Sparkling eyes. Generous curves. Quick, flirty comments and a bright, confident smile. Everything about Alex tells you: this is a woman who loves her body. But that wasn’t always true. At least, it wasn’t always easy. As a transgender Latina woman growing up in Wisconsin, Alex struggled to find acceptance in her family…and within herself. And learning to feel confident inside and out isn’t easy when just running to the grocery store can mean dealing with strangers’ curiosity, judgments, catcalls and worse.

“It’s really hard when you’re living in a body that you don’t understand, necessarily, and that other people don’t understand,” says Alex. “I spent a lot of time not understanding myself, and now I’m slowly finding that I love myself and that I’m loveable. All of my hardships—the stuff that I’ve had to go through, the changes I’ve had to make, the relationships I’ve had to end—were absolutely worth it, because I am who I am today. And I am happier than I’ve ever been.”

For Alex, embracing her life and feeling beautiful means taking care of her body. Not by shutting down sex and romance, but by choosing safer sex options like condoms and PrEP.

“I carry around condoms wherever I go with me. I give them out,” says Alex. “And I have conversations with my sexual partners. I tell them that I’m HIV negative, that I’m on PrEP, that I’m tested regularly. And that starts a conversation, because 9 times out of 10 I’m having sex with a straight person who has never really encountered queer sexuality and they say ‘What’s PrEP?’ And that gets the ball rolling.”

Alex learned about PrEP from friends—and she immediately knew the pill (a once-a-day medication that can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by at least 90%) was a game-changer. “HIV has always been like this cloud hanging over my community,” says Alex. “People just think if you have sex with someone who has HIV you’re going to get HIV. And that is not true anymore.”

Now people living with and without HIV can love each other freely and safely, without worrying about passing HIV on. “And that is such a groundbreaking thing, because it’s not just HIV people having sex with each other,” says Alex. “HIV isn’t eliminating this whole pool of people from romantic relationships and sexual relationships. It’s no longer an ‘othering’ disease.”

And that gives Alex hope, as well as a sense of purpose. “I don’t have HIV but I have friends who do, I have former partners who do have it. And I just want to be loud as I can and be, and advocate for people who are living with it,” says Alex. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not a life-threatening disease anymore. It’s manageable. It’s treatable. It’s completely preventable.”