judgmental way exactly, it was like a, you know, kind of like, "Don't you know about this education?" Similar to what you're saying. 

Jeff Galvin: Oh, it’s so easy to not know all this stuff, it's so easy in our society, right? Especially, like, you know, with the stigma around HIV, people don't talk about it. That's what's so wonderful about this conversation is we can talk about what we know, and maybe that's adding to other people's knowledge of this.

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah. And that's why I do the whole TikTok thing and on social media. I'm going to talk about it because no one else has or no one else will, and even the ones that are talking about it, we're still quite small, we're a small but mighty group, you know. And yeah, we're doing it, but we kind of need everyone else's buy-in, because I think it's one thing to get someone who is living with it to talk about it and say it's fine, it's also another thing to get folks who maybe either are quite technically far removed from it, they have very low exposure like or at risk, just to kind of talk about it's fine, you're going to be fine.

Look at it this way:  the worst-case scenario happened to us. We can track it down to approximately that one time that it happened, we can't think of any other time it could have happened to us, but it can happen to you if you are not being careful. You're, you're just, you've slipped up once and you didn't wear a condom. Look, it happens, let's stop pretending like it's a really bad thing that doesn't happen, it can happen to anyone. 

I look like just any regular old person out there, you know, when I drop my kids at school, I look like the other parents that drop them off, I don't look any different. I have some tattoos and…

Jeff Galvin: But that's not different anymore either. 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, not anymore. Exactly, I look just like pretty much like the other parents so it's just kind of like it doesn't, it doesn't make you, it doesn't turn you into a unicorn or anything like that, like you're just a regular person, right? 

Jeff Galvin: You're not a pariah, you're not somebody who's destined for something bad. You know you can have three kids that are HIV-free. This is actually quite normal. 

A lot of people don't realize that too. A big question when people get their diagnosis is can I have kids? 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah.

Jeff Galvin: And the answer is absolutely yes and the prospects for a well-suppressed mother to have an HIV-free child is nearly a hundred percent. It's almost, you're  probably more likely to get in a car accident on the way to the hospital. 

Janeli Alejandra: Sure. 

Jeff Galvin: Which is really, you know, something it's very important for people to know that. And you're so approachable. 

Janeli Alejandra: Oh, thanks.

Jeff Galvin: I love that you're doing TikTok because I think that you're really telling a message that is very important in your generation and for people that will look at you and go, "Oh yeah, I can identify with her, and then I can be open to her message, right? I can, you know, educate myself and be more about it." 

You know it's really interesting, like you said, you actually called it the worst case. Like we're living with the worst case and I'm like, "Yeah, but that's the whole point. It's not that bad."

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, right. And that's one of my points in saying that when you looked at us, everyone was afraid that this would happen. Everyone was afraid that I would get it and I did.

Jeff Galvin: And your family was supportive.

Janeli Alejandra: They really were.

Jeff Galvin: They were so they were supportive in one way but in another way, they were super nervous. Like they kept on telling you, "Don't do it", right? But they seemed really supportive and you said it's all a close family and you were open about everything.

Janeli Alejandra: Right, we were.

Jeff Galvin: And he was open with his family about it and they were supportive of him. I mean, that's terrific of him I think. 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, of course, that there's a shock that comes to it and everything like that, and I think that they definitely had more questions when they met me. They knew I knew about it, you know, they were kind of like, "Does she really know what she's getting into?" And I think my parents had the same question.

I remember after we were married and when I was diagnosed, I didn't tell anyone for about a year other than my husband, and then I finally told my mother. And I remember crying about it, and she was just like, "I knew this would happen." I was kind of like, "What do you mean?" And she was like, "I had to accept that this could be a reality in order for me to move on," she goes, "because then I realized so what if you do? You take a pill, you're gonna be fine."

Jeff Galvin: Okay, so at least the back half of that story…

Janeli Alejandra: Yes, it was good. I promise, I'm like, "Follow me there, it's gonna be good, I promise." 

I'm a parent now and I get it. If my daughter were to come to me and tell me that the person she's madly in love with has a really scary disease, because let's face it, although yes, you know, it's like it was in the media, it was kind of like, "okay, all right, well, all right, well, what do we do here?" 

