“Bless Your Virus” was the theme of Salt Lake Community College counselor Alexander Smith’s presentation on World AIDS Day 2011. The event was held in the Student Event Center on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus on Thursday, December 1. Smith has been a counselor at SLCC for the past six years. He is homosexual, HIV positive and has been diagnosed with AIDS.
He utilized World AIDS Day as a platform to share his personal story and experience with students through speech, music and interpretive dance. Smith’s purpose for the day was to break the bondage of stereotypes and generalizations associated with HIV, as well as raise awareness about it.
“I didn’t do what could have been done. All it takes is one moment to protect yourself,” said Smith about how he was exposed to HIV.
Smith began his story by talking about his childhood and shared how he was theatrical and flamboyant by nature. He knew he was different and wished to be “normal.” Smith recalled that during the holiday season, his sister and he wanted to watch “The Sound of Music” while his brothers fought to watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
While attending school, Smith found himself in a constant state of anxiety. Not only was he growing and changing as a pubescent young man, but he found himself attracted to his fellow male schoolmates. He knew he had to keep these confusing desires to himself, so he suppressed his feelings daily.
In order to hide the uneasiness of being himself, Smith focused on “being really good at things.” His mother bought him a piano and he engulfed himself in the music. Smith found the piano to be the perfect place to express himself.
Smith continued through school and eventually went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said that he believed he should be awarded a Tony for his two-year theatrical performance.
Following his mission, he returned home and attended Brigham Young University. In addition to school, he was in intensive therapy for his homosexual tendencies.
During this time, he had two desires in conflict; he believed in God and the LDS religion, and he was attracted to men. At the age of 29, he was prepared to move forward. He eventually made the courageous decision to choose his attraction and to “bless it.” Six weeks later he had unprotected sex with a partner and became infected with HIV.
Smith recalled the days immediately following the doctor’s diagnosis. He could barely speak, just cry. He read a poem he wrote during that time.
“. . . What is to become of my life? I want to live. . . . . .What will it feel like to hug another human being, knowing I have this disease . . . “
Shortly following this time, Smith began to inject crystal meth. He said it made him feel un-infected and beautiful, when in fact, it was destroying him even more. Smith eventually reached out to his father and has been clean from meth for over four years.
In his initial stages of sobriety, Smith was encouraged to say “hello” to his virus, something he had avoided since the day he found out he was infected.
Smith expressed metaphorically how he stood face to face with his virus, vulnerable, raw and scared.
Smith then stripped down to his underwear on stage and performed an interpretive dance with a red cloak representing HIV.
In the beginning, the cloak appeared to be tormenting his body, but at the conclusion of the dance Smith stood in a tall Superman stance with the cloak around his neck fashioned as a cape. This represented the strength that he has found in his virus and his ability to take on anything.
When asked how he contracted the virus, Smith responds, “By having a human experience.”
The message that Smith is conveying is that we are all human and AIDS can happen to anyone. We all have our own viruses – homelessness, depression, or anxiety. We have a choice every day to live with stigma and fear or blessings.
“Stigma stops today, on World AIDS Day,” Smith said.
Smith is currently on anti-retro viral medications and is considered in the lowest contagion category.