Jahlove Serrano and his twin sister were born in the back of an New York Police car in 1986 to Latino Catholic parents. Sixteen years later, he lost his virginity and gained an HIV diagnosis.
“When it came to losing my virginity, condoms were never a thought,” Serrano previously told Plus. “Yes, I knew about STIs, unwanted pregnancy, condoms – even HIV and AIDS. But I honestly thought these things happened only when you were having sex with a woman, not with a man. When it came to sex with another man, I was clueless.”
Recalling the moment he learned he was HIV-positive, Serrano says now that he thought his life was over and all he wanted to do was go to work and forget about it. Instead, Serrano dove into the world of HIV education. The more he learned about the disease, the more he felt its stigma fall away. “[I] overcame the stigma of living with HIV through education. The more knowledge I gained…the more I’ve [noticed] that this disease wasn’t as bad as people make it seem.”
He adds that he used “the same education I gained to combat the ignorance and stigma" other people with HIV were experiencing.
Motivated by the knowledge of New York City’s high rates of HIV among young adults (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 22 percent of new infections occur before age 25), now spends his days teaching workshops to adolescents and young adults about what it means to contract HIV. The first thing he assures them is that acquiring the disease is no death sentence.
As an HIV activist, Serrano has worked with the New York State AIDS Institute, the National Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth and Families He’s on the Love Heals speakers bureau and appeared in the New York State Department of Health’s “HIV Stops with Me” and Plus magazine’s “I’m Positively” campaign.
Serrano is also an androgynous model/background dancer/choreographer who spends his nights dancing, performing, and “getting lost” on stage. “With dancing I’ve found such freedom in movement — without expressing a word — and that’s why I love dancing so much.”
Despite the two very different arenas in which Serrano finds himself, he insists that the he’s the same guy in the classroom as he is on stage. “I see my life being played out on the main stage; so yes, you will always get the same Jahlove in a classroom, on the streets, and on the stage.”
In many ways Serrano sees his performances as an extension of his HIV education work, and he sees a multitude of opportunities for the future — in both realms. One dream is to audition (and win, of course) RuPaul’s Drag Race, where he would only be the third out HIV-positive contestant in the show’s history. Another dream is to go back to school and eventually work for the White House on HIV/AIDS public policy.
What is certain is that when Serrano brings both parts of his personality together he'll shine in whatever arena he's in.