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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Self-Empowerment

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.

3 comments:

TheChemistryGuy said...

thanks for sharing.. i can picture out on what to expect this coming saturday

PinoyPoz said...

no problem, Chem... just be open, share and accept... and learn :-) everyone had something to learn.

gabs said...

finally a new entry, and always an inspiring one. I thought something bad happen to you, that you weren't able to post again. I hope your doing fine, keep us inspired. take care.