Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Examine the Vaccine

HIV VaccineThis past week, the world was rocked by news of the discovery of the first vaccine that prevents HIV. This development was certainly newsworthy, getting the attention of everything from our local Philippine Daily Inquirer, to the Associated Press. I was hearing about it as well, from everyone from fellow pozzies to friendly neggies. Everyone was excited.

How about me? Was I excited? I’ll be honest. Not really.

I apologize, but really, I was skeptical to begin with. I’d never read about any even minute developments towards a vaccine against HIV. It was just too out of the blue and too sudden to be a success, I thought. I know, my pessimism got ahead of me. I just needed to read all about it myself.

Modesty aside, I consider myself a scientist. It’s probably just my personality, reinforced by my educational background. Whether by induction or deduction, I run on reason. I run on questioning. I run on proof. I run on logic. Let’s find me some logic.

Before anything else, we must point out that the article talked about a vaccine, not a cure. So this is not something for us who already have the virus. This was something that would primarily benefit those who are not infected with HIV. With that taken into consideration, I’d be happy for those who are negative.

I think the most prominent phrase in the article is the part that says that “the vaccine cut the risk of becoming infected with HIV by more than 31 percent.” I’m sure most people will initially think Wow! upon hearing that, but something just struck me about the statement. Let’s see.

Vaccines supposedly prevent infection by a pathogen, which in this case is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Note, the word is prevent, not just reduce. Preventing infection, for me, means having zero chances of getting infected after vaccination. Zero. Zilch. Zip. None. Nada. So to merely cut the risk just doesn’t cut it. Ergo, I believe it should not have been called a “vaccine” in the first place.

Calling it a “vaccine” would just throw people into a false sense of security that with the so-called “vaccine”, they would be completely safe from catching HIV. It might just cause unprotected sex and other risky practices to break free from the word of caution that we’ve been trying to point out.

Okay, fine. The article did say benefits were modest. But anyone who hears of a lowering of the risk of HIV infection “by more than 31%” would be impressed. So how did they get “31%”? Let’s study the data.

Of the 8,198 who got the “placebo” or dummy shots, 74 got infected with HIV, amounting to 0.903%. While of the 8,197 who got the “vaccine”, 51 still got infected with HIV, amounting to 0.622%. The difference between the two is around 0.281%, which indeed accounts for 31.073% of 0.903%.

But really, how significantly far away is a 0.622% chance of getting infected from a 0.903% chance? With the “vaccine”, approximately 6 in every 1,000 people got infected. But even without the “vaccine”, the chances of getting infected were still small. Just 9 in every 1,000 people. The difference? For me, minute.

And then there are other peculiarities that I tend to notice. First, it is noted that the efficacy of the “vaccine” was tested against particular strains commonly found in Thailand. But then, of course, I’m not in Thailand. And around the world, there are different types of HIV, with each type having different strains. So it is a strain-specific “vaccine” to say the least. And along with that should burst the bubble of safe, carefree, unprotected sex.

“All were given condoms, counseling and treatment for any sexually transmitted infections, and were tested every six months for HIV. Anyone who became infected were given free treatment with antiviral medicines.”

Whoa! Wait a minute. Back it up. So it wasn’t just a battle between a “vaccine” and a placebo. Condoms were in the mix?! That’s a whole other factor which fucks up all the results, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t know if it was the “vaccine” that was working, or just the use of condoms. Hmm.

So there, I rest my case. Fine, it may be a breakthrough in the field of medicine. But wasn’t it a tad overrated? Tell me really, knowing that this “vaccine” reduces the rate of HIV infections from 9 to 6 out of 1,000, only for specific strains of HIV, and even with condoms playing an unknown factor... Would you still be willing to take the risk with this “vaccine”?


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vaccine Alert!

Pardon me, but having been busy with the recent passing of my aunt and godmother, I haven't really been taking the time to blog.

But I got a number of alerts this week, mostly from fellow pozzies, about news of an HIV vaccine that had been developed. And this new vaccine news, was my cue to make a comeback.

I'll be back in a bit. For now, read more about the new HIV vaccine from the Philippine Daily Inquirer. What do you think about all this?

Rest assured, I have much more to say about this... soon.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

HIV & (Miss) U

Yeah, sure. I enjoy watching beauty pageants. There’s nothing wrong with that. I remember, even when I was younger, I’d e fascinated by the national costumes and long gowns of each candidate, list down my bets, and check them against the ones the judges would pick. Was it because I was gay? Oh, please... only heaven knows which came first.

But this year, more than because I'm gay, nor nor because I was a beauty titlist myself... oi, that’s a whole other story... I discovered one other reason to love beauty pageants: HIV. HIV?!

Of course, the most prestigious of the beauty tilts has always been the Miss Universe pageant. On August 23rd this year, I watched intently as Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela was crowned the new queen of the universe on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It really should’ve been like any other Miss Universe night. One distinct difference? Three Miss Universe crowns. Three crowns to choose from, at least.

