Waldemar “Waldie” Murray spends most of his time trying to live life as authentically as he can. Although he’ll happily take a break from his normal day to day to enjoy an accolade. The YouTube personality behind The Soul Wakeupcame out about being poz 48 hours after his HIV diagnosis in 2014, telling viewers, "I'm going to own this shit. I am owning this shit. I'm going to rock this shit." He warned viewers not to let shame have power over their lives, and told his Facebook fans, "Today, I found out I'm HIV+. This is not for sympathy. This is for myself. Shame would cause me to hide. I will never hide."
The result? Some negative comments on social media, sure, but a significant uptick in viewers, many of them young, Millennials like Murray, who looked to the activist for a poz voice free of shame and guilt, a guy who speaks the truth about being queer, young, and poz without the baggage earlier generations may have felt.
Murray, who started The Soul Wakeup in 2013 in order to create "a place where I can be myself, with the intention to encourage you to be yourself." Today he says he takes his vlog very seriously as a forum to disseminate information about life with HIV.
“I've connected with people from across the world since talking about my experience with HIV on my YouTube channel," Murray admits. "So many people have reached out to me for support or just to say thank you. You never get used to that. It's always humbling.”
HIV turned out to be a point of connection with other people — and it now allows him to be of service in a way he never imagined.
“My experience of having HIV has helped fulfill my intent to live a purposeful life," he says. "On the flip side, there are plenty of ignorant haters and trolls who comment on my HIV videos, but that's the internet for you.”
Living with HIV has changed this young provocateur, in ways both simple and significant. For one, he sees a doctor regularly now (a first) and he just quit smoking after 10 years of nicotine.
“Chantix," he adds. "Worked great, I'm almost three months smoke-free. My doc is pretty pleased with that.”
It's also forced Murray to be more "authentic" than he was already, he says. “I was already doing a pretty good job. I'm bolder. I'm more curious about life."
Coming out online actually helped his channel grow. After coming out online, he was on the cover of Positively Aware magazine and profiled by HIV Equal. It turned out to be a boon.
“The recognition for being true to myself just encourages me to keep doing just that,” Murray says. His life as an activist “wasn't intended—it just happened” but he'll never stop encouraging others to have the courage to be themselves.
“Since having HIV, activism has been [having that courage], as well as helping people understand HIV, helping people through experiencing HIV, and remaining visible to combat stigma. One day I hope to eventually be able to impact discussion regarding legislation that affects HIV-positive individuals' access to healthcare and HIV-negative individuals' access to PrEP.”
Until then, we'll keep tuning in.
Watch Murray's coming out video below.