by Rose Afriyie | Photography by Selase Kove-Seyram
It’s April 24, 2007, and LaQwanna Finkley, then 19, sits in her pediatrician’s oﬃce stumped. Finkley, a Bronxite who believes in spending every free minute with her friends and family recalls, “I had headaches so bad it brought me to tears.” She went to the doctor, and they ran tests to get to the root of her symptoms. “‘All your tests came back negative except for one,’” she remembers the doctor saying.
“Which one?,” Finkley quizzed.
“The HIV test,” her doctor responded.
Finkley, 24, initially dismissed her doctor’s willingness to retest. “I wanted to know the next steps,” she says. Finkley is no stranger to adversity; she was born legally blind, with no vision in her right eye and partial vision in her left. “I didn’t get to lose my virginity like most girls,” says Finkley. “I was forced into having sex when I was 14 by a classmate’s brother and molested by my father when I was 16.”
Finkley’s ﬁrst boyfriend, whom she started dating after the molestation, left her immediately after she conﬁded in him about her father. After her next boyfriend seemed more sympathetic, Finkley remembers feeling as if she was beholden to him. “He didn’t abandon me, and so maybe I owed him something,” she recalls.
Soon after, Finkley was pressing her new boyfriend for answers about a woman who braided his hair and cooked him dinner—for free. “I did care,” Finkley said after her boyfriend ﬁnally admitted to sleeping with other women. “But because my self-esteem was so low, it didn’t take much for him to get me where he wanted me to be. I still willingly had unprotected sex with him.”
LaQwanna Finkley’s story is one of many illustrating how traumatic experiences can aﬀect future sexual decisionmaking, and how concurrency— having more than one sexual partner at a time—can lead to HIV infection. These factors fueling the HIV crisis among black women aren’t as publicized as, say, bisexuality in men, but deserve careful consideration.