Family is everything to Dimitri Joseph Moise, a New York-based multi-hyphenate entertainer, who can currently be seen on season one of TBS’s The Last O.G. and in the touring show of the Broadway smash hit, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical. Moise, an actor, dancer, singer, producer, and magazine editor, made his Broadway debut in The Book of Mormon literally hours after his college graduation.
Moise says that was a turning point for his parents, because, “while they always believed in me… they were like, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to be a singer-actor? What are you talking about? That’s not a job!’ To have that experience of them watching me graduate during the day… [and then] watch me and my debut in this hit show on Broadway. They were really proud to see that, Oh, he can really do this.”
Both of his parents came to America from Haiti, but they first meet in the U.S., in the late 1980s. At the time, extreme racism and homophobia was aimed at Haitian immigrants, after media coverage erroneously branded the entire nationality a high-risk group for HIV and AIDS. That bias against Haitian-Americans is still strongly held in some parts of the nation.
The current anti-immigrant political environment can be tough, Moise says, but his parents have always made sure he was proud of his heritage — and proud of being an American.
“As a son of Haitian immigrants, it’s meant lot to me to be a first-generation American,” he says. “I’ve realized that there aren’t that many of myself in the circles that I’m in.”
After he was accepted into an affluent, all-boys high school in New York, Moise recalls, “my dad and my mom sat me down and they were like, ‘as a black person in America, you need to acknowledge that when you walk into that school, your teachers, your peers, are not going to think that you’ll do as well as them. They’re going to expect you to fail out, so you need to be 10 times better than everyone at that school.’”
Until very late in high school, the out queer Broadway star thought he was going to be a surgeon. His father is a nuclear medical technician in cardiology and Moise was planning to follow in his footsteps.
Moise was on that track until he stumbled into theater. “I had a knack for singing and so my mom told me to audition for the Glee Club,” he remembers. He made the cut for the all-boys chorus and also made a lot of friends from the drama club, who invited him to see their production of Godspell.
“I was beside myself seeing my friends getting to live these incredible lives on stage. I thought to myself, that looks really cool and maybe I would want to try that.” After additional encouragement from the drama director, Moise auditioned, and got the lead in the school’s next musical. That one part led to many more, which led to him sending in nine college applications for pre-med and nine for theater. Every theater school accepted him.
“I thought, Okay, well maybe I should follow this,” he says, laughing. “Then from there it just — life never really stopped.”
Until something did stop him. Earlier this year, he got sick. Nothing really bad, just a lingering sinus infection that wouldn’t go away. But when you’re up on stage twice a night, every single night, six days a week, and traveling to a new city (or new country) on that single “off” day, an actor doesn’t have time to waste worrying about lingering sniffles.
Back at home in New York, Moise was “in and out of the urgent care for two weeks. Nothing they were giving me was working and they didn’t know what was going on.”
On one visit, he figured he might as well get an HIV test out of the way too, just to save a visit to the clinic. He’d had lots of tests, all negative. He’d expected this one to be too. Then he was left waiting in an exam room for 30 minutes before “I heard a voice say, ‘Are you going to tell him or should I?’ Then the doctor comes in and sits down and he tells me, ‘You’re HIV-positive.’”
Moise acknowledges being overwhelmed by emotions but not long after he realized he was “lucky that I’m living in 2018 in a time where my life is so different than what it could have been.”
Moise used Rapid Initiation — where those newly diagnosed with HIV are put on medication immediately and remain adherent daily — and saw nearly instant results. Rapid Initiation is a term used to start patients on HIV medication as soon as they are diagnosed, by supporting education and advocacy of the importance of receiving medication as quickly as possible. Treatment also involves reshaping the mindset that not taking your HIV medication regularly is adequate, as missing even a single dose will have an adverse effect on protecting patients against resistance. Caregivers want to achieve this by humanizing the consequences of these adverse effects for patients.
Only four weeks into treatment Moise learned his viral load was suppressed to undetectable levels. He’s part of a new generation HIV-positive people, those who know from the beginning that being undetectable means being untransmittable.
“I realized I would thrive the day I became undetectable,” he explains. “I don’t have to be scared anymore. The medicine’s working. I’m undetectable, which means I cannot transmit the virus. So I can live a happy life.”
The Broadway actor has plenty on his mind besides HIV. Even while non-stop touring, Moise is always looking for the next horizon, how he’ll make his parents proud, and make his dreams come true. He’s juggling performing with philanthropy and activism, volunteering with groups like Broadway Serves and co-founding TORCH, an organization dedicated to uniting marginalized communities through arts entrepreneurship.
And television beckons. This year, he had a small role as Mostel Defferies on The Last OG, the TBS comedy co-created by Jordan Peele and starring Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish. “It was a really incredible experience getting to work with such big names,” Moise says. “It was my first TV experience and it’s very different from performing on stage.”
Moise can juggle a lot. The multitasker is also balancing his performances with serving as managing editor of Chill, a magazine for young men of color, that he views as another chance to help others see themselves in an empowering way. [Full disclosure: Chill is a sister publication of Plus magazine.] Moise hopes to turn his diagnosis into something positive, too (pun partially intended).
“The day I was diagnosed… I was like, Why me? But then… I thought, I’m going to do something about this — I want to be able to turn my negative experience into something positive that can better myself, and hopefully better other people, especially people of color. We’re faced with so much — and we don’t talk about mental health; we don’t talk about STDs; we don’t talk about HIV, and it’s so prevalent in our community. And if we’d talk about it, if we acknowledge that these things exist, that we’re susceptible, maybe we can do better at making sure it doesn’t continue being so rampant in spaces of color. And if I can be a person that helps lead that charge, that helps continue that charge, that helps that kind of work exist in the world then I want to do that.”