Yesterday I faced one of the most nerve-wracking moments one could endure. I received my STD and HIV test results at a local clinic. I tested negative for everything, thank God, and thank you to everyone that sent me love and prayers during that whole process. Every time I find myself in that position of getting checked and being worried, I turn to my friends for support. The last time I was tested was August 2014 and I only had one partner between then and now. Nonetheless, I was still terrified about the possibility of contracting something, HIV in particular. As a member of the gay community, I still have that underlying fear towards AIDS. I’ve noticed that the LGBT community is more pro-active about sexual health and getting tested. Many of my LGBT friends have been tested before. But shockingly, many of my straight friends have never been tested even once. What I want to know is why isn’t there a larger discussion about getting tested? And why aren’t straight people as wholly pro-active?
For weeks on end, I developed an obsessive superstition to the numbers 2 and 11. When you take a rapid HIV finger prick test, if the result shows one line, you are negative for HIV. If the test shows two lines, you are positive for HIV. Thus I became heavily wary of those numbers and any sign of doubling. When I looked at a clock and there was a 2, I would keep looking back at the clock until it was no longer there. Whenever I did my Insanity workout, I wouldn’t look at the screen if I knew there were two seconds left. If the time displayed double digits like 7:44, I looked away as quickly as I could. Looking at the pause button worried me. Ironically, when I stepped into the room where I was tested, the person who tested me noticed an extra chair in the room. “Why do I have two chairs in here?” he wondered. After taking one of them to the side, he said “I have two garbage cans too.” Two, two, two, I thought.
My mind had been plaguing itself since my hookup in December. Underneath everything I was experiencing, Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, looking back at the semester, re-igniting my love for the Walking Dead and catching up on Glee, my fear of HIV lingered. I never had a completely free moment because underneath it all was this possibility that I had something. Although I was sure my one night stand was protected, not all parts of it were and I could never be sure of my partner’s true status. It gave me comfort to know that he had gotten out of a 6 year relationship (I stalked his Instagram to confirm) and that he was just as paranoid as I was about getting sick– he asked me nearly 6 times if I had anything and I assured him I hadn’t.
Being a gay man, I worry that the idea of HIV will always haunt my sex life; paranoia will never cease weaving in and out of my sexual experiences. HIV/AIDS has become so synonymous with my identity as a gay person, that once I let that fear creep in, once I start getting paranoid about having something, or questioning if the condom remained intact, it permeates throughout my conscious being. No matter how many times my friends tell me that I’m fine and have nothing to worry about, I still submit to the fear produced under the connection between HIV/AIDS and being gay. If I was straight and didn’t have sex with men, I would feel much more confident about not having contracted something. If I was a woman that practiced safe sex, I wouldn’t feel half as fearful as I usually do even though the intercourse I had was protected. I don’t know if gay men are statistically more promiscuous than straight men or women, but I know that as long as a vaccine or cure has not been developed for HIV, it will remain a problem that the gay community will feel uniquely tied to.
I think I have to accept that for the rest of my life, I will always be scared of contracting HIV; that taking an HIV test will never not be a source of anxiety. Being a part of such a sexually charged community only exacerbates the dichotomy of being sexualized and living by flesh and sparkling vanity, and the fact that we are more susceptible than any other population (besides the transgender community) to be infected with HIV. The gay community worships SEX. We worship feeling worshipped. We treasure feeling beautiful. We treasure the beauty of gay sex. But at the same time, we must also treasure our sexual health. We must treasure feeling sexually empowered and sexually responsible. Because of this intense focus on sex, I oftentimes feel alienated from the gay community. On some level, it reflects some part of me, but I also experience contradictory dissonance. I desire to feel desired, but I also revel in the remaining fragments of my innocence– the pieces that make me unique. What I’m hoping for is that no matter how much our society likes to shove sex down our throats, we remember to always play safe.
Whoever you are reading this, if you are sexually active, you have a responsibility to yourself and to your partners to know your status. Taking the test takes real courage, but if you have been stressing out over getting tested, you owe yourself peace of mind. Plenty of universities have free rapid HIV testing events. Go to them! Bring your friends or your partner(s) and take the test together. I remember when President Obama and his wife got publicly tested for HIV in an effort to reduce the stigma of getting tested. Although we may be afraid of taking the test because we fear the unknown, it’s important to develop support systems among friends to make something as formidable as being tested into an action that promotes love and taking care.
Top photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/london/75148497