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.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shtatus: Shingles

Last weekend was a long weekend. I went to work Friday, but I didn't work. Huh?

Well, let me clarify. It was our company outing. Hmm. I know, a bit odd that it happened just as the rainy season stepped in, but hey, who's not up for some fun, right? So I woke up early Friday morning to make the meeting time of 6:00 am. I know, 6:00 am is aghhh. But I made it with time to spare. After a few delays, we were on our way. Are we there yet?

By around noon, we got to the place. A huge house with a pool, nestled in a quiet neighborhood in Batangas. It was three days of a lot of things.

A lot of food. There was a yummy spaghetti with uber crispy fried chicken. There was sinigang. There was a milieu of comfort breakfasts from hotdogs and fried eggs, to crunchy boneless bangus. And so much more. And mind you, some of these meals, our big boss cooked himself!

A lot of fun. There was a videoke for a while. All the vices available... I had a few drinks, not enough to get me drunk, and some drugs too, a.k.a. ARVs... hehehe. Games in the pool, from Doctor-Quack-Quack to Shout-A-Word-Underwater-And-Have-Us-Guess-What-You-Said. And of course, there was Taboo. Conveying a word to other people is hard enough for the socially- and communicably-challenged as myself. Add to that some words that you're prohibited to say? Agh, pure torture.

A lot of sleep, especially for me. My bodyclock would still wake me up at around 6:00 am, but I'd just go to the bathroom and head back to bed and sleep another couple of hours. I will also be the first to admit that I do NOT need a tan, so I made a habit out of sleeping through the sun, and coming out to swim only at night or when the sun had set. Teehee.

A lot of being one of the boys. I got bunked in the huge attic with all of the straight guys! You'd think it was heaven for me, but it's not like I was planning to grope them all, ya know. And like like-poles, each of us sort of repelled each other into our own little alcoves scattered around the vast space. Funny, really, but all of us were comfortable that way. Hehehe.

But by the third day, I sort of felt it was too much of a lot. Three days of isolation... I'm talking no TV, no internet, no mobile phone signal, even... it was driving me mad! I was happy, not bitin at all, and I found myself welcoming the time to go home.

Got home Sunday evening, hell tired, despite all of the sleep and relaxation I claimed to have had. But not much time to rest. Another Monday to start another work week loomed.

It was to be a normal work week, jumpstart-worthy, but normal nonetheless. Until... one of my colleagues at work confirmed a couple of red bumps he had on his chest to be... shingles.

Shingles. It's the nickname to herpes zoster. It's related to the varicella virus, which also causes chickenpox. If I'm not mistaken, this is how it goes: Basically and commonly, a person only gets chicken pox once in his or her life. I got it back when I was in grade 4, I think. Even if you've gotten it and recovered from it, the virus remains in your body. And it is a recurrence of this virus that causes shingles. So it's like only persons who have had chicken pox can get the shingles.

I don't know about you, but I think when the common person hears "herpes", he'd usually think it's one of the Sexually Transmitted Infections or STIs. Partly true, because a close relative of the shingles would be herpes simplex, under which falls genital herpes.

Okay, for the record, I've had herpes. What kind? The shingles as well.

I think it was back in 2007. I developed a rash around my midsection. Fortunately, my boyfriend at the time was in the medical field, and it didn't take him long to figure out it was the shingles. I remember he prescribed some medicines for me, and that was it. It wasn't too hard for me, nor was I worried. Mostly, I wasn't worried because he showed me he wasn't worried. We were still sleeping together on the weekends, and he'd apply some ointment on the rash as it crusted up and healed. No big deal. I don't even think my mom was concerned or was even aware that I had it. No harm done and no marks left.

So now, even after spending a day with my colleague who got the shingles, I wasn't worried. Even if we were swimming in the same water the whole weekend, I was okay. Even if he is actually my seatmate here at work, it wasn't a big deal. I'm sort of in the mentality that if I catch it, then fine.

Of course it doesn't help that I'm not able to instantly feel any itching around my midsection because of the burn in the abs that I'm left with after yoga. Hehe. But I'll be fine. When in contrast one of my other officemates broke down in tears worrying that she might have caught it.

So there. Actually, reasearch tells me shingles often hits people who are in their 50s. Otherwise, one's immune system is usually able to keep it at bay. But the immunocompromised? Watch out. I know a couple of my pozzie friends whove gone through shingles as well, some of theirs even coinciding with the time of finding out they were HIV-positive and immunocompromised.

Well, of course, right now - the immunocompromised thing - that's possibly me. But back in 2007? Hmm. That sort of brings the thought that I just may have been immunocompromised already back then. Remember, I only found out I was HIV-positive in April of 2008. So I wonder, could I have been HIV-positive already way back in 2007? Heaven knows.

So there. Right now, my colleague is on leave recovering from his shingles. My other officemate got herself checked up, and is relieved to know she doesn't have it. And me? Life goes on. Shtatus? No shingles.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Burn

TheBurnMy body’s been aching a bit these past few days. Hot. Burning hot. Why?

