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.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Red Letter Day

I got an offline YM message last week. Someone who'd stumbled onto this blog, asking if I would like to support an HIV awareness campaign. Well, well, well. I asked what exactly it was going to be. It sounded interesting. I was pretty much game. I got the formal written invite sent via e-mail. I was really just after the schedule, the venue, who was organizing it, who was behind it, and that sort of stuff. The letter revealed more details on the event, some of which stopped me in my tracks.

Organized by Scribble Works Productions with Christine in charge, the event was entitled Red Letter Day: HIV/AIDS Awareness Event. Sponsored by Victoria Court and Watering Hole, in cooperation with Scribble Works Productions, FHM, Premiere Condoms, EZ Lube, and Enduranz Capsules, the event was to be held in Watering Hole, a restobar in Shangri-la Plaza Mall. Geez it's been more than a decade I think since I had last been inside Watering Hole. It took this little virus to bring me back there.

Red Letter Day was to feature band performances and mini-talks by HIV/AIDS advocates and representatives of the DOH, PNAC, UNAIDS and the like. There was also going to be a photoshoot of attendees and advocates, a sort of Freedom-From-The-Virus declaration wall, where photos of supporters of the campaign would be installed and viewed. Whoa. Hold your horses.

A photoshoot?! Pictures?! Memories to last a lifetime?! Wait a minute. I mean I've done photoshoots in my lifetime, heaven knows how far I've gone and how much I've shown... or how little I haven't shown for that matter. But a photoshoot of myself as someone identified as living with HIV has not happened as of the moment. But okay, I pushed my envelope.

Expecting the organizers to rethink considering me among their roster, I pointed out that I'm not entirely "out" just yet. I asked what the concept of the photoshoot would be. All I got was "black and white". Okay... So I fielded another question. Would the photographer be able to work with his concept if I were to specify that I remain unrecognizable to some extent in the photo? I remember even dropping suggestions like using shadows or non-frontal angles that could put some mystery to who I am exactly. It took a few minutes for them to answer.

I thought I was off the hook. Seriously. I mean I'd be willing to support the event, but pictures just might be out of the question. But then... Yes, we could work with that! Oh. They even thought that would make their photowall more interesting. Okay... Hmmm.

So there. It was set. Friday, I was to go for the shoot. It was scheduled from 3:00 to 7:00 pm, not exactly convenient for my work schedule. I actually thought I wasn't going to make it. I mean, as much as I would like to get out of it, I was seriously trying to make it. At 7:00 pm I wasn't even there yet, and was actually waiting for them to tell me they couldn't wait anymore. But nooooo... They were going to wait. So much for my easy way out.

So getting there, I finally met Christine, a.k.a. Nini, and saw Shola and Greenman. The photographer was semi-packed-up already. But after being identifies as he's-the-one-I-mentioned-who-would-need-a-mysterious-photo-treatment, the photographer was obviously up to the challenge. I didn't exactly want to stifle the guy's style with my limitations, so I gave my trust to him. He did some test shots with his assistant, and soon I found myself in front of the camera, taking shot after shot after shot.

I was nervous to say the least. But only because I still hate attention. I know I was sweating to my scalp to some extent, but I got through it. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected. Adbucted by darkness. Those were the words that the photographer used to describe his treatment of my photos. He did reassure me after, which I was fine with. I'm a very trusting person, sometimes to a fault. So with that, the photoshoot was done.

The following week, I got word from Christine that she'd be sending me a couple of shots to choose from and approve. Luckily, internet was down at that exact moment, so I actually had to toss out the trust again and tell her to just make the choice herself. Yes, I trusted her. And upon verification later on, her choice was indeed the same I would've made. Coolio.

Yesterday, Friday again, Red Letter Day was set at Watering Hole. I asked BFF to tag along with me. We had dinner and headed to the venue perfectly and fashionably late.

Nice. Oh, but Shola, Greenman, BFF and I weren't the only HIV-positives in the house. By the end of the evening... hmmm should I give hints? Well, let's just say there were more positives there than you could count on your fingers. Hehe.

So anyway, how was the event itself? Well, honestly, the HIV awareness part could've been emphasized more. Time-wise, the cause got overwhelmed by the great band, 3rd Avenue, who kept dishing out the catchy tunes to the audience's delight. The part where Shola, Greenman and a doctor from PNAC sat in front to relay stories and answer questions could've made more impact somehow. It was a mix of factors.

Maybe it was the layout of the room. Maybe it was the conduciveness of the ambience to that type of discussion. Definitely, there was so much stuff going on all around. People mingling amongst themselves. Sexy promogirls getting the attention of the straight crowd. Alcohol in everyone's systems maybe didn't help. Maybe to some extent, even having so many positives there was also not a very grand idea because really, if you think about it, they... or we... really weren't there for lessons on HIV awareness at this point.

I just wish that the PNAC doctor didn't limit the risks of contracting HIV to having mutiple sex partners, being part of the commercial sex trade and drug use. Urk. Sorry doc, I just had to say. But regardless, it was a great effort by the community composed of a motel chain, condom manufacturers, a gimmick place, an audience of chatters and supposedly some call center professionals, and of course the advocates. Congratulations to Christine! You're really small but terrible! Roar!

Heading home around midnight, I had a photo opportunity, the chance to meet new friends and advocates, freebies including a pack of condoms, some lube, a mini FHM mag, and a couple of Victoria Court discount cards, and some lessons learned about organizing something like this. It ain't easy. Kudos to the team behind it.

Oh, right, you're probably wondering how the photo turned out. Let me just mention that the other advocates whose photos were featured included shola, Greenman, Dr. Ferchito Avelino of PNAC, and even Sandra Seifert, reigning Miss Philippines Earth. Okay, fine, here it goes... Be kind.


BadPapiNYC said...

i love your photo. Kaka in love!

Trese said...

IMHO... the event was not that successful. The event should reach out to more and more people. And sadly, only a few people knew about the event.

red the mod said...

Kudos to the photog. The high-contrast in dichroma was well worth the wait. And the challenge. Although, personally I would've preferred that only half on the vertical is seen. Adds to the mystery. But great portrait, nonetheless. :)

I almost went to the event. Sadly got injured a few hours prior to it.

PinoyPoz said...

@BadPapiNyc: Di ko mabasa kung may sarcasm... hehe.

@Trese: Indeed. Even of the Chatters of Manila Tonight who sponsored the event, only a few seemed to have shown up.

@Red: Thanks thanks!

iamronel said...

nice to know po about that red letter..nice blog po btw :)

fishinthepacific said...

i was in the area but i was with a friend who still has no idea hehe.

nice photo...mysterious :)