One Tough Pirate –
Bob Bowers, also known as “Da Pirate,” is a 25-year thriving survivor of HIV/AIDS. Bob is a well respected National youth HIV/AIDS educator in schools and colleges. He is also the Founder and President of HIVictorious, Inc. Recently, we get a chance to chat with Bob about life, tats and more . . .
Tell us a little about you
I was infected in 1983. While my family and friends knew my status, I kept a low profile because of the various stigmas associated with being POZ. I got married the first time in 1990 – we were a sero-discordant couple and we worked through those challenges. In 1999, my best man died – he was my 40th friend to die from AIDS – it was time to speak out. I began speaking in high schools and in April 2005 we founded HIVictorious. We seek to offer a message of prevention through education, survival, hope and compassion for those affected.
What do you think is the biggest challenge around HIV/AIDS?
The stigma – It’s not who you are, it’s what you do that puts you at risk. That’s why we launched What If It Were You? There are a lot of issues around sex, transmission, gays, and addictions. Some of the issues we address that drive the epidemic are racism, homophobia, poverty, domestic violence and addiction. It is important that youth and adults for that matter understand the correlation between these issues and HIV/AIDS.
What do you say to those that think they can just take a pill?
It is amazing how many people think they aren’t at risk. Many still think it’s a gay disease. And at the same time – we are seeing studies where 1 in 4 teens has a STI – sexually transmitted infection – increasing their risk to HIV.
I talk with kids at high schools I bring along my meds. At one point, I was taking 65 pills a day along with multiple injections. With current advances, I am down to 12 pills a day. But drugs have side effects, they have toxicity issues – they can cause liver failure. I have had friends who either couldn’t handle the side effects or ultimately succumbed to liver failure from all the meds.
What is the biggest challenge of being a sero-discordant couple?
The fear – what if I possibly infect my wife? But we have knowledge. I won’t let an HIV test tell me who to love. And newly infected people worry about will anyone date me? Would anyone want to marry me?
I am empowered by treatment and a reduced viral load. I think it’s better to know one’s status and take precautions. That is better than simply assuming someone is negative and being wrong or engaging in risky behavior with a stranger.
Those are some serious tats!
The tattoos are a great ice breaker. And folks with tattoos understand stigmas. They get what it is like to be judged. I got my first tattoo when I was 26. I disclosed I was POZ. Most artists understand they need to be careful and prudent. The industry has guidelines to ensure safety. There has been no reported case of being infected in a professional tattoo chair. The risk is greater for the home grown types, as they are more likely to share equipment.
I have only run into 2 artists that wouldn’t work on me, they were kinda freaked out. But I don’t imagine they actually know the status of all those walking through their doors. I was up front and honest. I currently work with a great artist and it’s not an issue.
What advice do you have for someone who has recently tested positive?
- Never lose hope – I am a 25 year survivor. There are over 30 treatment options on the market, if one doesn’t work try another.
- Take Charge – Be proactive, become informed, work with your doctor and seek out the support of an ASO – AIDS Service Organization.
- Deal with your issues – If there is an addiction, seek help. We know folks are more likely to skip meds or engage in unsafe behavior when they are drunk or high.
My motto is Live to Tell the Tale. I’ve been given a wondrous gift. I get to talk to people. I get to reach kids. I have an amazing wife. HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. I don’t know where I’d be, if my life had taken a different path
Get tested and remember ultimately compassion is our cure.