Positive Voices is back, baby! We’re kicking off season 2 by introducing our new cohost, Tei Pearson-Hall, while also getting into it with our returning host, Malachi Stewart. We’re getting to know each other a little deeper, touching on convos about intersectionality in the fight to end HIV, the fluidity of identity and sexuality, the journey to owning your HIV-positive status, and so much more.
Speaker 1: Hello to everyone from the DMV and Beyond. Welcome to season two of Positive Voices. Listen, I'm glad to be back and I hope you're glad to have us back. I'm excited, miss you, missed the conversations. First, I want to give a shout out to my season one co-host, Leah Henry, who is going on to bigger and better things, and we are so excited for her. And now I want to introduce you all to my new co-host, Tei Pearson Hall T give 'em the T on T.
Speaker 2: Hello. Hello. Hey, positive voices. Well, I'm Tei Pearson, TEI. The E. And I silent. I got to tell people that, right? And so wow, the Tei on Tea, that's cute. You trying to be real nosy. I'm
Speaker 1: Trying to step it up for you. I see,
Speaker 2: I, I appreciate it. So first I'm just excited to be able to share the platform and the conversation with you along with all of the hosts, all the guests rather, that will have this season. Who am I? Oh gosh, that's a lot. So I am a mom, and so I have one biological child and I have three bonus children, courtesy of my wife, third marriage. We'll get into that.
Speaker 1: I know the viewers is like, oh, she got a child and she got a wife
Speaker 2: And I've had two husbands, so let me get into it. It's
Speaker 1: Tei,
Speaker 2: But I also have seven angel babies. So I've had six miscarriages and one abortion. So that's another one of the platforms that I like to kind of use my voice to have conversations about. I'm throwing through philanthropists. I enjoy community work. I've done nonprofit work for most of my adult life. I'm a disabled army veteran. And so when people look at me, they'll be like, there's no way. But I have a lot of herniated discs, fluid on my brain, in and out the hospital. The doctor has called my family, including my child to my bedside several times before with it being the ending, right? I am a seven times suicide survivor. And people are like, well, what the heck is that? It's when you've attempted not just a plan, but action. Not to brag about it, but I'm thankful about it, that I'm a failure that I felt in that area of my life. We're glad
Speaker 1: You're still here.
Speaker 2: Hello. I've never been so happy to be a failure in something, but I'm definitely
Speaker 1: Right. If you're going to fail at something, hello.
Speaker 2: Thank you for that. But I came from Landover, right? So Palmer Park standup, okay, come on
Speaker 1: Natives,
Speaker 2: You hear me? But people are like, oh, you live in Baltimore? Indeed, because they gave me a little more bang for my buck and that stuff. But I just enjoy helping people. I have been through so much trauma in my life, which I'm excited to share, even here on this platform of losing folks from complications of the virus, HIV or aids. I found out that my dad had full-blown aids when he was murdered, and I didn't find out from my grandmother until after we were burying him. So it was like, wow, okay, right? So let me hang this somewhere because I'm sure it's going to have to come back at some point. I'm a sexual assault survivor, started at the age of four and kind of ran the gamut of just sexual assault, gang rape, childhood sexual exploitation, and assault date rape. So I've kind of been through the gamut of sexual assault, which allows me to use my trauma to help other people be able to get their voices and get their feet under them.
Speaker 1: Yeah, positive voices.
Speaker 2: Positive voices. Hell, it only made sense, right? And so I also founded a wonderful company called TPX, which is the T Pearson experience where people get all of me. And so I show up as me. I show up in spaces from all kinds of cookout to a corporate hosted event of just coming in and giving people permission just to kind of live unapologetically, to have some fun, to have some humor. I kind of caught myself coined myself, the human conversationalist. I like
Speaker 1: That good branding. Hello?
Speaker 2: And I said it first.
Speaker 1: Okay, I'll be right.
Speaker 2: Hello. I'm waiting on that coin to come through so I can do that. But just to be able to have folks take, I want to help people take things back. And so I love talking about taboo conversations. I love producing conversations about taboo topics because the taboo topics help statistics grow because nobody wants to talk about 'em. And so that's my platform. And then we have the wonderful team, nosy, which is started as a kind of just as people, just nosy. There's people just nosy. So let me just throw a hashtag in front of it. Are you
Speaker 1: Nosy?
