In 2017, Jaycee Clark hit rock bottom. She was on the verge of homelessness, dealing with a substance use problem, and had just been diagnosed as HIV positive. She was in the process of finding her authentic self as a trans woman, but she didn’t have access to gender-affirming care in her small East Texas town.
Jaycee knew she needed help. Where to get it was another matter entirely.
Desperate to turn her life around, she enrolled in an addiction treatment facility through a men’s Christian discipleship program. The experience was not a success. “My lifestyle didn’t align with their beliefs,” she says, “and once I was HIV positive, it only became a bigger issue. You can imagine what it was like—I was the most flamboyant thing anybody had ever seen.”
There was no safe place to get the support she needed to turn her life around, Jaycee remembers, and fear overtook her daily. “I was so afraid of living that I wanted to die,” she says. “I relapsed the day I left the program and went right back to the streets.”
A turning point: The sign in the road
Three years later, Jaycee was still using when she lost her partner to a heroin overdose. “That was a little too close to home for me,” she says. “I made the decision to get well and was willing to go to any length necessary to do it. I was willing to do that for myself this time.”
Her first step was to join a local program that helped her get the right meds and “loved me until I was able to love myself,” she says. Four months later, she was still sober and adhering to her HIV treatment plan when she was presented with the opportunity to move to a sober living home in San Antonio. As Jaycee drove toward her new home, she passed a billboard for the Alamo Area Resource Center (AARC), one of the area’s leading LGBTQ+ social services and health organizations (and an Avita covered entity partner).
“I saw it as a sign,” Jaycee says. “A literal sign from God that I was on the right track.”
"I’ve never received such personalized care.”
The care team at AARC swiftly guided Jaycee through the intake process, easing her fears that a lack of income and health insurance would keep her from receiving services. During her first visit, she met with AARC medical director Dr. Chase Cates, who set up her HIV treatment plan. But the visit went way beyond prescribing medication, Jaycee explains. “I was not transitioning at the time, but I told him, ‘This is what I want to do. This is my truth. This is my authentic self.’
“It was so effortless,” says Jaycee, who promptly started receiving gender-affirming care. Finally, she had found an organization that could holistically treat her health care needs (she also receives substance use treatment and dental care services through AARC).
Being treated with dignity and respect has made all the difference. “I’ve never received personalized care before where I felt like somebody sees me,” Jaycee says. “It’s so much more than just medication and treatment. Every soul wants a connection with another human. I feel at home.”
A pharmacy team that’s like a family
The relationships Jaycee has built with team members at Avita Pharmacy, AARC’s onsite pharmacy partner, make staying on top of her treatment plan seamless. “They’re like family,” she says. “When I call with questions, it doesn’t seem like a patient/provider relationship. Some even come into the restaurant where I work on the weekends, so I see them outside the pharmacy!”
Because the pharmacy is located in the same building as the AARC clinic, Jaycee can pick up her prescriptions within minutes of finishing her appointment. She also takes advantage of meds delivered for free to her front door. “There are times I call just to check in,” she says, “but I don’t have to call to get my refills. They make it the easiest process in the world.”
This sense of ease is directly related to her ability to stay adherent to her treatment program and unlock the full potential of wellness, Jaycee explains. “I’m never without my medication,” she says. “I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been.”
The journey worth fighting for
Over the past seven years, Jaycee has been on both sides of the health care fence. She knows what it’s like to feel isolated and without hope, and she’s realized what it means to be heard and treated like a person, not just a random patient. Now, she’s leveraging her experience to help others advocate for themselves. Whether by educating people on behalf of AARC and Avita or simply greeting patrons at one of the area’s busiest restaurants, Jaycee says she serves as a bridge to the community, letting others know it’s possible to get the care they need.
“I get to show people that I’m a healthy and sober trans woman here in San Antonio,” she says. “I’m an ambassador for recovery and the power of gender-affirming care, and I’m in a place where people love me no matter what.”
Jaycee sadly acknowledges that others, particularly transgender youth struggling with thinly veiled discriminatory legislation violating their medical rights, aren’t as lucky. Her advice? “Don’t give up,” she says. “Don’t let anybody steal your light in the world simply because they have an opinion and want to control you. Keep fighting for it like I did. I’ve been on a journey, but it’s been a journey worth fighting for.”