My anger, my apology

In this intensely personal guest post, Juno Roche shares her experience of being HIV+ and transgender.

Content note: this piece discusses drug use in detail.

Recently, I’ve written a couple of pieces that I feel contain real truths but I’ve written them from a place of vulnerability which I have tried to hide with angry opposition. I have called out Gay men, LGBT History Month and a whole plethora of others.


I haven’t slept well for the past couple of nights thinking about it.

As a campaigner informed by her own experiences I think I have handled this one quite badly. I think that there are several  reasons. Being transgender and HIV positive can be a really isolating place and I have experienced so much crap that putting some of it into words brought a whole lot more to the surface, I wasn’t even aware how much.

I wasn’t aware how much I would think about my friend who died of an overdose who scored and tricked with me every day when we needed money. I wasn’t aware that I still tears for them, that the chaos at the time didn’t allow me to cry.

Being transgender and HIV positive can be a really isolating place and I have experienced so much crap that putting some of it into words brought a whole lot more to the surface, I wasn’t even aware how much.

I read a line about a book just about to come out which included the words ‘straitjacket’, it resonated.

Drug addiction or addiction of any kind doesn’t allow you the time to feel, to grieve or to mourn. You are tied up by your own lack of access to your emotions. I never cried for my friend. I didn’t realise how sad that made me. Carrying tears around.

I never had time to cry for myself. My sister visited a while ago, we had a huge argument, she cried and said to me ‘have your tear ducts dried up?’

That made me feel very sad.

I wasn’t aware quite how much the isolation of being trans and HIV had affected me, until I wrote it down. Rather than processing my pain I think I lashed out to hide it, I’m truly sorry for that.  There is inequality and I do want all people to stand up for all people but we do not need to oppose each other to do that. I fell into my own emotive well.

Being trans and HIV has defined so much of my life. I remember prior to surgery thinking that having a vagina could really change my life but then I remembered that I was HIV positive. Being an HIV positive woman seems, from collective experience definitely seems, to place you, me right back at the edges of society.

Out of reach. Out of touch.

I realised when I couldn’t sleep that I missed being touched.

I realised that I envied gay men their collective access to things such as ‘safe undetectable viral load’ on dating & sex apps.  My viral load has been undetectable for 10 odd years and my CD4 at over 500 for too many years to remember but if it meant that I could have intimacy I’d shout that from the rooftops. But in my community it seems to count for so very little. My lack of risk doesn’t translate into intimacy.

I envy the community that gay men have around HIV and AIDS. The structures and systems, the smiles.

I envy that freedom. I wish somehow my life wasn’t the way it was, I wish it had been easy and I suppose if I am truthful I feel embarrassed by some of my past. I’m not sure my experiences selling sex to buy drugs left me with any happy memories but I’d like to openly share the memory of when I found out about my friend, which I should have done rather than setting up brutal oppositions. I was never told where they were buried and I never said goodbye.

‘I never dreamed I’d end up in front of the station agreeing to everything for nothing but a wrap of heroin that didn’t burn. The horrifying moment, with his smell still on your lips, as you watch the brown liquid fizzle into the air.

Noxious, poisonous-chemical. Additives but no drugs.  

I couldn’t afford to cry I had to get back out there, so I headed back to base camp one – my partner in crime’s house, we kept each other safe with the illusion of safety. I knocked at the door and shouted through

‘Euston calling’, our password.

No answer

‘Euston calling’. I tried again a day later and then everyday for a week.

I had to make do that week with my own illusion of no illusion, it was scary without them. I’m not a fighter and my world scared me.

I went up again and a voice called out.

“Piss off junkie, your mate’s dead, he died a week ago and the poor fucking kitten started to chew his finger.”

The kitten, I’d forgotten the kitten.

That sounds hard, I know, but we accepted that we could/should/might/probably would die.

But the kitten was our soft cuddly piece of normality. It played with our rolled up tin foil, flicking them carelessly across the wooden floor.

The kitten was my surrogate child. The kitten was love and loved. The kittens fur was often wet with our tears from laughter.

I laughed with my friend an awful lot.

We laughed about trying to get out the door and never making it, we laughed about trying to pay for ads in magazines to sell sex, we laughed and joked that when we got clean we start a cattery and this life would seem like it had never happened.

He was not alone when he died, he had the kitten with him’.


I envy the community that gay men have around HIV and AIDS. The structures and systems, the smiles.

When I talk about the 19% of trans women being HIV, I know that is me, I understand about our collective experiences.  They are not the same, I know that TWOC are disproportionately affected by HIV and I know that on top of the mound of discrimination and inequality that I face TWOC have racism piled on top. I know I am part of the 19% and I understand now that I do need allies and I understand that I’m not a fighter. I hate being in opposition and this time I created it. I set up an unhelpful dynamic because it felt too vulnerable to admit to feeling the isolation that HIV can bring.

Too vulnerable to admit to feeling alone.

Follow Juno on Twitter (@JustJuno1)

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