Speaker 2: All the way that works spicy. I'm queen nosy, right? Works and that I get it from my grandmother period. But I've been able to take that and empower people in their nosiness either through fun, but also the biggest piece is community. So when people are missing, when kids are missing, when things are going wrong in our community, I kind of employ the team Nosies, see something, say something. I
Speaker 1: Love that. We come from a community a lot of times as black people, where it's very much mind your business. Don't worry about other people's stuff. Don't get involved in people's stuff. And I hear you saying this, healthy, inquisitive, this healthy, get involved.
Speaker 2: Yeah, be nosy. It is okay to be nosy. If you nosy, then do something right? Because the thing is nobody wants to say anything or do anything unless it applies to them directly. And usually by then you're impacted, your area is affected and all of these things. And then the black community continues to kind of go left because everybody knows something. There's a nosy neighbor that saw something. But because of different things that go on that community, people don't talk about it. So the nosy is employing people like, we got you. If you're going to say something, we got your back. Say something sis, we got you. And give people that empowerment to just do something different.
Speaker 1: Well, I'm happy that your nosiness on this platform looks like you asking a lot of great questions. I think you bring a lot of perspective as someone who identifies as lesbian, and we'll talk about that as someone who have your mother, as someone who's your mother wife who identify as lesbian. And it's, I just need to say, we don't often see a lot of the feedback that we got first season. And let me tell y'all, we do listen to your feedback. We do hear you all. Let me just address something. So one of the reasons why you don't see it in the work that we do, period, not even just this platform, but a lot of conversations around lesbian women is because when we look at the epidemiology or that's really the study, who are the people affected by HIV? Who are the people at risk?
Speaker 1: The type of sex that lesbian women tend to have, or at least we assume they have, doesn't put them at high risk. And we're not seeing them in high numbers make up the new positives. So there isn't a lot of funding towards not a lot of focus. We tend to focus on people who black women, black MSM, which is men who have sex with men. But for you to be able to be a person who identifies as lesbian and be here at the table, what would you want us to know about the demographic? And not that you speak for a collective, but what would you want us to know about even assumptions around the type of sex that lesbian women have? You've got two kids.
Speaker 2: Well, I have one biological, one biological and three bonus. But yes. And we do have a lot of sex. We do because they know zen. They'd be wanting to know. But I think what people miss in the conversation and miss having lesbians at the table is that it's an assumption that all of us come out the womb as liking the same sex. And so we all came out the womb liking women when that's not really true for the folks that I know. My wife and I actually came from previous marriages. She had two previous husbands, I had two previous husbands. And so this is our third marriage each but our first same sex relationship and marriage. So yeah, we both turned each other out, I guess they say, right? And put a ring on
Speaker 1: It. Listen, if you like it, Beyonce
Speaker 2: Can get you better. And we did. And we did. But I think that the conversation pieces are missing because that fact right there is missing that some of us come into this lifestyle after being in this heterosexual relationship. And so we know with that comes unprotected sex with husbands. And my husbands was going out there doing what they was doing and it wasn't always something that was beneficial to us in the home, but it also put me at risk. And so if that put me at risk in that marriage, what happens when I come out of the marriage from men and like, okay, now I'm not bisexual by man, I'm all the way over here, man. You're all
Speaker 1: The way over here. Yeah. What I'm hearing you say is that how people identify as far as their sexuality doesn't necessarily mean or define who their sexual partners are. Correct. And what's fascinating to me, it just came to me as you said that you're a black woman. The difference between you who you're having sex with, who your partners were, completely changed your risk as a lesbian. It's like girl, the risk, what we see in epi mean epidemiology is so small that we don't even really do a lot of marketing, a lot of events for lesbian women when it comes to HIV. But black women here in the DMV, you would be the second at risk as a black woman having sex with black men. And I think that's important to point out because a lot of times people make assumptions even with HIV and being a gay disease or these kinds of things. And it's like literally, if I just have sex with women, that would change. Change. That would
Speaker 2: Drastically one little checkbox
Speaker 1: Change the risk factor. And I would agree with you as a femme gay man, there's a lot of assumptions about who I have sex with. Yeah,
Speaker 2: Let's get into that because I know you all over here being nosy in my business. Yeah, well get in mind, but we want to know what you got going on with you too, right? Because you are a butch queen. Very, very quick. Very, very cute. And so I can just only assume that in dc Are you from DC?
Speaker 1: No, I'm from Philly. I'm a transplant. Oh, you're a transplant. Big Philly. You already know.
