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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Good Night

Last night. Saturday night. I got a birthday invite. Not just from one, but two people. A joint birthday bash. Two people I knew, and hadn’t seen for a while. This was the chance to. The perfect excuse to finally show up at a pusit party. Should I, or should I not? How sure am I that this is going to prove to be a good night? I’m not. But...

I don’t usually like going to pusit gatherings like these, mostly because of the possibility of seeing some... uhm... nega-monsters.

Nega-monsters. My term for a few pusits who are just swimming in so much bitterness that they’re just out to nitpick at everyone who crosses their paths - devoid of any wit, sense or reason - as though they’re perfect and actually have a hand in the lives of everyone else. Nega-monsters. Ironic how someone who is “positive” can be so negative. Ugh.

Of course, there’s a lot to nitpick about me, but then I never claimed to be perfect. But then again, it’s my life, right? And these nega-monsters have been out to get me and some of my friends. Not our fault, they just don’t have lives of their own. And I choose my battles, and these nega-monsters have never been worth one.

With that, I choose to avoid any possibility of encountering these negativities, not participating in some of these gatherings at the risk of appearing elitist, snooty and anti-social. I’m just not the type to care if others think that way.

So with this opportunity to celebrate another year for two friends, and the assurance that nega-monsters weren’t invited, I seriously considered and reconsidered going.

Saturday night, I found myself on the way up north, with BFF and O. After around two hours on the road, we got there, almost exactly on call time, but still early as just the second group to arrive. The celebrants were there already plus a couple of familiar faces. And as the rest of the group showed up, sans the fact of being an hour or so late, it struck me that that night was going to be a good night.

Primarily, there were no nega-monsters. That in itself was reason to party. Other than that, Ate showed up with some other staff of the RITM. Perfect. I always thought having authority figures at times like these will mean that things will be kept in check. Of the 30 or so people there, I only hadn’t been acquainted with less than a handful maybe. For me, that means a bit of a comfort zone.

A group of pusits who prefer not to call themselves pusits was there, but in all fairness they were the ones I didn’t have problems with... not so much at least. Mr. Mouth was there, flaunting his gift of gab as usual, but thankfully this time, not anywhere in my direction, so he was okay. Not a problem.

Another set of people, I knew from the empowerment seminar I attended several months ago. A majority of our batch was there actually. Some sort of a mini-reunion after months of not seeing most of them.

But really, the biggest surprise was the little pozzie posse I fell into since about a year ago. Roll call?

There were four of my “kids”; the first ever person I brought to RITM, LittleJenny, and RedAppleBlackMark, and my adopted kid Positive'sStory. There was one of E’s “kids”, who I surrogated and who just happened to currently be LittleJenny’s beau, making him an in-law. Some friends LuckyTrese, O, and BruceKho. Papi was there, as well as one of his “kids”, who just happened to be LuckyTrese’s ahem-ahem. And my friendly neighborhood BFF, GreenFrog, of course. I was missing a couple of people though, W and E. And maybe my “dad”, U, who technically is part of the family.

But twelve of us there made it one hell of a reunion. A reunion because it’s been a while since I last saw some of them. The only ones I would regularly are those who attend Yoga for Life. Other than that, being busy with each one’s lives has been keeping us apart. And quite frankly, I’m sort of happy that we didn’t see each other a lot.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not about me not wanting to see them. I’m happy because that just means everyone’s busy with their lives. Busy being productive. Busy with their own families. Busy with their personal lives maybe. Just basically being busy going on with life, sans the HIV-positive part. Busy proving that life goes on. Perfect.

But despite this apparent retreat from the posse, we still know we’re all just around, and we still love seeing each other every time we do. Sort of like we move in our own little circles but still gravitate towards each other somehow, like the planets to the sun. The bond remains, if not gets stronger. Absence, fonder.

Also funny that night, I realized that most of the posse I haven’t even known for a full year. But I’m pretty sure there’ll be more years to come. I don’t believe that it’s the HIV that’s keeping us together. It’s more like HIV brought us together, but it’s something else that’s keeping us tight. Jiving personalities maybe. The overall good vibe. Whatever it is, heaven knows.

And so with that, that night was indeed a good night. Even if I had to leave my little bastard at home. Even if I made the boyfie sad at the fact that I chose my friends over him for that night... he was extremely understanding but I’ll make it up to him. Even if I’m still reeling from lack of sleep right now. Even if there was that one parlor game that led to a hair-raising and spine-tingling mishap... not my mishap, but my hair raising and spine tingling. Even if, even if, even if... Last night truly, truly was a good night.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Propping Up Positivism

I received notice from a fellow Yoga for Lifer and advocate about a meeting for which Positivism needed to be represented. Typically, it would be my boss who would be the rightful representative. But as he was overseas on vacation at the time, there seemed to be no other choice. I had no other choice but to go.

So I remember, it was a Tuesday. I took the afternoon off from work to attend the meeting. Call time was actually at 11:00 am, but I asked if I could drop in by 2:00 pm. I planned on leaving work at lunchtime, and just needed time to get to Quezon City where the meeting had been set. Luckily, they allowed my tardiness. Otherwise, I would’ve had to pass on the meeting.

I was quite nervous. I knew Positivism isn’t exactly an institution in the established HIV advocacy realm just yet. So in as much as I was told that I was there just to observe, I was expecting that I would need to give at least a backgrounder on Positivism. Yikes. It’s me again faced with public speaking. Good luck to me. But I did what I could to prepare for that possibility.

