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, February 28, 2010

Livin' La Vida Aida

Trese had the contacts and got us tickets. Our Sunday evening was set. February 21st, we were going to watch Live AIDS. I know... if it were all up to me, I wouldn't be the type to go out on a Sunday evening. I mean we would be out late, and there would be work the following day. But this was Live AIDS. And I would be with my pozzie friends. AIDS with HIV friends... who wouldn't want that?

Sunday afternoon, we had agreed to meet at 4:00 pm at the local mall. I was there around 4:00 pm, and met up with BFF. My mobile was ringing off the hook, as I became the voluntary coordinator for the event yet again... seemingly, I'm the root of all lakwatcha lately. Shortly, O and ex-BFF-in-law (Oi, a long story... and not mine to tell) showed up. Then a veteran pozzie but a newbie to the group joined us... this was a friend of E, GreenMan and mine.

Soon, I got a text from the real newbie, advising what he was wearing and where he was... this was actually someone who had just found out he was HIV positive about a week before... But he was adjusting well, having been able to start a blog of his own, and eager to meet others like him, so I invited him to join us. Let's call him by his blog, LivingWithHiv. Finally we had met. My soon to be "bunso", as we had planned that I'd accompany him on his first trip to RITM sometime soon. Wee!

Trese and the not so Lil Jenny brought up the rear. Again we were a formidable bunch. Eight of us to be exact, coming from everywhere from way up north to down south. We were so many that some of us had to take an extra cab, lest we plan on ruining the suspension trying to fit into just one vehicle. It just wasn't going to happen. Eight pozzies. I'd say wow to that. Or maybe the DOH would declare us an epidemic with our viral density in such a small floor area. What brought us together? Friendship... definitely, fun... absolutely, HIV... to some extent, and AIDS... Live AIDS to be exact.

Live AIDS? People who have never heard of Live AIDS might think it's some programme or campaign about the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. And at least eight of us positives being there might reinforce that thought. But nope, it's nothing like that actually. The AIDS in Live AIDS stands for Ang Istoryang Dinebelop ng Samaskom, literally translated, The Story Developed by Samaskom. Samaskom is actually an organization of Mass Communication students in the University of the Philippines in Diliman. And coming from Mass Comm, it could not be expected to be anything but fun.

Simply put, Live AIDS is an annual tradition and pride of Samaskom, a show where the members are able to showcase their talents in performing. We're talking about dancing, singing, and acting, but for me, the one distinctive thing about Live AIDS that people watch out for are the comedy skits and monologues that Samaskom develops, each one being very relevant to the times. It's like one huge standup comedy stint. I had watched Live AIDS just once before, years and years ago, back when I was still in college. Oi, ancient history, I know. Back then if I remember right, skits were about showbiz, politics, and pagers. Pagers?! I know! That should give you an idea of how long ago this was.

So this year, I got the chance to watch again. The long lines that wrapped around the corridors of the UP Diliman College of Music, where Abelardo Hall, the home of Live AIDS, was, were testament to how anticipated this show was. This was to be the last show of the year, unless they stage a repeat, so expectedly, most of the kinks and flops of previous stagings, if any, should've been worked out. This was going to be a fun night.

While in line, or even before, Trese kept saying he had a surprise for me that evening. I had no clue what it was. Lo and behold, he finally revealed that one of the newbie positives with whom I had been chatting for some time now was also there to watch. And having been told that that person was standing somewhere in line in front of us, I tried my hardest to try and guess which one it was. Fruitless of course. It's not like I have some sixth sense to figure out who looks like a walking virus. Bwehehe. I soon gave up trying to guess.

After wrangling with a long wait in a long line prior, we finally made it into the theatre, luckily able to grab the last few seats left. I remember the first time I watched years ago, I was seated in the aisles the whole time. So regardless of whether we were in the rearmost of the theatre, and seated in different rows in pairs, it wasn't all that bad. Of course, I had BFF beside me. While waiting for the show to start, I had my mobile phone in hand, awaiting word from the newbie I was yet to meet. I was not disappointed. He called me in a bit, asking where I was. I stood up, asked him to look back, and waved at him. That made at least nine positives in that little hall. Contact. Bwehehe. That would be enough for now.

