I was raped in prison. When they told me I had HIV, I was nineteen years old.

From then until I was twenty-five, I prostituted. It was the only way to get more money to supply my habit. I had a really bad drug addiction. I lost my place because I was indulging in drugs. Any drug to alter my mood was my drug of choice. I’ve dibbled and dabbled with heroin, ecstasy, crack, marijuana, PCP. I’m not proud of it. No one is. I’m learning from the mistakes that I made, and I’m no longer indulging in any drugs. I just want to move forward with my life.

I have been a year clean. I’m working towards getting myself back on the right track, because I know my parents didn’t raise me up to be sleeping on someone’s couch. I plan to get my General Education Diploma. I plan to have a stable roof over my head. I would like to travel. I really would love to go to Paris, to see the Eiffel Tower. As long as you move forward, HIV doesn’t have any control over your life. That’s how I view things.

I took photos looking into my bag, showing different parts of my life: my birth certificate, my medicines, my wallet, my diabetic pills, my makeup. These photos show my everyday struggle, what I have to go through in life. I’m diabetic, I have HIV. I’ve been living as a woman for about five years now. I’ve been taking hormones and I’m using lasers so hair won’t grow on my face.

I never really got teased in school. I never had any problems with kids as far as the stigma that goes along with being transgender and gay. All the kids really liked me. They used to call me Preppy. As I got older, though, I’ve been beaten up because of my gender. But I never really experienced any true hate, ever. It’s always been love. It’s always been that way for me.

I have a really strong spiritual connection. It is just really strong. I don’t know how but in some way I feel as though my higher power speaks to me and through other people. It just makes me feel calm. I don’t know how to explain it, but when I see other people who may be struggling with something in life, I feel their pain. I just do.