Getting there about half an hour earlier than my foreseen tardiness, I walked in and signed the attendance sheet by the door. I was pleased to see a familiar name on the list, and scanned the room to search for the face that went with it. I saw a hand wave me over, as our Yoga for Life yogi babe offered me the seat beside her. Whew… big relief to have her there.

The meeting was actually vision meeting among advocates in Metro Manila. A joint project of USAID (United States Agency for International Development), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS), FHI (Family Health International), and APCOM (Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health), it brought together representatives of groups and projects in Metro Manila working against HIV among MSMs, or men who have sex with men.

Manila was just one of six Asian cities being surveyed, a “City Scan” as they called it, for innovative and scalable responses against HIV among MSMs. The other 5 cities include Bangkok in Thailand, Chengdu in China, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Rangoon in Burma and Jakarta in Indonesia. They would be doing their own “City Scans”.

In that room that afternoon, I was in formidable company. There were representatives from the National AIDS and STI Prevention and Control Program (NASPCP) of the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), Health Action Information Network (HAIN), TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective (TLF Share), Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), The Rainbow Rights Project, Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC) and Pinoy Plus or PAFPI - sorry, I confuse the two - and some other groups.

A number of groups were given time to discuss efforts they had in support of the HIV advocacy.

ASP discussed their proposed online campaign of HIV awareness among MSMs backed by financial support from the Global Fund. They would get chatting with people on some of the gay hookup sites based on certain keywords on their profile, which included BB or bareback, PNP or party-n-play, and orgy or group sex. I giggled on the side wondering if they’d chance upon my own profiles on those sites. Boy, would they be surprised at how aware I am about HIV.

ACHIEVE had a campaign bringing together the Philippine National Police, the Quezon City STD/AIDS Council, and SAMACKA, which was a union of spas, massage parlors, clubs and KTV bars. Through this collaboration, they were to encourage the at-risk group of sex workers to practice safer sex and observe better health protocols, hinged on Quezon City‘s ordinance 1053 on sexual health response. Now this one was cool.

MCCQC and Rainbow Rights Project were two groups I don’t think I’d ever heard of before. MCCQC is apparently a religious group, while Rainbow Rights Project is a sort of law firm of sorts, both of which support the LGBT sector. It was good to know that there was such a thing.

Before moving on to the next part of the agenda, as expected, they gave a little bit of time for Positivism to introduce itself. Yikes. So I gave what I had, assisted by the internet access they had at the venue. Now I need to point out again that Positivism is not a presence in that circle of advocacy just yet. So unexpectedly, but thankfully, the idea of Positivism was taken in by the group with no negativity. No concerns, no violent reactions. Whew.

So at this point, I was still in shock to be in the midst of the group. And for Positivism, Yoga for Life, and Take the Test - three efforts that I was lucky enough to be a part of - to be considered among the innovative responses against HIV, was phenomenal.

So it came time for them to move on to putting together a contingent of advocates who would be sent to the big event in Hong Kong - the coming together of all the scans of innovative practices in the six cities represented in the study.

The Philippine contingent would have 9 slots available. Representatives from government were to be given three slots, representing NASPCP, QCSAC and PNAC. The rest would be split among the five identified fields of attack. “Strategic Information” would be represented by HAIN, “supportive interventions” by TLF Share, “Enabling Environments” by ACHIEVE, “Treatment, Care and Support” by the positive community, either Pinoy Plus or PAFPI, and “Prevention” by ASP.

Hmmm, that left one slot. I felt safe, since Positivism wasn’t represented or barely heard of in the group until that day, which was the last meeting. Plus Positivism isn’t exactly an effort targeted specifically towards MSMs. But of course, things don’t ever go as expected.

Positivism got in. They chose to give us another slot under the “Prevention” cluster, partially in consideration that it was an effort spearheaded by someone from the private sector. I was in disbelief. Too bad my yogi babe was no longer there to slap me silly that it was really happening.

Within the week, I needed to meet up again with the Philippine consultant of the program to give him everything he needed to know about Positivism so he could put us into his report. Again, I was the default since my boss was still out of town. That was again another moment of awkward speaking for me, which was thankfully helped out by a relaxed atmosphere in a casual venue.

It was a long, but less structured interview. But for me it was really an impromptu thing. It was good to hear feedback too from the consultant about Positivism. He found it remarkable how we are able to work without funding, relying only on collaborations in terms of efforts and services we would need. And hearing how existing advocacies could benefit from the tone Positivism takes in its messages and information was huge.

And in the weeks that followed, we then needed to figure out who would represent Positivism in Hong Kong. My boss was considering shouldering his own expenses just so we’d both be there. Actually, it would really just be either him or me.

But things can and will go wrong. Upon checking, I realized my passport needed renewal. I tried getting an appointment with the DFA for that, but the earliest slot available would fall on the exact week of the Hong Kong event. Funny, huh? Oi. Either fortunately or unfortunately, my boss would have to go to Hong Kong for Positivism. It’s fine with me. But it would’ve really been a great opportunity, too.

So there. Baby steps and all, Positivism now officially has its foot in the HIV advocacy door. Not that we’d stop doing what we do otherwise, but still way cool. The perfect way to wrap up another year of Positivism.