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We Define Ourselves

By Nikki Mohammad

For the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia on 17 May, Living Positive Victoria’s volunteer receptionist, Nikki shares her story as a powerful reminder to LGBTI+ people living with HIV that we can define our own journey.

My name is Nikki and I am a trans woman living with HIV. I was diagnosed on my 42nd birthday in December 2018. The doctor delivered the news to me calmly, followed by a birthday wish. Happy birthday to me!

I processed this information at a million miles per hour. I was embarrassed, devastated, disappointed and I had so many questions that I personally could not find the answer for.

Having no family and friends around I had to digest this news alone. I was born in a small suburb just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in a very poor family. I am the youngest of four siblings who just happened to be very different and special. We were raised by my mother as a single parent, but my childhood was still full of amazing experiences. I would not trade it or have it any other way. The qualities and values that I inherited from my family makes me the person I am today.

I was assigned male gender at birth. When I was growing up, I knew that something wasn’t right. Knowledge and resources were very limited, and I didn’t know how to explain it. I came across as very feminine and I still remember that I loved to play with my mother and sister’s make up. I think this was the beginning of my gender dysphoria. My family noticed right from the beginning, but we didn’t talk about it openly. Only once a while—when my sister’s make up went missing. Looking back, it’s funny when I think that person was really me!

I didn’t start my transition until I was in my mid 20s. I was working as customer service consultant in a major telecommunication company and my transition surprised lots of people, especially my colleagues. But not my family, who knew it would happen someday. I am very protective of my family, and I don’t want them to get hurt by other people’s attitudes. Being trans was taboo in my culture back then and probably still is.

I quit my job after ten long years because I needed a change and opened my own bridal shop. This was something I wanted to do, but my real dream was to see the world. How I decided to do this surprised even myself: I become an escort. I planned everything, bought my flight to Germany and never looked back. This new career was very interesting. The money was good, I travelled the world, experienced different countries, lived the luxury lifestyle, had designer items, and I saw what I want to see. Amazing! I ended up here in Australia in 2010.

Sex work opened my eyes to the world but one thing I can’t deny is that this industry also comes with a lot of unwanted accessories. Where do I begin? Entertaining all sorts of clientele who could afford my fees changed the way I look at life in general. I was also introduced to drugs of all kinds: from marijuana to cocaine, MDMA, Ecstasy and ice. Usually my clients brought it with them and sometimes using together made my work a lot easier. It became a habit before I knew it.

My life started to crumble and fall apart. I couldn’t afford my rent and soon I was homeless and without a valid visa status in foreign country with no one around except myself. I was in the darkest possible situation you can imagine. I tried everything within my power to get back to being myself, but I failed. I was lucky someone from a support organisation found me when I was homeless. I will be forever grateful for their help and for giving me the support and opportunities to live my life again. I am clean now, waiting for approval of my protection visa which I am excited about.

It’s been almost one and half years since my HIV diagnosis. I was blessed with the support given to me by the hospital staff, especially the infectious diseases clinic who linked me to several HIV organisations almost immediately. I started my treatment the very next day. I realised that I have to take this pill for rest of my life. I told myself, just consider this pill like any other vitamin, supplements or hormone that I used to take every morning before my life turned upside down. The treatment went very well and right to this point, I am undetectable and have a close relationship with the clinic staff. I feel for the very first time in my life I am in control of my body and my health.

I have been through so much to get here and managed to put all of that behind me. I am proud to have come this far however a part of me still missing. I cannot change the past. It’s history. But I’m ready for a better, greater future. I am on my journey finding the missing me and vividly see her now. POSITIVE people this is me letting you know you are not alone. Don’t let HIV define you as a person. Stay positive and find the fighter in you!