Speaker 2: Period. So okay, so as a transplant, and so you come into the area and you're here and you're being you, right? And so what does that look like though as the confidence? How can you go out with the confidence of being who you are and your positive,
Speaker 1: Right? Yes. I'm HIV positive. I've been HIV positive since 2008. So the boy been around here for a while. So
Speaker 2: Are you the low cell undetected,
Speaker 1: The long-term nonprofessional, the long-term pushback? Yes. We talked about that. We'll get into that y'all later in the season with that all means, but so no debatably. So usually when we look at
Speaker 2: Stay tuned, we'll talk more.
Speaker 1: Yeah. Usually when we look at people who are long-term non progressives, just lightly you look at people who over time the disease hasn't progressed quickly without them being on medication. I did didn't have a long period of time. I would say maybe I went the first five years without taking medication because the first medication I took, and I won't say which one it was, but let's just say I was only on it for a week and it made me so sick. Oh wow. In a week I lost so much weight. I was having lucid dreams and I wasn't able to sometimes know when I was awake and it was bad. Wow,
Speaker 2: Okay.
Speaker 1: I felt sick. I had, in my opinion, a greatest complexion and it scared the bejesus out of me. Everything that Philadelphia looked like, I felt like even though the movie didn't have that. The movie? Yeah, the movie. So it scared me and it scared me away from medication. And then I was in church once upon a time. I was a youth pastor Once upon time. Me too. I was in ministry for about a decade. And so I was a part of that whole black pray the gay way. And that faith in my faith in God and my belief in healing prevented me from taking medication. It was why I later on became a good adherence specialist because I understood every side of it. I had taken medication but undetectable. But I knew what it was for multiple reasons not to take medication and what it felt like to not feel like that was a safe option.
Speaker 2: And a good adherence specialist does what?
Speaker 1: Yeah, so a good adherence specialist. Basically our job is to support people and with respect to the agency, respect to your personal choice, help them find the best way for them to adhere So to their medication. Adherence just means you're taking the medication as subscribed and you're also adhering to your appointment. So going to your medical appointments, the way you should follow up and following up with your provider, and people have a lot of different reasons. So a good adherence specialist goes in and I want to hear what's going on in your life. So I'm not coming and saying, take your medication every day. What's housing like because are you safe where you are to bring your pill? Do I need to give you a separate bottle, a separate mechanism that maybe it looks like a pen, but you actually use this as a pill bottle. Things that we were out really seeing where a person was. And what other things in your life affects your ability to be able to take this medication, to show up for appointments? Is it mental health? Is it full body holistic? Got you. And do it in a way with compassion because I understood.
Speaker 2: So let me ask you this. And so that sounds amazing, right? To be in a hearing specialist, but let's go back a little bit. I don't really know your story and I assume that some folks will be tuning in who don't really know either. So can you take us back to, and I know this season we have all kinds of conversations, so stay tuned. We have a lot of folks on the couch that's going to share their experiences too. But we want to know about you, Kai, so to be positive and to say it with so much ownership. And I have watched you kind of just speak very proud of just, yes, this is something that I have, but this isn't me. Absolutely. So can we go back to just when you got that diagnosis though, just real quick of what your world was looking like before you got it, and then what happened in that moment, and then if you can kind of do us a fast forward a little
Speaker 1: Bit. Yeah. I was 20 years old. I was in college, shout out to Dr. University, fear the dragon, fear the dragon. And I was living my best life. I wasn't thinking about HIV. That was something that my friends would refer to it when people would get sick, they would call it like the monster. But it was something that I didn't feel like I was heavily at risk for it because in my mind I wasn't super promiscuous. I actually was kind of a late bloomer. I was a little bit scared of a lot of things. Much different at 20 than I am today here at 35. Okay, crazy. But y'all see me cute. But no, I was much different. And because I wasn't expecting it, I remember finding out my diagnosis. And what's so interesting, I went right to work after. I think because I'm gay, I'm black, I'm femme. There was no room in life to be weak or vulnerable. Wow. I never felt like I had the safety or privilege of vulnerability. So the first person I told was my best friend at the time, and this is literally how the conversation went. I told her I was HIV positive and I said, listen, I found out I'm HIV positive, I'm going to give you five minutes to have an emotional response. After that, we are not doing it again.
Speaker 2: You gave her five
Speaker 1: Minutes, you give five minutes. How you
Speaker 2: Going to control how long she had for what she had to process?
Speaker 1: Because I couldn't do it. You
Speaker 2: Couldn't do it.
