What's Your HIV Testing Story?
6/27/2012 4:00:00 PM
By Alex Garner
We’ve all had an HIV test at some point in our lives. Getting tested is a fundamental part of the gay male experience. For many it’s a rite of passage, like our version of a quinceanra. When the result comes back positive, the experience is forever etched in our mind because it’s the beginning of our life as an HIV-positive person.
All positive people have a testing story. It’s an essential part of the HIV narrative. Just like people often ask, “When did you come out?” they also ask, “When did you test positive?” For some, the experience was moving or enraging or downright hysterical.
When I was negative I had a number of forgettable HIV tests but I didn’t realize before going in for my last test that it would be an event I would keep with me for the rest of my life. When I wrote The Infection Monologues, each character had a unique testing experience that set them on their journey with HIV. One of those stories is based on my testing experience and I thought I would share it with you. It’s been altered for dramatic effect but I think it’s the sort of experience many of us can relate to.
Our testing story is a key moment in our lives with HIV. One this National HIV Testing Day, I thought we could expand the discussion beyond just going in for a test and talk about what happened to all of us after that result came back positive. By sharing our testing experience with others we’ll help them better understand what it’s like to get a positive test result and what it means to live with HIV.
Below is a version of my testing story, what’s yours?
Victor: I knew I had HIV even before I tested positive. I had taken enough risks to know that eventually it mightcatch up with me. When I got this really bad flu part of me suspected that I had gotten myself infected. It had finally happened. I was living in San Francisco at the time and went to a local clinic for an HIV test and remember having my blood drawn and thinking “ Victor, you may not want to come back and hear the bad news,” but I did come back.
I sat there waiting and looking at the male nurse who was going to present me with my results. He was hot. Very Italian looking with wavy black hair and a roman nose. Chest hair peaking out of the v-collar of his scrubs and bulging biceps. I wondered just how inappropriate it would be to make a date with a nurse I met at an AIDS clinic. Then my mind began to wander and I thought about what it would mean when the results came back positive. I had thought about it dozens of times, what my life would be like when I became infected.
I had it all figured out. I would be the picture of healthy living with HIV. I would go jogging in Golden Gate Park. I would take up yoga and acupuncture. I would spend time in Chinatown shopping for herbs and roots. Roots are very salubrious. It would be like having my own sitcom, “Me and HIV”: A show about me and my kooky new partner HIV and all of our wacky adventures. The opening montage would consist of clips of me taking my meds, cheerfully walking the streets of San Francisco, getting encouragement from my doctor, standing on the beach contemplating life’s great mysteries. And then at the end my friends and I and HIV, of course, would all pile into one of those old Cadillac convertibles. You know, those really long ones. And try to drive down Lombard Street. Oh HIV, you so crazy!
Then the hunky nurse approached with my results. He sat down and said “Victor, you’ve tested positive for HIV.”
I took a deep breath and it hit me. I wasn’t exactly relieved but it was as if a cloud had lifted that had been over me as long as I had known what HIV was. I don’t remember much. It’s all sort of a blur. The hunky nurse gave me a smile as if to say, “You’re going to be alright”. He asked if I wanted a hug and I politely declined.
Instantly all my thoughts, all my expectations were gone. No walks on the beach, no trips to Chinatown. No wacky adventures. It had been mere moments and I already knew that life with HIV was nothing at all like I had envisioned. My life as an HIV negative man had ended. I left there for some comfort food, In-N-Out burger and fries. Funny how things that are bad for us are so very soothing.
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