A room full of people. People grunting. People moving. I found myself surrounded by lots of hot sweaty bodies, with just a thin rubber mat separating me from the cold marble floor. I was in motion, with a single voice telling me what position to take, to tighten up, to relax, to breathe hard. From being on my back with my legs reaching for the sky, to being on all-fours with my ass up in the air, until I was lying motionless on the floor, breathing heavily, heart pounding, sweat dripping from every pore.

Whoa, wait a minute. Before you go jumping to conclusions... I was just talking about... gasp... YOGA.

So it was in May that talks began on having yoga sessions for HIV-positives. Paulo Leonido, a certified yoga instructor and advocate, came up with the idea. With the help of some other Positivism friends, we fleshed it out. Another certified yoga instructor and advocate, Charmaine Cu-Unjieng, joined the team.

One problem we foresaw was that people wouldn’t want to attend something in which they’d automatically get labeled as HIV-positive. So to address that concern, instead of it being exclusively for HIV-positives, we decided to open it up to anyone who was interested. HIV-positives. Advocates. Our medical allies. Affected family. Friends.

So two weeks ago, the very first Yoga for Life was held. I invited some of the pozzie posse for the pilot session, and packed a change of clothes for myself that day. Of course, Murphy’s law took control. I got stuck in a one-to-sawa meeting at work, and despite cabbing to Ortigas, I was not surprisingly late. I snuck in, but was too ashamed of my tardiness that I decided against joining the session.

I just sat at the back with my favorite doctor friend who was playing GRO-slash-host for the event. While we were quietly chatting (like that’s possible, right?), trying not to disrupt the concentration in the room, I watched intently as the participants went through the motions. There were about 14 or so people there, most of whom I didn’t know. What I did know, though, was that not everyone there was HIV-positive. Cool.

BFF was there. I’mNotDyingI’mLiving was there. Some others who I knew. Others I didn’t. And I didn’t even have to know them. Nor their HIV-statuses. It was a don’t-ask-don’t-tell environment. It was a non-issue.

Seeing everyone in action, those who were doing well weren’t necessarily the ones who didn’t have the pozzie-secret. Interesting. And as for me, just sitting there watching all the contortion that was happening, I was left sweating. And panting. It was daunting. I was scared. I was suddenly relieved that I didn’t join.

Honestly, I’m a yoga virgin. Even if I do believe I am pretty fit, I haven’t really been active lately. Nothing more than the walking between transport hubs and work and home. Gym? Nope... too scared... and insecure. Back in school, I used to play soccer, volleyball, tennis and table tennis. I used to bowl and jog, too. I even used to dance, so I think I can be pretty flexible. But lately, ugh. Yoga was the farthest from my mind before this. Oh, maybe sexercise counts?

So after that first session, being one of those who kept inviting people to join Yoga for Life, I was sort of pressured to participate. I gotta walk my talk, right? So last week’s session, I vowed to be there. And not only be there, I vowed to yoga-ize myself.

And so I did. Despite raising my hand when our yogi Charmaine asked who were yoga virgins, I tried my best to keep up. In the middle of the first part, I found myself sweating profusely, worse than I’d seen anyone do in the pilot session. I was worried. I took time to look around, and was relieved to see others were sweating as well.

Poses. Stances. Holds. Stretches. Points. Flexes.

From something as simple as inhaling and exhaling, to something as difficult as being on your back trying to swing your legs over your head into a shoulder stand. Very Kamasutra. Honestly, that was the hardest part. During the pilot, I saw them try to do it, and I said to myself, “No fucking way.” But last week, I wouldn’t let the session pass without trying it. I get challenged too, ya know! So I got as far as trying. I didn’t quite get there, but I got to the next best option, having my legs up in the air. Whew. I’m a proud boi!

By the end of the session, the meditation part, I couldn’t help but appreciate the time we were given to just lie on the mat and rest every part of our bodies and even our minds. It was a good way to end the hour-long yoga session.

I was warned by BFF that my body would ache into the next day. The following morning, I proudly reported to him that I was a-okay. I, of course, spoke too soon. By that evening I could feel the burn. I was reminded I had muscles I’d forgotten I had. Abs. Shoulders. Triceps. Quads. It was a burn. But it was a good burn. I missed having this burn.

So there. I lost my virginity yet again... my yoga virginity. I’ve pretty much recovered from last week, but not in time to join the weekend yoga session. But as of this writing, I’m already on my 2-hour fast and looking forward to having my second yoga session in a couple of hours. Is it really good for me? Feels like it. Well, I’m now officially physically active. And I’m happy... as always!

And am I ready to ache again? Bring it on! I yearn for the burn! ROAR! Yoga for Life, here I come!

Yoga for Life sessions are held every Wednesday evenings in Ortigas, and Saturday afternoons in Makati. If you’re interested to join us, you may contact our yogi bear and babe, Paulo at, and Charmaine at for more details.