So anyways, the show started in a bit. Live AIDS 2010 entitled Circusmaryosep! started off with an amazing monologue by its "ringmaster", by the end of which LivingWithHiv struck gold when he found himself holding the winning ticket for the one and only raffle prize. I can say nothing but that the prize was hot, hot, hot! That lucky bastard. Hehehe.

One after another, the puchlines were rolled out. A Showtime spoof entitled "Shorttime", amazingly with the actual Vice Ganda seated in the audience. A parody of the Pacquiaos, complete with Manny, Jinky, Krista and Mommy Dionesia shopping for a pair of limited-edition-Coco-Chanelas slippers. A political skit complete with the 2010 presidentiables losing out to finalists Philippine president Gloria Arroyo and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. And my personal favorite, an Avatar-inspired twist on the phases of homosexuality entitled "Avakler", complete with audience participation, specifically pulling a poor gay guy out of the closet and toying with him to the audience's delight. Body shot, Bonding, Booking, Bromance. LOL... Laugh Out Little. Yes, yes, yes, sans the shimmying females that hardly interested me in between sets, the show was a blast indeed.

A ten minute walk out to Philcoa meant we were starving. Well, actually, having not had dinner and it already being past 10:00 pm really meant we were starving. We had dinner at Chowking, and two of us went off their own ways. B.I.T.C.H., BFF, Lil Jenny, O, Trese and LivingWithHiv. The six of us left decided to have a nightcap at a not-so-far-away coffee place in the city.

I was glad newbie LivingWithHiv was still there to witness a whole spectrum of emotions, from bawling with laughter still from the Live AIDS punchlines, to giggling at the sexual undertones dropped every so often, to ogling at hot guys in the vicinity, to some serious talk about love lives and the challenges that come with them. If that didn't convince him that we were still a normal bunch of guys, then I don't know what would. It was a pretty excellent initial immersion in the positive world, if I could say so myself.

All that said, it was around 2:00 in the morning, and with it already being a Monday, a workday shortly for some of us, it was time to go. Fine I was going to be hungover from lack of sleep on that Monday, but really, I wouldn't have traded it in for anything... that one little evening of Livin' la Vida Aida.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unacceptably Accepted

In Positivism's last poll, readers were asked how it would affect their relationship with a friend or family member if they found out that that person was HIV-positive. Of the almost 200 respondents, around 68% said it would make their bond stronger, 27% said it wouldn’t change a thing, while just 5% said it would force them apart.

Looking at those results, the scales seem to be really tipped in favor of those with HIV, right? So much support. So much acceptance. So much love. And as someone who is HIV-positive, I should be so extremely happy with those results… supposedly. But… I’m not.

I am HIV-positive, yes.

But no, I am not HIV.

Quite frankly, I cannot fathom any other notion than that HIV does not define me. And that being said, suddenly having HIV should not change who I am, right?

So if you suddenly like me more now that I’m HIV positive, what’s the contributing factor to that? It can’t be anything else than the HIV. It’s like reverse stigma… but stigma nonetheless. Grr.

I just feel that if having HIV becomes the reason for someone to become closer to me all of a sudden, then it probably has some sense of pity or charity behind it. And no… as much as I don’t want shame, I don’t want pity either.

I’d much rather have people I know say that finding out I had HIV won’t change a thing. If they love me, then they still love me. If they hate me, then they still hate me. HIV just shouldn’t be a part of the equation of hate and love. Nuff said.

I am HIV-positive, yes.

But no, I am not HIV.

Because the bottom line is that I am still me. But then again, that’s just me.

- republished from Positivism's Ka-Blog


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Call of the Call Center

I’m not sure really what it was, but to me so much of it seemed like damage control for one of the first news items that TV Patrol World came up with, linking HIV & AIDS with the call center industry. I think it’s just fitting that I start off with how Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippine president herself, reacted when she was asked about the news on rising HIV cases in the call center industry, an industry which she has proudly taken a lot of credit for developing during her term. Willard Cheng reports.

I absolutely loved how she answered. “First of all, are they real? Are they real? Yung supposed HIV epidemic?” I’d give her a standing ovation. Of course people may have been expecting an outburst from her saying, “My God, we must do something about this!” But, no. She just said the right thing. In a case where even the Department of Health itself has not declared it to be an epidemic within the industry, she just really was not in any position to declare it as one. The PGH doctors who started the shock value of it should take note of that. Just because some of those working in the call center industry were among the HIV diagnoses made, it shouldn’t be a basis to automatically link the two.

