Two weeks ago I did something for the first time that I should have done much earlier and many times since.
Sean and I went to King's Island for their Annual Pride Night. The Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Community Center rents out the park as a fundraiser and it is a great time as the lines are short and it is a chance to see people that I haven't seen since the previous year.
As we walked through the gates, after spending an hour trying to determine if the rain would stop, we met up with some friends who were standing outside a mobile HIV testing clinic. My friend had just been tested, on the spot, and was waiting for his results.
I have never had an HIV test, and it was because of one of the most often cited reasons; I was scared of the results.
One of my first boyfriends tested positive halfway through our relationship. Additionally, I have had sex with persons who I knew to be HIV+ and people whose status I didn't know. I have always played safely, used condoms, etc, but the sinking feeling I got every time I saw a testing location or program prevented me from walking through the doors. In addition, not having consistent medical insurance due to campaigns and job changes made me unsure of "pre-existing condition" language in insurance forms and what that would mean if I knew my status.
I rationalized it six ways from Sunday, made up excuses for myself, swore I would rush to a doctor if I ever felt lousy, etc. Everything that prevents people from getting tested. Everything except do the right thing.
So there we were, standing outside the facility, and Sean almost dared me to go in - I'll do it if you will - he said. That's what it took for me. A challenge, directly, from someone I love and the knowledge that no matter what happened while I was inside, he be there with me after.
We each went in on our own and then laughed about the questions you get asked while we waited through what to me felt like the longest 20 minutes of my life.
I am deeply relieved that my test, Sean's, and our friends all came back negative.
Why do I share this with the world? Because I believe that we have an obligation to.
HIV is on the rise again, and while people are living longer with it, and the drugs are much better, it is still a disease with only one outcome. I am ashamed of myself for not taking this step years ago, and regularly, since. I am ashamed of my community, and it seems somewhat high within the bear community, of the ads and profiles I see looking for bareback sex with unknown or even positive players. I am ashamed that we as a people can not take responsibility for ourselves, myself included for the last ten years, to see that we have the information we need and know our status. Every person in a sexual relationship has an obligation to be open and honest about their HIV, and other STD, status. For christ sake, we tell each other all the time, "Don't get near me, I have a cold," yet we keep information from others about a potentially life changing infection?
I know there is a stigma that people with HIV have to deal with, and that there is outright discrimination against them. I get that, honestly. I know that there are people who would walk out on someone who informed them they were HIV+. I'm sorry though, that is their choice to make. As I stated above, I have played with people that I know to be HIV+, so it's not something that I would do personally, but I have made that choice for myself, and it should be respected. Just as I will respect a person's choice to not hang out with me if I have the measles.
I wrote this in a public forum because I don't believe that the politics of today allow us to be private about who we are. People need to know that there are gay men who are not HIV+ or have AIDS. They need to know that there are people who have an active sexual lifestyle that can be responsible, and probably somewhat lucky, in not contracting any STD. They need to know that folks are HIV+ are living longer and are probably all around them. We need to banish the images in the public mind of the irresponsible sex of the 80's that led to the images of pale figures in hospital beds. We, as a community, have a responsibility to live open and honestly to the best of our ability both in our sexual orientation and in our status. We can't do that if we don't know what it is.
Crossposted from my blog - www.bearsleft.com