Thursday, June 10, 2010


Self-empowerment? A self-empowerment course? I admit, I was avoiding it. Why? Well, first, all the sharing and public speaking... stage fright galore. And second, I’ve seen the previous batch that supposedly underwent self-empowerment. Didn’t seem like it worked, not for everyone at least. In just the week after they did, all the drama, all the issues, all the arguments, all the bitterness, and all the negativity they were throwing around… even more than before... it made me skeptical of this self-empowerment thing. Seriously.

But thanks to being badgered by BFF and pressured by E, I got convinced to go. But I had a disclaimer beforehand... don’t be surprised if I end up scoffing and rolling my eyes the whole time. And I swore I wouldn’t cry as others had apparently done a lot of in the previous batch. Aside from there really being nothing to cry about, E would be there, and he’d mock me. Of course, I’d gladly do the same to him as well. Hehe.

So Saturday morning, anxious and over-packed as usual, I got schoolbussed to the venue with BFF and another guy by AA, who had attended the previous empowerment session. He told us about their experience, about the sharing and how physically and emotionally draining it would be and all... and already, I was dreading it.

This self-empowerment training had been done several times in the past before, but we were only the second batch since the National AIDS/STD Prevention and Control Program (NASPCP) of the DOH took it under its wing and funded it last month. Previously, it was just a philanthropic venture by volunteers and concerned people.

Getting to the hotel in Manila that would serve as venue, only E wasn’t there yet. The rest were already taking lunch. Passing the public announcement video system at the lobby, it was funny how the sponsors of our event were spelled out explicitly. Department of Health. Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. National Center for Disease Prevention and Control. National AIDS/STD Prevention and Control Program. Okay, a few inches short of disclosure, but fine, but no big deal.

We went up to the function room, signed in, and headed down to attack the buffet. There we found some of the other participants, my eldest kiddo, Lil Jenny, and PositiveEqualsRebirth were the some of the few familiar faces there. It was natural to stick to who you knew. The others were yet to be revealed. E showed up shortly, and we all took our time savoring the buffet of spring rolls, sautéed cabbage, lemon chicken, cream puffs and chocolate brownies.

After that, the training commenced. I’ll try not to make this too much of a spoiler for future attendees of the self-empowerment training, so please bear with me. Led by Doc Rita, who is incidentally the sister of our dear Doctor D at RITM, the session began with introductions all around and a getting-to-know-you activity at the same time. And then it got serious.

Part of getting to know each other was to come from learning about each others’ pasts. And revisiting childhood days, family life, till the present, including the time each one found out he was HIV-positive, was not an easy thing for some. This early, tears were shed. But the air of support, listening and openness we had was a nice ambience to be in for something like this.

It was then that we found how balanced a group we were. Though we were all male and all poz and all RITMers, that’s where the similarities ended. From newbies, months into the HIV journey, to not-so-newbies, already years past. From gay and bi guys, to some who were on the straight road or had vowed celibacy. From those gliding in acceptance, to some still wallowing in confusion, and even one intriguing guy who had gone through years of subscribing to AIDS denialism. Amazing. I was thrilled to meet my first AIDS denialist in person.

This first part took longer than expected. What normally took 3 hours for other groups, took us a record breaking 6½ hours! So record-breaking that we obviously stressed Doc Rita out And our record-breaking streak went on into the following activities. Enhancing self-image. Finding the power in you. Taking control of one’s life. Creating a healthy balance in life. Career planning. Appreciation of others.

So again, I wonder why the self-empowerment seminar didn’t seem to work for some from the last batch. Well, looking back after going through it myself, I realize you’re not expected to leave the seminar empowered. You’re just given the tools to work towards empowerment, and left with some questions for introspection. It will be up to you and what you do with them that will determine whether you get to empowerment or not.

And then, I believe, the foundation for self-empowerment lies in such simple things as openness, self-awareness and self-evaluation. If you’re not open, or are clueless of your concerns or what negativity it is you are feeling and what causes it, then the facilitator won’t be able to give you an objective evaluation of your situation. Am I making sense?

And finally… one last hunch. You know how being with certain friends makes it sometimes harder to be honest about how you really feel? Because they might make fun of you, or they’re fair-weather friends you’re only used to having fun times with?

I also believe that the composition of the group as a whole played a part. Having friends there is nice. But if having friends there makes you too self-conscious that you’d want to hold back information about yourself, then that won’t be a good thing since you won’t be able to paint a clear picture of yourself.

Our batch was not dominated by one single group... I mean, yeah, I was close to E, BFF, and my eldest kiddo among others, but we were a mere fraction of the 16 person group. Plus, we weren’t fair-weather friends nor the types to judge each other. We actually know more than our TMI share about each other. No reputations to ruin, no pride to swallow, no shame to dread.

So there, I think that’s as much as I can reveal. Empowering? Not automatically. But you should have learned something. You should at least come out of it a better person. If you come out even worse than you were going in… more negative, more of a drama queen, more issue-laden... then something definitely went wrong... or something’s wrong with you. So nega-monsters... check yourselves.

Two days, just 6 hours of sleep, a lot of yummy food, and around eighteen hours of seminar later, it was time to go home. Met new friends. Learned new things. Left with some work to do... on myself and on the world. Empowered? I will be. Definitely.