Biohazard tattoo, 1995.
To The Surface shares the stories of people who tested HIV positive in their teens and twenties. I began this project as a teenager, and so our conversations are between peers working to better understand themselves and the world around them, to ascertain under complex circumstances a way to live. I met many of the participants at BAY Positives when I worked there as an intern. This group is by no means a statistically accurate representation of people touched by this virus. They are a good reflection only of the member base of BAY Positives in 1995, not of current trends in infection and certainly not of the global pandemic. I hope, however, that these stories transcend the lines of identity and serve as a valuable resource for all young people.
Positive youth face unique challenges in constructing worlds for themselves that are safe and authentic. At a time when many young people are exploring the world and beginning to solidify their identity, these folks stood face to face, simply, with the possibility of their own deaths. The nine people who committed to this project, all under thirty when we first met, have generously shared their fears, challenges, and triumphs.
Early on in 1995 one participant, Stella, wrote to me:
I was impressed by your compassion, understanding, knowledge, and the grace with which you handled yourself. You asked me questions in such a way that I felt comfortable being open and honest with you. I felt as though you listened. The things I discussed with you are my life, they are my secrets, and what make me who I am. I appreciate you listening and letting me share everything.
In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche writes:
Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence, they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height, there is only one possible place to land: on the ground; the ground of truth. Falling is in no way a disaster but the discovery of an inner refuge.
The dream that remains so powerful for me is that some measure of what I have learned from these nine people, who search in deliberate, and often painful ways, for their own truths will be passed on to you. In the intimacy of a city park at dusk, an apartment, or BAY Positives, people shared their secrets, fears, and dreams. I aim to represent with honesty and integrity their stories. I extend my deepest love and thanks to Bay Area Young Positives and to all the people who lead me on this journey.Back to top