Basically, the new jewelry sponsor of the pageant, Diamond Nexus Labs or DNL, designed three different Miss Universe crowns, each costing a whopping US$202,000. And of the three crowns, named Hope, Peace and Unity, one would be voted winner by the public via an online poll.

Though the three designs were distinctly different from each other, one similarity was the inlay of red rubies... apparently meant to symbolize the pageant’s cause: HIV and AIDS awareness. Interesting, right? I was never aware that they supported that cause.

According to the Miss Universe website, the compelling reason to take the advocacy of HIV/AIDS awareness under its wing was the fact that 47% of the 41 million people living with HIV/AIDS around the world are women.

And because AIDS is the deadliest infectious disease among adults and the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, every Miss Universe is said to take on the job of traveling the world to speak on behalf of this official cause, using her title to champion HIV/AIDS prevention, particularly among adolescents. During her reign, Miss Universe is to work with the Latino Commission on AIDS, Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and Youth AIDS/PSI among other organizations and charitable allies.

The advocacy also made its presence felt in the Q&A portion of the pageant as one judge, Tamara Tunie, fielded her question to Miss Dominican Republic, Ada Aimee De La Cruz:

Tamara Tunie: According to the world health organization, there’s an urgent need for HIV testing across the globe. Do you believe that HIV testing should be made mandatory?

Miss Dominican Republic: Good night Bahamas! I definitely do believe that the necessary tests should be made so that people can prevent aids. Because definitely, by just being not careful in just one minute, we may lose our own lives. And that is very costly for us. Thank you so much.

Okay fine. “Good night, Bahamas!” initially threw me off. And though Miss Dominican Republic didn’t actually answer the question as it was stated, I’m just glad she didn’t phrase it in a way that says it should be mandatory. I just think everyone getting tested because it's mandatory is totally different from everyone getting tested because they understand the need to know their status. What she said made sense. The necessary tests should be made. And everyone understanding the need to know their HIV status is indeed the necessary thing.

What did you think of her answer?


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Papi Firsts

Papi and I planned to go on a date Saturday. I was dead set on watching KimmyDora, and I was dead set on watching it with him. Yes, it was a date, and it would be our first. It was made clear that it was to be a date-date, not a sex-date... a conviction that would force me to beat my meat beforehand, just to make sure I won’t be cum-brained during the date. I’d also be leaving my condoms home, just to drive the point further. Does it sound boring already?

Friday, I got invited along with a bunch of peeps from work to watch KimmyDora. I did say I had plans of watching it the next day with Papi and begged off. So it was agreed that I'd just join them for dinner before they went to the screening. Thanks to the dreadful traffic of Makati, we got to Glorietta with no time to spare for dinner. So I got persuaded to join them for the movie. But Papi? He was pissed. I think we had our first LQ... lovers’ quarrel... based on the premise that we were lovers.

I was apologizing to Papi via text, but I felt his frustration. And certainly, it was my fault. Yeah, sure, the movie was great and a lot of fun. But heaven knows I couldn’t help but feel bothered. I feared the worst... Papi had all the reasons to call off our date. And there would’ve been no one to blame but me.

The next morning, I still wasn’t sure whether our date would push through. I greeted him that morning with a text message, expecting the worst. It wasn’t until he replied with his usual terms of endearment that I was appeased... not totally, though... just a bit. So it was reiterated, we’d meet at 3:00 in the afternoon.

He did say he might be late because of the rains, but I didn’t mind. Waiting for him would be my least karma. And besides, he made it worth the wait. When he texted that he was a few minutes away, I walked towards our meeting place. And then I saw him. That sweet smile on his face gave me my sigh of relief. And the tight hug and the kiss on the cheek? Icing on the cake. We had officially kissed and made up.

After buying tickets, running errands, window shopping, and with still more than an hour to spare before the movie was to start, we decided to grab some refreshments. Seated across each other sipping some iced tea, we got to catching up. It was, literally, everything under the sun. Everything from family, friends, exes, and yeah, Papi knows I’m HIV-positive – remember, though he’s not poz, we met at the RITM – so we were free to talk about that too.

With our simple outfits and simple semikal haircuts, you’d think we were just two simple guys spending a simple afternoon together. But with the interspersion of kisses on the cheek, intertwined fingers, and hands wrapped around the other’s waist, you’d sense something fishy was going on. Yeah, yeah, we were a pair of PDA dudes. I like a guy who is carefree enough to handle public displays of affection. Sort of makes me think, hmm, this guy’s not ashamed to be seen with me... and vice versa.

When movie time came, things seemed to be taking a turn for the worst. We walked into the theater to find it almost packed, with whatever vacant seats being apart from each other. So we agreed we’d rather stand at the back than sit apart from each other. We were both really fine with it. Being able to hold hands, give little smacks on the cheek and be wrapped in each other’s arms made up for the convenient inconvenience. So, not surprisingly, we still enjoyed the movie just standing the whole time. Was it more because KimmyDora was really a great movie, or was it because of the company? Hmm.

After the movie and a buffet’s worth of dinner, Papi had to wait for a friend of his with whom he was to grab a ride home. Walking around, we found ourselves amidst already closed shops and darkened corridors of the mall. With over an hour to spare and feeling the blood rushing from our brains to our tummies, we settled down in one of the sofas along the hallway, just relaxed and continued talking.

