Bo Shuff

Got tested for HIV

Filed By Bo Shuff | September 11, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: anonymous sex, education policy, HIV/AIDS

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


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Bo, thanks for your honest post. I'm glad to hear you all got negative results on your HIV tests. I think that a lot of people can relate to your fear.

rick_from_kansas | September 11, 2008 6:38 PM

I just read and article that the CDC recent research has uncovered that 72% of new HIV infections have occurred among men who have sex with other men. This really saddens me.Have we not learned our lessons about unprotectd sex? Or is it perhaps that most of these new infections are young that the most of us here are and cant relate to the early days of the Aids epidemic where many gay men went to countless funerals of their friends because of the promiscurity of the gay men and of the lack of research money from Washington due to the non -reponse of the Reagan administration.I just can’t bring myself to imagine why? why would you take the chance? why would you be so reckless? why would you believe that just because we can prolong life and treat the ‘condition’, it’s a free for all? I have taken the attitude that we can do more alive to change things in our comminuty in regard to acceptance and civil rights.Well two things we know for sure:

1) the religious right will say this shows gay and bisexual men are still reckless, and 2) it will be harder to argue the point.

Sad……truly, in every respect of the word, sad. I can ramble on for hours about this:(

Rick, I think a part of it, as far as younger gays are concerned, is that HIV/AIDS has become so normalized in gay culture that some people think that it's an inevitable part of being gay. I had one young man I used to work with tell me that he tested positive because he knew he would get it sooner or later, so why not get it and be done with it.

People should disclose their status, but that can't happen if people don't get tested.

Thanks for sharing your story, Bo.

I am very happy for you. I do disagree on one thing. No one has any obligation to anyone. You and i and everyone else are responsible for ourselves when we trick with somone else. I will never waste my time trying to pump morality into the untold millions of people that are no more than strangers to me. People lie. Never be naive about that fact. Shoulda woulda coulda will land you up dead.

Wait until you read tomorrow's guest post from an Indy local who didn't want to know either. It's a completely different side of the coin.

Looking forward to it Bil--as someone who did AIDS Awareness education for years before her first test (and annual tests ever since that first one still lead to sweaty palms when I call in for results) I applaud any and all efforts to raise awareness and just encourage people to get tested and know the risk factors.

I still remember the Silence = Death t-shirts of the 80s and 90s in a magazine (I think it was Sassy magazine, a pretty progressive teen magazine if you think about it), and that article/image of the t-shirt was one of the first things that got me interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS and how to help those who have it and how to help those who are negative stay negative... is there anywhere I can get one of those t-shirts today? :)

And I agree with other posters--don't ever turn your back on someone who has HIV/AIDS and needs help, even if it's just a friend to call on the phone or help feed their pets or take them to the doctor. As someone who's negative, at least according to my last test a few months ago, I don't claim to know what the day-to-day is like, but do hope to continue learning and helping where I can.

For Indiana people out there, my name links to the Indiana AIDS Walk (as a volunteer) which is in a month on Saturday, Oct. 11, in downtown Indianapolis.

Bo,
I'm glad you got tested and glad you had this experience and that you're willing to talk about it.

I'm glad that you were safe and are safe and hopefully will carry this experience onto empowering gay men that, having safe sex is not a mere protection of ourselves and our brother, but a celebration of ourselves and our brother!

We can spend a great deal of time trying to find where the gay community went wrong in the HIV/AIDS battle. We can be ashamed of ourselves, mope and weep or wonder and try to find a villain in all of this but that's just a dead end road.

The gay community IS out there. WE KNOW about testing and the support offered. WE SEE the fliers and pamphlets at the local bar or coffee shop or internet posting.

Yet still, year after year, it proves that the truth is within "I didn't get tested."

Much like commenter Ewe says above,
"No one has any obligation to anyone. You and i and everyone else are responsible for ourselves when we trick with someone else...People lie. Never be naive about that fact."

