Living with HIV in Los Angeles

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Esther Kim Photo courtesy of Kim.

This Sunday, thousands of cyclists will participate in the AIDS LifeCycle ride, a week long trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for HIV/AIDS services. The ride has happened every year since 1993.

Esther Kim has done this 550 mile bike ride five times. She’s also run seven marathons, competed in an Iron Man and two half Iron Mans.

One more thing about her physicality: she’s HIV positive. There are roughly 60,000 Angelenos living with HIV today. Unlike Kim, most of them are men and many are black or Latino, and gay or bisexual.

Kim, a straight Asian woman, says she’s the only one she knows with HIV. And for a long time, she kept it private.

“I told my sister and then I told one of my brothers, and it was interesting because their response -  I mean they are very loving, very supportive. We're very close. - But knowing, understanding my parents, they're like ‘Don't ever tell them. Just let them die without ever knowing.’ I just didn't want to add any stress to their lives.”

But she’s recently become more outspoken about her own illness. Two years ago, after 16 years with the disease, Kim finally told her parents she had HIV.

Besides taking the meds daily, Kim says the disease really doesn’t affect her physically. She’s now “undetectable,” which means the level of HIV in her body is so low that it’s “untransmittable” to others.

And now, rather than hiding her status, she’s being vocal.

“I think, more than anything, I'll never forget how I felt those early years. How alone I felt. You know, I created these walls around myself and didn't really let anybody in because I was so scared, and I also made some mistakes based on fear. Some of my choices weren't the best. And if by sharing my story it can help the next person who is in that same situation... just give them a little bit of hope and and kind of normalize it and not make it so evil or so negative.”

Credits

Guest:
Jenny Hamel - KCRW - @HamelKCRW

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Kathryn Barnes