Speaker 1: Got you. I had to, whether I die, whether I live at the time, the first thing I thought about was how big the insurance pays out differently between 20 and 21. Not that. And my mother's life, I was thinking I was going to die and I was like, mom. Literally when I told my mom, the first thing I said to her was, mom, I just got to make it to 21. If I could just make it to 21. That was what my range was. And I said to my mother too, I was like, I'm going to give you a hug. We going to do, it was actually interesting. It's a whole nother thing, but it's actually the first time I remember my mom and me hugging ever in my life. First memory, I have a hug when I say there's no vulnerable space. So that gives a light into why I'm not out here. Like, oh, cry girl. No, hold it together. I still got to go to work. I still got to go to class. I still have to live life and I don't have time to, didn't have the privilege I felt like to fall apart, which
Speaker 2: So do you, I'm sorry. Do you think that that's a Philly thing or that was just the way that your black mama chose to raise you?
Speaker 1: I did grow up in a little bit in the hood, but I think it was a combination of things. I think that people sometimes forget that all of the expectations and stigma around what it means to be a man when you are a black man, it doesn't change when you're gay. The difference is that that's good to know. While I never felt like I had to perform masculinity, I always had this thing, you are not going to play in my face. I'm not going to be a victim. I'm not going to let people define me and my story, I just had a thing about that. And that's why still to this day, a lot of times it hasn't always been an easy thing. But I believe strongly in being unapologetic. There you go. I'm not going to apologize for my status. There you go. I'm not going to apologize for my gender.
Speaker 1: I'm not going to apologize for my sexuality. I'm not going to apologize for the way my gender shows up, whether it is fem today, whether it is mass the next day, whether I'm in the studio kickboxing or I'm out here with a blouse on at a fashion show still him. And you don't get to define me, don't get, and I'm not going to shift in who I am. And I wanted, it was a journey getting to that place, which is why I do this work, which is why I'm here and why I positive what voices mattered to me because I want people, I don't care what it looks like for you, I just wanted people to know there is a space for you to redefine what it is to be you.
Speaker 2: I'm glad you answered that. I was going to ask you, you came from season one and we're in season two, and so why was this important for you to come back for another season and you just led into it? So
Speaker 1: Why? I didn't see myself anywhere. Wow. I didn't see myself anywhere. I said it season one. I'm going to say it again. The system felt me. Nobody told me about Ryan White Services. There was times in college where I wanted to start medication, but I had to pay a copay. Nobody had told me about copay cards. Nobody told there was money then it's money. Now, if you are watching this and you are HIV positive, you never have to not be on medication. You never have to worry about those financial burdens. So definitely come to our website and we're going to tell you at the end where to go for resources. But I didn't know about any of that. No one even really sat down and explained to me that it wasn't a death sentence.
Speaker 2: I mean, because that's what the information we got, right? Yeah. So early on it was the gay disease. And then once they was like, that's not it. And then it was like, oh, you're going to die right from it. And so to go from a doctor visit testing, here's a piece of paper or conversation of this life-changing information and you're not processing because you went to work just like many other people that I'm sure we'll have on a couch this season to talk about that experience of that first information. But that blockage, that blockage of processing a
Speaker 1: Traumatic experience. Yes. Because hearing you're H HIV V positive can be and usually is a traumatic experience for most people. Yes. But that's again, what leads me into, what made me able to do my job well as an adherence specialist is because I knew I was working in communities with people who did not have the privilege to process trauma. And it was way before HIV. There's so much trauma, so much we have in common, sexual assault, survivor, sexual abuse survivor, a person who was still alive after heavily struggling with suicidal ideation and major suicide attempts. Yeah, I remember and trigger warning. But I remember when I woke up from the most recent suicide attempts, I was in the hospital by myself. I never told my mother, I'm a transplant. I live here. Nobody in my family. I think maybe two years ago I just told her that it even happened.
Speaker 1: So to think that I would've passed away, nobody ever would've even knew something was wrong. And it may have been a while before they were able to identify who my family was and let them know. But there was never room to process any of that. It was like, and I got to go to work the media that I got to pay these bills. That's it. What the media is that I knew I had, nobody else don't listen. I ain't had no man taking care of me. So what was immediate was that I had to take care of my immediate, it was survival. And I think that, I don't even know if it's so much just a Philly thing, but just the idea of being a part of a community where survival is the primary concern, whatever it takes for survival. And at that time, unfortunately, it was like, I can't cry. I can't fall apart because once I open up this door and go emotional, I don't know if I'm going to come out of that. Wow. I never even had a space for that. But if I don't know what it looked like to fall apart and cry and all of that, but working with a community of people who had that similar experience, I was able to hold space and do my best to create a safe space for them.
Speaker 2: That's important. Yeah. Thank you for what you do.
Speaker 1: Thank you for being here and what you do as well. And that leads me to my question, what made you want to be a part of Positive Voices? What made you want to be a positive voice?
Speaker 2: I don't think I wanted it versus this is something that I'm supposed to do. I feel like that my calling and my purpose is to use my suffering so I can serve others. So I'd say that I feel like I was born to suffer so that I can serve. And I had to break that down to get people to understand that. I'm not saying that I like struggle, I don't. But I believe that my purpose here on Earth was for God to kind of have me go through different struggles so that I can help other people heal. Whether it's them healing in the midst of or knowing about something so that in the event something happens, this is what I can do or I'm out of it. But I want to be able to go back and help and pull somebody through. And so when the opportunity came to be here on this great platform, I thought about my dad.
Speaker 2: I thought about Monica Johnson, rest in peace, Veronica. And I thought about all of the other folks that I have crossed path with because I've done HIV work. I started, that was one of my first nonprofit jobs that I've took when I came from the military was here in DC at Metro Teenage. Oh wow. And I moved from an admin assistant to an operations manager to the directors, but still kind of help with the youth component because it was important to get the kids out in the world, whether they're infected or affected. And I think because all of us are affected by this virus, that it's all of our voices to talk about. Because as you said before, anybody who has sex is open.
Speaker 1: The disease doesn't discriminate.
Speaker 2: It is open. It's no different than someone who smokes a cigarette for the first time. You might get addicted to that pack. And so everybody should be having conversations of it. And so I'm honored to share this platform with such an amazing co-host. Thank you baby. And be able to talk to the world about things that don't necessarily come up in our community so easily. And so, yeah, it was important to come on to let folks know that it's folks out here that is doing the work. I do have a negative status, but that doesn't mean anything different from me and my co-host who's has a positive status because we both out here having sex, right? Yes. And so that makes us the same period. And so that makes us the same, and it makes all of us all the same to be able to have a positive voice as we build community around breaking the stigma, de-stigmatizing the yes and moving forward. So I'm honored. I'm just so humbly honored and thankful.
Speaker 1: Yes, we are. Glad to have you. I am just glad to have you here. I'm glad for everything that you represent. And listen, y'all heard it here first. You know why Tei is here. Y'all know why I'm here now, once again, and listen, this season is going to be good
Speaker 2: Hot.
Speaker 1: It is going to bring, if y'all can't tell TA little spicy. And so we are going to have a lot of emotional moments. There's going to be some tears, some laughter. It's going to be some controversial conversation. And we welcome you all to join us in the conversation, not just watch us online, not just listen to us on whatever platform you're watching or listening, because we are on all platforms, all of 'em, all of 'em. Hello. But we want you to just, if you see us on social media, you see a clip, whoever posted it, engage us under, look for us on social media. Talk to us. We want to continue the conversation. A lot of you first season slid up in the DMS and was like, listen, when you talked about this, it made me feel like this. We definitely want to continue to hear from you. So if you are in the DMV or beyond, if you are in the nation and you are in need of resources, you can find all of the firstname.lastname@example.org u, that's LINK, the letter u dmv.org. And if you want to catch up on first season and see what we were talking about first season as a prequel to what we're about to talk about this season, or maybe just kind of see some of the things that we have coming forward, you can visit email@example.com slash podcast. Tei say bye to everybody.
Speaker 2: Listen, y'all already seen it. We outside for season two period. More conversations, more guests, more building community, spreading education, and given of resources, y'all know where to look for us at. So we'll see you when we see you. And here's the season two.
Meet Tei Pearson-Hall (she/her), the entrepreneur behind TPX LLC and the uproarious #TeamNosey movement that’s on a mission to make the world a happier, healthier place — one laugh at a time. She is not only a force to be reckoned with but also a seasoned “humor conversationalist.” As an exuberant, disabled Army veteran, Tei’s wit is as sharp as her service record. While sharing her lived experiences, from trauma to triumph, Tei empowers and encourages others to start their own healing journeys. Beyond her achievements, Tei is also a loving mother and life partner. Get ready to laugh, live, and heal with Tei, an unstoppable comedic force and advocate for “unapologetically living life!”
Malachi Stewart (he/him/his) wears many hats for DC Health as a public health analyst and program coordinator. The Philadelphia native has worked in public and community health in the DMV for more than a decade. His passion for advocacy is fueled by his personal experience of living with HIV for the past 15 years. When he's not working, you can find him walking his dog near the waterfront at Wharf or kickboxing in Navy Yard.