I’m just a bit wary with the statement from Convergys, one of the call centers in the country, about how they have annual HIV testing for their employees. I do hope this isn’t anything mandatory, because that would certainly go against what’s stated in R.A. 8504. Remember, this is about health and wellness. It’s not a witchhunt.

In this next clip with NiƱa Corpuz, actual employees of call centers detest the generalization connecting HIV with their industry, and they’re absolutely spot on with saying it’s an individual’s responsibility, regardless of what industry he or she comes from, to protect him or herself from risks like those of HIV and STDs.

The concluding statement also works for me, when they say they would openly welcome HIV prevention and awareness campaigns in their workplace, but make clear how such campaigns should be made available to all, not just the call center industry. Bravo, guys and gals.

And this last segment of Zen Hernandez sealed the deal. Humphrey, HIV-positive and formerly working for a call center, states that, despite the fact that he used to work in the call center industry, it is a person’s lifestyle choices that matter when it comes to HIV. I actually know Humphrey personally, and do think everything he said here is accurate... really, in as much I’d like to keep up my streak of criticizing, I have nothing to say but “Great job!”

So there. Was it just me, or did all this seem like damage control? And if the resource persons who started the call center to HIV mess were actually so happy with how their initial feature turned out, why would there be a need for damage control, right? Hopefully they learned from this and will be more careful with their statements next time. Because when it comes to media accuracy, it’s actually very much like HIV... prevention works better than a cure.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Know, No, No

With the recent barrage of news items about HIV and AIDS, and just from one news program of one particular network, it’s sort of like it was unofficially declared to be HIV and AIDS Awareness Week. From Thursday in the last week of January, to Wednesday in the first of February, news on HIV has been a daily thing. Wonderful, supposedly, if they were accurate. But then of course, such hasn’t been the case so far. And so now, I’m back, and with more from them and for them.

In this report from Maricar Bautista, with the Valentine season comes the trend of speed dating. Speed dating is a type of event which strikes me as something like the Trip-to-Jerusalem of dating, without the elimination part of course. So girls get to spend a short amount of time with each of the guys at the event, and vice versa, all in the search of a potential match. Cute story, but then it gets linked again to the risk of HIV.

Speed dating and HIV? Wow. Not immediately a clear connection, to me at least. Clearly, based on the exact words of Dr. Eric Tayag of the DOH, it’s clear that it’s unprotected sex that poses the risk. So why link specific events as speed dating to HIV? So what is it about speed dating anyways? Is it the speed that exposes you to the risk of HIV? Yes, having to pose that question makes me giggle. Really, if you think about it, no matter how fast or slooooow you date, or how many you date, if when it comes to sex, you protect yourself, then you cut the risk significantly.

And no, it isn’t even about doing it with strangers. Because even if you know everything about someone, we have to remember that many of those who are infected with HIV do not even know that they are. Neither can you tell from how a person looks, who is HIV-positive or now. It’s just not safe to assume that everyone knows their own HIV status accurately. Look at it this way: Opt to play safe, whether it’s with a stranger, or with your twin brother.

In this report by Joey Villarama, what bugs me is the sweeping statement of Ferchito Avelino of the Philippine National AIDS Council saying the trends are effects of changing norms, technology, and the transformation of the Filipino family. For me, it’s not the changing norms, but the norms themselves. It's the so-called “norms” that have been in existence in our conservative culture that have sheltered sex and related topics under a thick blanket of taboo, preventing people from a guided understanding of the topic. Was this guy really from PNAC, or was he from the Catholic Church?

The report goes on to say that most of those who have gotten infected with HIV, are men who have had sex with men. But on the contrary, in the visual that accompanied that part, the 55% of infections attributed to men who had sex with women was greater. Again, this is news, and accuracy should be key.

And then it ends with CBCP spokesman Msgr. Pedro Quitorio again blaming the internet for destroying the morality of our youth. He calls for the youth to be alarmed, informed, and involved in finding a solution to the problem. Vague as that statement was, so why then is the Catholic Church pressuring against sex education and the reproductive health bill? Can you blame the youth for learning about sex from the internet? Answer me that, Father.

