Saturday, June 27, 2009

National HIV Testing Day -- Repost

I got tested again about a month ago by my doctor, but today is National HIV Testing Day, and I thought I'd repost my story from 2008 that originally appeared on RainbowCincinnati here.

The last year has been rough, and I would be lying if I said I hadn't fucked up a time or two.

But, for the most part (I continue to tell myself), I did ok. However, when someone is naked behind and in front of you, the lines begin to blur on exactly how safe you are being.

I have been truly concerned about the results of an HIV test exactly twice in my life.

The first time was my first test. Fresh into the world of, this chubby 19 year old found a boy that liked him. He was 38 (ish), I was 19. It made perfect sense when I wanted him to fuck me that we should do so without a condom. HIV happens to other people (A) and (B) he likes me and would look after my interests. All I remember is desperately trying to clean myself out and seeing blood.

Three months later, he called to tell me that he was HIV+. That was the first time I was worried and it opened up a whole new world of learning, growing, and a career path that was unexpected.

Today was the second time I was worried, and I arrived via bus to the STOP AIDS offices promptly at... 8:40am. I got to sit out front, reading a book my father had recommended to me, and greet all of my former coworkers, having to make light of the situation with each new smiling face.

"I'm here to celebrate the day!" It being National HIV Testing Day, the ruse was plausible.

I didn't tell them that I was scared shitless, or that I was there only because a series of signs from the heavens were directing me there. No, no, I was just there doing my good, gay duty.

Having not been tested since March (ish) 2007.

You read that right. I am an HIV Counselor and Advocate and had not been tested in over a year. Let's ignore the lapse in judgment and move on with the story...

I had decided that my desire to be tested would also be mitigated by who was testing me. First, Libby. She and I had talked about it before, she's one my dearest friends in the world, and, if I had to have bad news, I wanted to hear it from her. I wanted a friend in that room. Second, Cheryl. It seems counterintuitive. She is an older, religious, dignified African-American lady. When you consider the game of identities, it's not that unusual because she is exactly the opposite of who I am.

And I always said that she would be the best person to hear that you were positive from because she's so much like a mother. I would guess that she would just swoop me into her arms and make me feel better.

Third, Todd. Todd is amazing at what he does, but none of this was necessarily his business. However, if it were positive, he would have to be called in to guarantee my anonymity. I figured the result would be safest in his hands, and he would treat it with the kind of respect that I would want.

Adam and Brent and the rest of the staff... I love them all, but I didn't want them to test me. Sorry, guys. I don't know any of you as testers, and I was really worried.

Todd drove up first. I called out: "I'm in need of your services!"

He looked flustered and said: "TODAY?"

"It's National HIV Testing Day! I wanted to be your first test of the day!" I know I have a bad habit of popping with random projects. I think it's funny he would not have thought that I would be there for an HIV test. When he realized, he looked visibly relieved that it wasn't another "Crazy Barry Scheme" (which he would buy into because he knows they work).

Libby pulled up immediately after, we worked out the details and Libby was going to test me.

I have been in that room many times, but this was the first time in the cushy chair which is now a big loveseat like monstrosity. I reclined and Libby and I gossiped.

If you've never been tested, I'll clue you in: you get asked a lot of questions. And since places like STOP AIDS have a 20-minute test, you are definitely going to have time to chat. Libby whipped out the list and answered the questions for me. We giggled about some of the answers, made light jokes, but that was because I was worried and I get the impression she was a little worried for me.

But she was being a professional, and I love her for it.

I learned one thing, though: don't look at the test. I was watching her eyes the whole time. I freaked out every time her gaze lingered. Kathryn once suggested you just turn the test around so neither of you can see it. Now that I've sat in the big cushy loveseat at the STOP AIDS office, I understand better why. When my job switches to the 20-minute test, I'll remember that then.

When I called her on her eyes, she said, "Honey, it's working. And I'm not seeing anything." She flipped the test towards me.

For most other people in the world, this would be a terribly unprofessional move. I have seen these tests turn positive. Ten minutes into it, I saw what she was seeing: there was no indication of an HIV infection.

Ten minutes in -- and it's a big secret that the tester can usually tell that soon, if not sooner -- and we knew it would be fine.

I texted my sister immediately after: TWICE I'VE DODGED THE BULLET ON THIS FUCKING TEST.


OK, OK. I get it. Learned my lesson.

Carry on.

But I'm HIV-negative... today.

And today, and today, and today.

My old boss used to liken the penis to a deadly weapon, "except its not the bullets we're worried about -- but it's a shot all the same," she used to say. I thought it was worth a thought this morning.

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