But let's replace "lie" with "Don't know" or "I just assumed" or "I didn't ask" or "I thought it was ok" or "it was just the heat of the moment." This is crucial because the numbers prove that HIV+ men infecting others is less than the number of "negative" men infecting negative men. We tell ourselves that "negative" means negative and procrastinate what any sexually active, cares-for-oneself adult should do...Get tested.

Remember, it's not his fault you're HIV+ it's your fault for not using a condom.

The responsibility is up to ourselves. It lies within the individual. YOU. Not him, or them, but YOU having to make the right choice.

It's obvious the community isn't forcing people to get tested, so therefore, it takes ONESELF to get ONESELF tested. We need to admit this. We need to empower our brothers, we need to accept that this is us, our lives, how we have sex (yes a dick in the ass) and how we are entitled to health and respect. We must keep in mind that it's not about who we're having sex with but the type of sex we're having! Explore your sexual self, develop and experiment with your appetite and imagine how amazing all that can be when you're not second guessing anything and you know you've had a great time, all the while, making the best choice for yourself.

It is also up to the individual to say to their friend, partner, trick or boyfriend, "I fucking care about you - let's make good choices together."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 12, 2008 6:51 AM

In that I was around in 1980 and knew people who died after I knew them (in all senses) I appreciate your fear of the issue and your honesty with us. I held and helped take care of one friend (IV drips included) who was abandoned by his lover at this time. Everyone seemed to forgive the lover who was HIV+ but healthy for this heartlessness and I found it disgusting.

Bil asks about "What is the LGBT community?" I have read the whole thing and I do not remember accepting and loving our friends with Aids suggested by anyone. I hope it was and I missed it. I have never hoped more to be wrong.

You are tops Bo Bear.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 12, 2008 7:19 AM

Just reread Bil's posting and I must apologize. There were THREE comments that included HIV/AIDS of 128 comments. Dyssonance I liked yours best. None of those three were mine, by the way, so I am not letting myself off the hook either. "Community" implies that we take care of our own. Whether we are older, younger, disabled, stupid, religious, wealthy, or poor if we wish to be a community with legitimacy we have to think about these things as much as we think about (my favorite topic of disgust) popular culture.

Bo (I love guys called Bo as I am one too)-

Thanks for your honest and vulnerable story of your recent HIV test. While I am surprised it took you so long to have your first test, surely there are countless men who reason six-ways-to-Sunday while they shouldn't have it done either. Your story may help motivate them to get tested too and to do so with regularity (like including it with your yearly physical).

I would like to ask one question: was your HIV test an oral one (no jokes please) or was blood withdrawn? If it was an oral test, my doctor has been adamant that such tests are unreliable as they have been known to give false positives AND false negatives. A blood test seems to be the most reliable in detecting HIV and its antibodies.

Thanks for your great post and sharing your story!

You know, no.

Bo, I am sure you are a lovely person and I mean nothing personal by this.

But I will not congratulate you on that post. I found it to be offensive. I believe you inadvertently perpetuate some of the misunderstanding which you claim you'd like to change.

It happens here: "Just as I will respect a person's choice to not hang out with me if I have the measles."

HIV is not the measles. Equating one with the other is irresponsible. I don't deny that everyone does, indeed, have the right to make their choices. But the choice of how to interact with someone who is HIV+ is not as simple as the choice to stay away from someone who has a disease which is easily communicable through casual contact. Such comparisons are ammunition for ignorant extremist. It seems just a few months ago we saw a politician on the national stage who wouldn't retract his old statement that HIV+ people should be quarantined.

Furthermore, in the midst of insisting that we must all be open and honest about our status, you use tone and language which is incredibly negative. After reading this, I would entirely understand how a young man, newly positive, would be encouraged to keep his status to himself, rather than sharing at the risk of hearing this kind of diatribe.

It's very easy for you, with your negative results in hand, to write this post. You mention the stigma and discrimination that HIV+ people face only in passing. You do not understand it, not the slightest little bit. Claiming that you do is patently offensive.

I'm very glad you got tested. I'm very glad that you are negative. I applaud your desire to help young gay men understand the importance of safer sex.

However, I think you're going about it in an entirely ineffective way.