This interview is going to be harder to write. There many struggles that the queer community are faced with every single day. One of the most notable struggles thus far, is the AIDS crisis. Whilst the first reported case was over 40 years ago, there is still such stigma and misinformation surrounding the virus. Following the recent offensive and homophobic comments by Dababy, I wanted to bring this already intended interview forward to help raise some more awareness of the subject.
This brings me onto the interviewee, Jay Hawkridge. We met each other recently at a TikTok event, as he has made a sizeable following for himself focussed on breaking down the stigma around HIV/AIDS. His positive attitude, enjoyable personality and career as a sex worker meant that Jay, for me, was the perfect person to speak to.
As always, let’s start with our icebreakers:
1. 1.What’s the one thing that never fails to make you smile?
Cameron Diaz films.
2. What animal best represents your personality?
A lion. I’ve spent the last few years growing fro a cheeky cub into a confident, and strong, adult. I stand proud with all aspects, especially my status.
3. On a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling today?
Like a 10, baby. Every day is a blessing, if you re-frame your perspective.
These answers already give a pretty decent insight into Jay’s newly found view on the world, one that I think could help a lot of people, especially those coming to terms with their status. Anyway, Jay’s story starts with a one-night stand, where he not long afterwards discovered he had tested positive for HIV. “It was the reality that I had no prior knowledge of HIV that took me aback” he said, which is a common reaction. There is still such little education surrounding the subject that many people hear those dreaded 3 letters and think it’s as good as a death sentence. He then delved into the history of the epidemic 40 years prior, “I stayed in a permanent state of anxiety” he continued, “‘How could I be so unprepared?’ was the one resounding question that kept me awake at night”. Many questions rushed through his mind blaming all sorts of scenarios, which at the time left him feeling lost and alone.
“Where did the gap in education begin, and could it have trickled down so far to result in me living with HIV?” He asked himself, which was actually the next thing I asked him. Jay’s TikTok profile focusses all the content around sexual health awareness, something that many young queer people are not exposed too. We get a lot of our ‘education’ from porn, which is of course a very unreliable source of information. “Many were unaware that HIV is still a risk today” much like Jay was. He feels that his relationship with the wider community has only been strengthened by the public nature of his status. “Queer people have a wider understanding of HIV” he explained, but with him being more open about his status he has been able to educate people who are less aware of the subject, as there is a common misconception that HIV is a ‘gay virus’ and heterosexual people are not at risk.
“Like myself, many were unaware that HIV is still a risk today, and that despite modern medication being able to suppress the virus, the lack in STI testing between partners can have life-impacting consequences”.
The process of accepting his status was not an easy one, it took him months. “It was a lengthy process, and one that could never have happened overnight” he admitted, “There are parts of this you have to go through late at night, alone, as questions rotate behind your eyes like clockwork”. A lot of this process for Jay was shrouded in “guilt, fear and regret”, with many of the moments and ‘what ifs’ playing over and over. The research that ensued these emotions helped Jay reach a place of “acceptance and warmth” whilst knowing that “even this, can bring forward a stronger version of yourself”.
Jay’s determination and resilience throughout this process has helped his positive outlook over his status, and he soon realised that “all the acceptance I needed was inside me, it felt almost an injustice to be keeping it to myself”. It soon clicked for Jay that whilst he was at a place of acceptance and pride with his status, he his pride wasn’t public knowledge, as his status wasn’t either. “If I really was as proud as I am, why wasn’t I sharing this with the world?” He asked himself, which helped get him to a place of wanting to share such resilience and self-acceptance with the world.
“It took me months to accept my status, and to learn to carry it as armour rather than a ball and chain”.
Despite Jay’s growing acceptance of his status, the next hurdle was handling other people’s reactions. The fear around HIV means that many people become scared or apprehensive when dating someone who is positive (despite the virus being completely untransmittable if properly medicated). In Jay’s words, “Dating has been a handful”, which unfortunately isn’t surprising. “I tell every partner before sex that I’m living with HIV, out of respect” he admitted, “I’ve always established a place of comfortability with a partner, and naturally sharing my status is key to a partner seeing the real me”. Your status is nothing to be be ashamed of nor is there any risk if you’re medicated, so there should be no reason to hide it from a potential partner.
The difficulty with dating has been less about Jay’s status itself, but more how much content about it there is online. “The trap of having so much content available instantly is that, there can be a huge perception of you in a date’s head before they even meet you” he sighed, which is bad enough generally within the online dating world. It’s for this reason that Jay no longer uses any darting apps. He remains comfortable in his own company, but admits that “It gets lonely, naturally, and I’m born for monogamy”. The difficulty with this is that he recognises at our age that fewer people are wanting that sort of commitment. Still, Jay does not let this shake his confidence of self of self. His turbulent journey thus far has helped him to see that he is worth more than being “anybody’s ‘sometimes’”.
“I’m happier, because I’m giving all of my energy in myself and trusting in... the universe, to have my back the way I now have my own back”.