And I remember when we came out to my parents with it, my parents, they were so loving. My dad, you know, big Mexican guy, and my husband's a very skinny, small Mexican guy, so he was kind of nervous approaching this conversation. But we were hanging out on Saturday night drinking some tequila because my dad did not know what was coming and that we were just having a typical fun family get-together. And my husband and I say, like, "mom, now we have something to tell you," and  of course they think, "oh my god, she's pregnant." No, that’s not the case. So my husband kind of stops me, he's like, "I need to be the one to say it, you know, like, thank you, but I need to be the one to tell them because this was, we had just gotten engaged so my husband wanted to make sure that he told them.

Jeff Galvin: He was going to be, uh, he was going to be the face of this.

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah.

Jeff Galvin: That's amazing, yeah, no wonder you fell in love with him.

Janeli Alejandra: I know, he’s a good guy.

Jeff Galvin: Yeah, I've seen all the emotion on your face, it's really amazing, like, even when you're telling parts of the story where you can tell it was exceedingly hard on you, you can absolutely see it in your face.

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, it's been a journey, you know, like any other thing. So he tells them, and we assure them, at that time I was negative and the plan was to stay that way, and my mom, she just stood up and hugged him and she said, "I'm so sorry this happened to you, but you're gonna be okay", and my dad was very silent, which is not my dad, so I thought, "oh god, what's what's going on?" and he said, "okay, let me think about this", he goes, he looked at my husband, he goes, "you have it", and he looked at me, he goes, and "you still love him and you still want to get married," and I said, "yeah, I do," and he said, "I can't get in the way of that, that is true love, so I will be here."

Jeff Galvin: So he actually, yeah, he looked at it in terms of the strength of your bond, right?

Janeli Alejandra: Correct.

Jeff Galvin: You know, it's amazing, like he could see this as a test?

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah. They’re some good parents.

Jeff Galvin: So this was just the announcement that you were going to get married, and this is why your husband came up front in that. What about when you went and you told your mom about your diagnosis? Was that by yourself or how did you do that?

Janeli Alejandra: So, the timeline is engaged in March of 2010. Exposed like around May, like, uh, oh gosh, what's that holiday that happens in May? Is it Memorial Day weekend? Like, around then. He started treatment in like late April, so that's kind of the timeline of it. We got married in July, so very quick things are happening, right? 

So we got married legally and had a tiny ceremony, and we're a giant Mexican family, we needed to save up money, so we said in a year we'll have the big wedding. 

So fall happens, later that year I get diagnosed the following May, so like around the date of my, actually the same, I just realized the same weekend about of the what we think is the exposure, we're quite sure that that was the only time it could happen, Memorial Day weekend, my mom was throwing me a bridal shower with the whole family, and we were getting ready to go, and she could tell, I hadn't really seen her and spent a lot of time with her since then, and she was like, "What's going on?" And so I just, we're just sitting on her bed, and I just started crying, I told her, and she was like, "I knew this could happen, and it's okay. You're gonna be fine, and he's gonna be fine. Now let's go outside and help me take the stuff outside so we can have this party. Like, get it together." 

Jeff Galvin: Yeah, see, this is the thing, like you're very readable. I suspect for your mother, it's kind of amazing that you were able to go a whole year without her knowing.

Janeli Alejandra: Probably because I hadn't seen her, probably because I was finishing, you know, I was in my last year of college, and I was finishing it up, and I hadn't seen her, and yeah, I can't, I'm a very honest person. I can't keep anything as a secret. 

Jeff Galvin: I can sympathize or empathize with that, or relate to it, whatever the correct term is. Yeah, that's just amazing. Like, your parents really stepped up, right? 

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah.

Jeff Galvin: And supportive parents come in every shape and size and every background and whatever. And this is another very tough thing that's, I guess, part of the stigma, right, is like, okay, you know, can I count on my support network still, and you know, how do I bring them in on this? That must have been a very tough thing for everybody, but your story is also beautiful in the way that they all start.

Janeli Alejandra: Very lucky. Yeah, I'm very lucky. I know other folks, so you know, we are, my husband and I are Mexican-American. My mother was born in Mexico. My father was born in the U.S., but his parents were from Mexico and so we are a very tight-knit family, and culturally, you know, sex is quite a taboo. Women, you know, we can get into there's a whole separate conversation, but you know, Latino women are supposed to be these like sexy, voluptuous women who are somehow still very pure and never have sex ever, like, but somehow push out a bunch of kids.