In this report of Jay Ruiz, HIV poster boy, Wanggo Gallaga, comes back out and also blames the internet for making finding sex easier. Fine, I’ll attest to that fact, being an avid fan of gay personals sites as well. But then again, isn’t it about playing safe, no matter how easy it is to find a playmate? The truth is, these same personals sites that are said to encourage hooking up, do have resources talking about safer sex. But in a culture that doesn’t know or believe that HIV is here, or that believes that one can tell by looks whether one does or doesn’t have HIV, do you wonder why people don’t click on the safe sex tabs as readily?

And with due respect to Wanggo, again, it’s not about how well you know the person you’re going to sleep with. Could it be that a partner you’ve been with and known for years might not know that he is HIV positive? And could it be that you might need to get tested as well? The question is not how well you know a person. The question is how well that person knows himself, specifically his HIV status. And the bigger question even, is how well you know yourself, specifically your own HIV status. Everyone must get tested, and must know their HIV status, and must protect themselves accordingly. Protect themselves, because HIV is not the only thing out there.

Kapamilya... please don’t jump on the HIV bandwagon just for the sake of a scoop. People do need to know, but they need to know what is right. Don’t forget your motto, Panig sa Katotohanan, Panig sa Bayan. Really, can true news exist without accuracy?


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Salamat, Doc

First, there was call centers. Then there was gimmick places. Yes, of course, there’s more. If before, unnecessary generalizations were made seemingly meant to mislead and scare people witless, this time, it’s different. It seems that ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol World got tired of generalizing. They decided to single out persons living with HIV… but it was not any less unnecessary, nor misleading, nor scary. Take a look and see for yourselves.

Sumusuong. It sort of strikes me in the context of accepting the challenge. The first statement says it all: Amidst the growing number of cases of HIV in the Philippines, is the lack of doctors and medical practitioners who are accepting the challenge of treating patients with this disease. A challenge. Should we be flattered that we are considered a challenge? Or does it say more about the kind of doctors we’re coming up with in this country?

Apparently, aside from sex workers and gays (argh, I’m again loving the generalization), one other high risk group is that of medical professionals who deal with us who are infected. They say not many dare to care for those with HIV because of the risks of infection involved, being constantly exposed to infected blood. The report goes on to cite that in the past two years, already more than ten medical health workers have tested positive with HIV.

Just a random thought. Was it established that these medical professionals did contract the virus through occupational hazards? Because from my experience, medical professionals do have sex, too. And also from my experience having sex with some medical professionals, they don’t always do it protected either. So could it be that it is easier for them to claim and blame occupational hazards, than admit to having careless sexual encounters? Two words: saving face.

And besides, exposure to blood and infected body fluids won’t make for a surefire transmission of the virus. There has to be a point of entry as well. I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t be using their vaginas or assholes to draw blood, right? So maybe there was a cut or open wound. Aren’t medical professionals trained to protect themselves with gloves and what have you? If something went wrong, must the patient be blamed, or could it be because they were not observing proper procedure, were not properly trained, or had committed some form of human error?

And the precautionary measures? Don’t you think that’s overkill? Fine. Gloves, I can understand.

But masks? It’s not like you can get infected with HIV by sharing the same air we breathe. Fine, in cases of tuberculosis or pneumonia or some airborne infections, it may be needed. But state it clearly. Masks are unnecessary if it’s just HIV. It’s more like medical personnel need to wear masks to protect us HIV-positives, who are more susceptible to simple infections. Ain’t that right?

And eyeshields and needleless systems? I’ve never seen blood drawn without needles in this country, unless you wait for all of us to menstruate maybe. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe, when done correctly, drawing of blood and procedures involving needles should not result in fountains of blood. So might it be again possible that human error may cause such risks?

The story with Dr. Jenny was laughable. "Tinalsikan" was the word that the reporter used. The way it was stated that the patient seemingly purposely splattered her eyes with infected blood was ridiculous, even as she admits herself that it happened as the nurse was removing the naso-gastric tube. Clearly, it was an accident on the part of the medical personnel. It’s not like the patient aimed his squirting blood directly at her eyes on purpose. Imagine how much skill that would entail on the part of the patient.

And besides, if medical experts are indeed experts, they should know that there are proper engineering controls and work practices that reduce the risk of exposure to infected fluids. Aside from that, there is a post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP that is performed for cases of exposure to reduce the likelihood of infection. So again, is it the fault of the patient, or might medical personnel not be properly trained and informed to handle such cases?