The night was certainly winding down, but my senses livened when he leaned in to kiss me full on the lips. It felt good. Wait, was I dreaming? Did we just have our first kiss? I considered asking the guy seated across us what just happened, but decided against it. I was still trying to analyze it all when he leaned in for another kiss. Deeper, longer, sweeter. It felt damned good. Yep, now that was surely a kiss.

I know I was turned on at that point, but of course, I can only speak for myself. Not to worry, I lived up to our not-a-sex-date agreement. Whew. All I know is I had my head in the clouds the rest of the way home... and I wasn’t even on ARVs yet. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I missed drinking my meds on time. At least I’m sure it wasn’t just an ARV-high. It was the kiss. It was the kiss.

So there. A lot of firsts. A first LQ. A first date. A first kiss. A whole lot of firsts... and then some. Papi, Papi, Papi. Now, can you really blame me if I fall in love with this guy?


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Why I Cry

Why I CryI’d mentioned before that my aunt – my mom’s sister and my godmother – was diagnosed with cancer. She had a hysterectomy in May, and had undergone three rounds of chemotherapy. I’d never seen her since before she got diagnosed.

Not until yesterday.

My aunt’s family – my uncle and cousins – had already asked for help. Simply help to relieve them at my aunt’s bedside and give them some chances to rest. My mom had already assumed even beforehand that I’d be going with her to watch over my aunt in the hospital, thanks to my availability it being a holiday. But overhearing that my aunt had developed pneumonia had left me concerned.

I know I sound selfish. But whether I like it or not, I am now immuno-compromised. And pneumonia is always going to be one of my foes. Ate, our nurse at the RITM, had advised me against exposing myself to it. But my mom nagged me enough to get me to go. Of course she didn’t know what risk I was running. Until last minute, I still wasn’t sure whether I’d stay the whole time or just take my mom there and leave. I just thought, worst case, if I stayed, I’d just spend most of the time outside the room.

So, fine. I woke up early for a holiday, took breakfast, showered and dressed up. My first instinct was to wear my happiest outfit to cheer things up. Was it inappropriate? It wasn’t a wake anyway, right? So I ended up in a blinding orange shirt with a huge smiley printed on it. Very me.

I spent the cab ride to the hospital thinking. I knew she was in recovery. I knew she was in some pain. I knew chemotherapy had caused her to lose her hair. I knew she’d been wearing wigs and hats to hide it. I knew she was going to look different from when I last saw her. But no matter how much I knew, nothing could prepare me for what I was going to see.

Stepping into her room and seeing her for the first time, I was overwhelmed. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe how different she looked. It was pitiful. I almost cried. But I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I knew that in the same way I don’t want anyone’s pity, she wouldn’t want it either. So I tried my best to keep the tears at bay. But I didn’t know how else to react for the first few minutes.

Frail, pale and lying in bed, she looked up at me, pointed at my shirt and said, “Now that makes me smile!” But you know what, more than me making her smile, I think she was trying to make me smile. As always.

This was the woman who never made me feel like I was a disappointment. This was the woman who always made me feel good about myself. This was the woman who always had something good to say about me. This was the woman who would take the news of my HIV status well. This was the woman who I don’t think ever made me cry. She still was.

So at that point, the pneumonia was not a factor. Catching anything was the least of my concerns. I was going to stay. For her.

The rest of the day was spent massaging her legs, applying some hot compress, adjusting her blanket, fanning her head... just anything she needed that could give her comfort. But I could feel she was in a lot of pain. It was so bad at times that she was crying. I admit, I shed a few tears myself. But I tried my best to hide them. Believe me, I shed more secret tears during my six-hour stay with my aunt, than I did for the more than a year that my dad suffered from cancer himself. It was heartbreaking to see her suffering. But what was more heartbreaking was that there was nothing I could do to ease it.

It was tough to be there to hear that the prognosis was bad. It was tough to hear that the cancer came back with a vengeance. It was tough to hear she wasn’t responding to chemotherapy. It was tough to hear the word “palliative” being used. But surely, not as tough as what she was going through.

Indeed, it is scary that the cancer genes are definitely present in both sides of my family tree. And HIV causing me to be more prone to it definitely won’t help. But certainly, if my own time comes, I shall never forget the spirit with which my aunt is fighting right now.

Right now, I’m still physically, mentally and emotionally drained. You won’t believe how many times and how hard I cried just writing this entry. The heavens can be so unfair sometimes. Certainly, as a mentor, as a daughter, as a sister, as a wife and as a mother, she has much more to live for than I do. She just doesn’t deserve this. If I could take her pain and suffering, I would. I would. I would.

Before leaving, while no one was looking, I left a rosary by her bedside. It was a rosary given to me, brought from and blessed in Jerusalem itself. I always had it at my own bedside. But this time, I think my aunt needs it more than I do. Please help me pray for her... if not for her recovery, just for some relief and comfort. Please... Thanks.