Jeff Galvin: Like, what’s wrong with this picture?

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah, it’s a bit, and that’s sort of the thing. We are not talking about sex. But sex happens, you guys, and then, men, you know, like Latino men, like my husband, are supposed to be these wild, you know, Casanovas. So it's kind of hard to, like, let's have a real conversation about sex and then the consequences of sex, like sometimes STDs happen and what do you do to combat them?

So, I think that what's also really important is that if you know of a family member who is either, you know, has never been tested, has an STD or HIV (and let's just talk about HIV), you know, take them in, you know, embrace them, hug them, tell them that you love them, because they need to hear it, they especially if you have a very tight-knit family, which is quite typical of pretty much, I think any family, right? 

But take that person in. If you know their story, if they have kind of bared their soul with you and share such an intimate part of themselves with you, you really kind of have to go a little bit, I don't want to say above and beyond, but really put yourself out there and show them that you're going to show up for them.

One of the most loving things a friend of mine did was when I had first told her, you know, "I'm dating Jake, he's actually to be positive," she wasn't the first person I told, she wasn't one of my best friends at the time. She was like, "Let's go get tested," and I was like, "Well no, there's no exposure." She goes, "I don't care, you need to get used to this, like let's go get tested." And so she took me and we got tested together. 

Go do that. If you know your friends or you know, or your cousins, your people who you love, around those, go get tested. That way at least if it's bad news, you guys have each other, but really just so you guys can get used to it and doing it in a group is probably gonna help.

Jeff Galvin: Wow, okay, so that, you know, I'm gonna, I'll tell you, I'm gonna wrap up the interview here, because this is really great advice and if you don't mind me drawing one more conclusion, I'll let you have the final word here, but the theme that I hear is that do not let HIV, the stigma of HIV with, you know, on top of the stigma of sexuality in general, get in the way of loving relationships, whether it is between you and your husband, you know, you and your boyfriend, you and your friend, you and your daughter, you and your mother, that the reality of this should allow us to continue to connect in the way that we always have and to love one another.

Janeli Alejandra: Yes.

Jeff Galvin: And there's great medications out there, there's great support systems, there's an awesome TikTok channel that we're going to put in the video here, and get up there and get some perspective on all this stuff. I'm talking to our audience right now, there's a lot of really good information out there.

I've had the honor and privilege of meeting a lot of people that are dealing with a diagnosis of HIV and dealing with it in an incredible way and living richer, and normal lives, but even richer lives than they could have without coming to grips with this, or even then, a lot of people who just live in fear. So you know, the truth and really understanding this is really worthwhile. I really got that from our discussion.

Jeff Galvin: Is there anything you'd like to add before we take this to a close?

Janeli Alejandra: No. I think that you said it really, really well in that don't let HIV get in the way of your relationships, no matter where your role in that relationship is. If you are the mother of a child who has HIV, don't let that scare you. Be the person to kind of wrap your arms around them and tell them it's going to be okay and help them. If you're the spouse, if you're the significant other, if you're the sibling, whatever role you play in the role of loving somebody with or living with HIV, don't let HIV get in your way.

And don't let it get in the way of loving yourself either. It's not something to be ashamed of. 

Jeff Galvin: Excellent point. We forget that loving yourself is an important loving relationship as well, isn't it? 

Janeli Alejandra: Getting tested and getting on treatment is an incredible act of self-love. So especially if, let's say you haven't gotten a diagnosis yet, but getting tested is what I say is one of the most responsible, most radical forms of self-love you can do for yourself, because you are taking care of yourself.

Jeff Galvin: Well said, and I really enjoyed this discussion. I learned a lot, and it was such a pleasure meeting you. And I hope we'll talk again because now that I've had this discussion on HIV stigma with you, and you brought up the idea of just sexuality and sexual stigma, I think it's related. And wow, it just seems like you understand the full gamut of this stuff. That's like a whole other interview

Janeli Alejandra: Yeah. Next time, I'll bring Jake, I'll bring my husband. He can talk about it. 

Jeff Galvin: Oh, fantastic. Yeah, I love it. All right, well, thanks again, and I'll see you again sometime.

Janeli Alejandra: Thank you guys so much. Thank you.

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