And why single out people with HIV? Precautionary measures to avoid occupational hazards are actually similar for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne infections. Of course, I’m one of the unique cases because I have both Hepatitis B and HIV, but how about the rest who just have HIV? Why must you single them out to be feared?

And lastly, we can only talk here about those of us who actually know our HIV-positive statuses. Does this mean that you wouldn’t need to take as much precaution with those who have not declared that they are HIV-positive? Did it ever occur to you medical professionals that a great many more of us who are HIV-positive do not even know that they have the virus? Would it then make more sense to point out the need to observe a universal protocol of precaution with all patients regardless of implied, perceived, or actual HIV status?

Just some questions that run through my mind hearing this blatant report on the fear of those who are supposedly informed about medical practices and conditions. Maybe it’s time for the PGH and the DOH to start re-evaluating the challenges of caring for those living with HIV. A challenge? Again, should we be flattered that we are considered a challenge? Or does it say more about the kind of doctors we’re coming up with in this country? With all due respect, please consider that. Salamat, Doc.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pick on the Gimmick

Wednesday saw ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol World connecting HIV with the call center industry. You’d think ABS-CBN would stop there. They didn’t. Yes, there was more.

Daily from Wednesday till Friday this past week, TV Patrol World had at least one news item on HIV. You’d think that follow-up stories on it would get better, but still there was a lot left to wish for.

This time the stereotype they painted was in connection with gimmick places in Manila. I’d heard about this random testing thingy done outside bars in Malate last year. And quite honestly, I wasn’t in full support of the project. Why? Because it was being conducted in an area patronized by the gay community. Ergo, I was pretty sure it was going to just reinforce the HIV-to-gay stereotype. Expectations met. Watch it.

Again, some points I’d like to raise on this segment.

First point:
So they say doctors encourage persons who’ve had more than one sex partner to get tested for HIV. Isn’t that insinuating that having one sex partner eliminates any risk of exposure to the virus? Even if that single sex partner does not know his or her own HIV status? Again, a risk is a risk, regardless of how small and how infrequent. Shouldn’t they be encouraging everyone who’s had unprotected sex, regardless of the number of partners, to get tested? Hmm.

Second point:
Gimmick places being connected to HIV? Well, prior to finding out I was HIV-positive, I had never ever been in any of those types of bars, bath clubs or massage parlors. But still I got infected. And even if one did frequent these places, wouldn’t that person’s lifestyle and sexual health choices matter more? So why the need to insinuate? Does this mean that if you conducted the test among those who go to Catholic Churches and diagnosed some to have HIV, we could insinuate that going to church or being Catholic predisposes you to HIV? If it was conducted in schools and some positives were discovered, would that mean that people should shun education to avoid contracting the virus? Duh.

Third point:
You really had to spell out the stereotypes, didn’t you? Homosexuals, sex workers, IV drug users, OFWs, those married to foreigners, and yuppies. If one is none of those, are you saying he or she need not get tested? HIV is no longer a foreign thing. Neither is it a gender, sexual orientation or profession thing. A risk is a risk. Period. Again, all these generalizations do is give a false sense of security to the general population. And it is this ignorance that is helping the virus spread.

Fourth point:
Jay Ruiz tested negative. It was pointed out that, yes, he still could get infected. Actually and more accurately, he still could BE infected. Remember the window period of three to six months? Reminds me of one person I chatted with who was so confident in the safety of his unprotected sex because he would test his partners prior to having sex with them. I needed to point out that there is a window period within which one could still possibly test negative even if he already had the virus. I could only wish him good luck with that.

Fifth point:
Abstinence is good. Condoms, okay… but correct and consistent use of condoms at that. Being faithful doesn’t cut it. Not if you’re faithful to someone who doesn’t know his or her own HIV status. And not if you’re faithful to someone who is exposed to the risks of contracting HIV. Be mutually faithful, AND know your statuses.

Again, a lot of points misinterpreted that will fall onto the undiscerning ears of the uninformed. Certainly, it’s totally possible that what accurate information the doctors imparted became inaccurate after being butchered and put together by the news team. So in my opinion, press releases like these should be audited by the DOH or some governing body for accuracy, after the segment has been edited, and only then should the segments be allowed to air.

With HIV, I believe it’s not a case of good and bad publicity being publicity nonetheless. It’s a huge difference between being informed, being uninformed and being misinformed.