Jay’s TikTok activism was actually founded out of “sheer frustration”. Whilst his publicity surrounding his status has provided Jay with some great journalistic opportunities to raise awareness, he soon realised that something was missing. “I felt I’d hit a wall with this somewhat” he admitted, “what I needed to see at this time, was the reflection that it was going to be okay. That there was other young people going through something similar”. This is what was missing from social media, someone else letting him know that it was going to be ok, so he decided to become that person himself. “I uploaded a one-minute video speaking directly to the camera, saying that I had HIV” he continued, and within a week he was racking up views and followers in support of his story. “I begun discussing terminology, and facts of a modern day diagnosis”, which naturally led to more and more people finding comfort and education in what Jay had to share. Whilst Jay had already began to accept his status for what it was, the positive responses and the online community he began to build only made this stronger.
“Going through this journey in real-time has allowed me to document changes in accepting my status, navigating landscapes such as dating and social media, and everything else that is still very much a part of my identity”.
The next part of Jay’s journey allowed him reintroduce himself with his sexuality. I think most of us are familiar with OnlyFans these days, it’s a valid job and can be a lucrative endeavour, one that Jay sought to involve himself in. He first joined the website following his growing love for his body. “My journey has been a wake-up call to chase my potential” he explained, “and to be my best self, in all aspects”. Jay runs the account by himself and does not collaborate with others. It’s more of a place for him to explore and express his sexuality. “Taking more ownership of my body through my diet and fitness post-diagnosis led to me unlocking a fire to become who I wanted” he admitted, which too helped his sexual confidence as he was showing his love for his body.
“You can’t fake self-love; it radiates”.
The use of OnlyFans meant that none of Jay’s family members would accidentally stumble across anything they didn’t want to see, but allowed him to “easily communicate with people who are actively interested”. Jay has great passion for what he does and truly enjoys it. So this interview is breaking down another stigma too, sex work. He loves what he does, earns a living from it, and harms literally no one. So there shouldn’t be an issue. He admits that his online content is for himself as much as his audience, which he states is apparent the second you log into his page.
“The messages of support, and strength, that I get on there, really reinforce that the sexiest attribute you can ever wear... is confidence in being yourself”.
Following Jay’s journey has been eye opening for many, and I was keen to know what he thinks we, as a community, can do to help us be more inclusive. “I think the most important thing we can do is be open to educating” he stated, which is the most common response to most scenarios in need of awareness. Interestingly, he noted that the most resistance he’s faced regarding his status has actually been from within our community. “The fact that what is supposed to be a safe space for us can be so turbulent shocks me constantly” he sighed. He recognises that the majority of resistance comes from fear. As people, we fear the unknown or what we don’t know much about.
More than that, Jay has been subject to ‘peaching’ by others who morally do not have a leg to stand on. Another stigma that comes along with HIV is that it’s automatically associated with promiscuity. “You’d be shocked at how much I’ve heard about my ‘poor decision’s’ from people who say, use Grindr, daily”. Which is interesting, as the rate that people have hook ups using that app, you can’t be 100% sure you’re safe as some infections take up to 3 months to show up (including HIV). “Unless someone has never engaged in sexual activities without being 100% sure of their partners’ STI status... there’s no stone to throw” he claimed, quite rightfully. Jay admitted that he was fully aware of his own STI status at the time, but he unfortunately put his faith in the wrong person.
“We’re taught by so many to fear HIV, and especially with our community, there are many negative connotations that have (falsely) been attributed between the two that it’s easy to understand a little of the stigma has been passed down”.
For the final part of the interview, I wanted to give Jay the chance to give his unfiltered advice as someone who is HIV positive, to someone else who may be struggling to come to terms with their own status. This is what he had to say:
“Being diagnosed, even today, is tough. There are part you will face alone, either through choice or through isolation... either way, I can promise there is light at the end of the tunnel.
All of my fears pre-becoming public have proved false. I once thought that becoming public with my status would alienate me from society. My friends and family rallied closer. I thought my straight mates would carry the stigma; they were, and are, among the loudest voices to champion my cause, both publicly and privately.
I thought I’d never be loved again. I’d been proved wrong by that, daily. I’ve fallen in love since, and for a few months it was bliss; it ended, but not because of my status. I thought that by being so vulnerable I’d be weaker, and open to the world’s cruelty; I’m stronger than ever, and HIV has become my shield, to which I stand taller than I ever have.
This journey teaches you that the most important love you ever need, comes from within. And once you have that, you’re unstoppable. You can laugh at those that fail to see your worth, and move onwards, confident that something better is coming, because it is. You can look around a crowded room and know who you can depend on, who will have your back. It teaches you love, on all levels.
HIV gives you the strength to know that if you wanted to, you could take on the world... and the wisdom to know that true happiness lays in peace, and being everything to yourself”.
I want to personally thank Jay for sharing his story, both on his platforms and with us here at Happy Smiley. I hope this provides some comfort and education for you, let’s work together to break the stigma around d HIV/AIDS.
Undetectable = Untransmittable
Please feel free to connect with Jay on his various socials / platforms: