This month in Health Matters, we had an amazing opportunity and blessing to connect with a young man who has been able to inspire the world with his life story. Even as young as he is, he struggled through the worst of it all, losing his entire immediate family, and being diagnosed with HIV. Through his struggles, he's been able to inspire so many along the way, and ultimately build a brand that has lent much to him discovering the true meaning of his life and the importance of him speaking his truth. As an Author, Producer, Publisher, and Radio Host, he has become a strong advocate for HIV Awareness, safe sex, and being smart enough to educate yourself on all of the above. His story is nothing short of amazing, and we've got it right here, with Health Matters!
UG Digital: I really appreciate you for your time. Surely, we’ve been wanting to connect for close to a year now. You have such a great story, and it’s something people need to hear. There’s so much happening in terms of safe sex, and the full gamete, so it’s amazing to see how you’ve shifted it all into something positive. Thank you for taking the time.
Brenden Ortiz: No problem…
UG Digital: Now, I personally think your story is inspiring on multiple levels. A diagnosis such as yours is an end for so many people. So many get that diagnosis, and they take it to the extreme. I think of people I know who have been diagnosed with HIV, and how they went to the extreme with not taking care of themselves. Things blew way more out of control than how they may have been if the knowledge was there. Talk about your story and how you ultimately were diagnosed?
Brenden Ortiz: Basically, I actually had what I considered a regular childhood. I hung out with friends, went to school, and things of that nature. Around 15 or 16, my mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Within that year, she died. I had been trying to find my sexuality, and really figure out if I was heterosexual, bi-sexual, or homosexual. At the end of the day, I told my mom before she passed, and she basically said to go with my heart and always be a boy. That was her main quote: always be a boy. She didn’t want me to be flamboyant, but she just wanted me to be me. Who I slept with was my choice. I lived a promiscuous lifestyle once she passed away, and during that time, I met this dude. He and I built a relationship where I felt comfortable enough to explore threesomes and unprotected sex. He had the virus before we actually got into a relationship. I contracted the virus from him, and was diagnosed in 2010. I’m speaking of HIV. I chose to express my story because going through everything from losing my mother to cervical cancer to my father committing suicide when i was 19, I was left alone. I had my grandparents, but my immediate family was gone. My brother and sister had passed away as well. My brother died in a motorcycle accident, and my sister passed in a car accident when I was 14. My immediate family was gone, and I was lost.
UG Digital: That’s a lot to lose your entire family within 5 years.
Brenden Ortiz: Exactly. It continued from there when I lost my grandparents. As of now, I only have my maternal grandmother, and I have some of my father’s side of the family. After being diagnosed, I went to an HIV specialist, who referred me to a therapist. Through therapy, she was telling me to write down how I felt. My high school teacher would tell me the same thing. I wrote a lot, and that’s how my book, “The Pretty Boy with the House in Virginia: The Resurrection” came about.
UG Digital: You speak about the fact that you were promiscuous, and I think a lot of people would relate that to you losing so much at one time, but what do you think led you to that point of promiscuity, and what ultimately pulled you away?
Brenden Ortiz: It was yearning for love that I was losing. The love I wanted from my parents; I confused it with lust. Being lustful, and out in the streets, and ultimately coming to the realization after being diagnosed with a sex addiction, the lifestyle somewhat subsided the feeling of love that I was looking for. Now, in my lifestyle, I’ve been married, which didn’t last because of my partner’s infidelities. I now know how to love correctly, and I know what love is. At this point in life, that’s what I’m looking for. If it happens, it happens. Love is love. At 26, I feel like I would like to build a family. Thats what I’ve learned through it all.
UG Digital: You also speak on seeing a therapist. Therapy can be so good when used in the right way. Writing things down, as you said, helps so much as well. How do you feel therapy helped you overall?
Brenden Ortiz: I felt like it was ironically therapeutic (laughing). It helped me personally, and professionally. I’m able to take direct criticism without lashing out or being defensive. I learned a lot about myself. I haven’t been in therapy for the past year and a half, but I will be going back.
UG Digital: That’s good. So many times, it helps to be able to see things from the perspective of someone who is neutral in it all. Talk about how you’ve been able to turn your diagnosis into a positive to help others?
Brenden Ortiz: The book has been one of the main outlets for people to see the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on. I also do public speaking in high schools where I educate on the statistics. High School students are the predominant demographic being hit with HIV. They are exploring their bodies and the bodies of others. They’re not educated fully on the virus and how it is transmitted. In the health books, they don’t educate enough on HIV. It’s like a three-page spread.
UG Digital: I’m glad you say that. With high school students, how do you tailor your message to be something that they are interested in hearing, and at the same time assure it’s more than what the health books offer?
Brenden Ortiz: Basically, I go in and let the students know that I’m HIV positive. A lot of kids would say I don’t look like I have AIDS, and that’s one of the major things. They don’t know the difference between HIV and AIDS. There’s a difference. HIV is simply a virus, but it’s simply incurable. I try not to be closed minded. You have to be open minded with students. They want to be educated and they want to know. They’re curious to know what’s going on in the world. I express to them that I’ve been HIV positive for six years. I’m not saying they need to let the world know their status, but they need to know for themselves. I stress the importance of condoms and contraceptives. In the end, they do what they want to do when they leave the classroom. They’re teenagers, and their hormones are raging. My message is to not be like me, don’t be promiscuous, and learn from my experiences. Often, I give books away. It’s about the message and not about money. They will continue to spread the word. I speak like I’m one of them. I was 19 when I wrote the book, and I know they can relate. In my second book, one of my quotes is that “we tend to stop helping ourselves by helping others, and in return, we backslide and become weak to the very thing that gave us strength”. With me being so stern about awareness, I lost myself. I got really sick because I wasn’t taking my meds at one point, and was depressed to the point of wanting to commit suicide. I feel like in delivering my message, I can’t forget why I give this message because I’ll lose myself.
UG Digital: I think it’s amazing. When you’ve gone into these schools, have there been moments when you know you’ve really reached someone, or someone comes and relates by letting you know they too are positive with HIV or dealing with passing loved ones? What has let you know you were really affecting someone?
Brenden Ortiz: I remember about three years ago at a career day, this one child was dealing with her mom going through cancer treatments. Unfortunately, her mother passed away, but she knew that through writing, and speaking with someone, she could get through it. My mom’s tenth anniversary just passed, and it’s still hard for me, so I know its going to be hard for her. It’s still new to her. I try to be there, speak to her, and if she needs to hang out I still connect. People have definitely come up and let me know they have dealt with cancer, and suicide.
UG Digital: How did you ultimately get into publishing?
Brenden Ortiz: Once I was in college, and majored in creative writing, my professors would comment that my writing was very vivid. Through writing in my journal and reading, I could see my vision and the clarity. One day, I was on social media and a young lady was looking for a few authors. It was five of us, and it also included Neffeteria Pugh. We connected, and after reading my manuscript, she knew it would help people. I signed a two year contract, and once that was done, I decided to self-publish. I wanted my book to continue to sell, and I wanted the message to continue spreading. My book now has reached the UK, and I’ve been on tour several times.
UG Digital: Again, it’s really amazing. What other opportunities have come from spreading your message?
Brenden Ortiz: I started a campaign called What Does HIV Look Like? We have five people who spread their stories through monologue. We had it released last August (2015), and we’re going to film it and sell it as a DVD so that the message spreads across the country. I launched a lip stick line in honor of my mother. The proceeds go to cervical cancer awareness. It goes to the Rosa Lives On Foundation which funds groups where we do inspirational speaking and groups where we help those dealing with cervical cancer. I just signed with 88.7 FM in Brooklyn for a radio show. I’m sticking to my brand of HIV awareness and STDs. We’ll talk about what people are scared to talk about on air. In person, we don’t talk about sex, HIV, and homosexuality. Everyone talks about it now, but we need a show where the public can interact. We’re bringing awareness. We’ll be doing the HIV awareness walk in May.
UG Digital: I’m happy at the headway you’ve made with this all. I’ve seen over this past year how much you’ve been able to do. I wish there were more people who’s stepped up and were all about awareness, so it’s great to have you doing this. Where can people learn more about what you have?
Brenden Ortiz: They can find me on instagram at @BrendenOrtiz, on Periscope every saturday at 1pm at @theonlybrendenortiz, they can check out my video campaign on Youtube, that’s What Does HIV Look Like?, they can check out BrendenOrtiz the web channel, and order The Pretty Boy with the House in Virginia: The Resurrection on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Shopbrendenortiz.bigcartel.com,
UG Digital: Will it be on iTunes?
Brenden Ortiz: We’re working on iTunes. It needs to be formatted for apple. I’m also working on an audio book that will come out in July with the second book.
UG Digital: I definitely commend you for all you’ve done. What final thoughts are there?
Brenden Ortiz: Just remember that whatever you do and put your passion into, do not lose yourself within that.