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.

The HIV Test

Should I get tested for HIV?

Getting tested is recommended if:

• You are sexually active
• You have intercourse (vaginal or anal) without the use of a condom
• You are or have been involved in any risky sexual behavior
• You believe there may a chance that your sexual partner engages in risky behaviors (i.e. multiple sexual partners, unprotected sex, drug use, etc.)
• You are not completely sure of your sexual partner's HIV status
• You have shared/reused needles or syringes (i.e. to inject drugs or steroids, for body piercing, tattooing, or any other reason)
• You are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant
• You have had Tuberculosis
• You have contracted an STD, such as syphilis or herpes
• You have had an accident such as direct exposure to blood or have been stuck with a needle or other object (common to medical professionals)
• You have any reason to be uncertain about your HIV status

Okay, that was a mouthful. With all these reasons to get tested for HIV, it’s more important to see that there are no reasons not to get tested! It just pays to know your status. Period.

Why is it important to know my HIV status?

If you test positive, you will be able to take the necessary steps to fight the virus, keep yourself healthy, and prevent spreading the virus to others.

If you test negative, you will have your worries put to rest, and now be armed with the information to keep yourself safe from catching the virus in the first place. Talk about win-win!

How is HIV tested?

Once HIV enters the body, the body produces antibodies – disease-fighting substances the immune system creates in response to the presence of foreign substances or organisms (such as viral and bacterial infections). HIV tests are usually done through blood samples, where the search is in fact for the presence of these HIV antibodies, rather than for the virus itself. In other countries, some tests have already been developed to use saliva and urine as test samples.

But brace yourself for a little prick. It is important to keep in mind that in the case of HIV, it usually takes an average of three months after first acquiring the infection for the body to produce the levels of antibodies that can be detected. This means that within that three-month window, it is possible for tests to turn out negative for HIV, even if the virus is already incubating. So don’t celebrate just yet.

Say you get tested and your results are negative. But to make sure, you get tested again three months later and it’s also negative. You can still have the virus in you! How? If, after the first test, you engaged in any risky behavior that exposed you to HIV.

If your first test results are negative, the only way to completely rule out the possibility of an HIV infection is to avoid all possible exposure to the virus for at least three months from the day of your test; then get retested. Should this second test be negative, then you can celebrate.

What are the first steps to getting tested?

First, remember that HIV testing is completely voluntary under Philippine laws. So once you’ve mustered up the guts to get tested, head for your nearest (or farthest, if it makes it easier) health center, hospital or diagnostic clinic. The next step? Nope, nothing bloody yet. It is standard procedure that the health workers give Pre-Test Counseling to those getting tested. Basically, a crash course on HIV.

Isn’t it embarrassing to get tested for HIV?

Shame and paranoia are almost natural, especially for first-timers. But rest assured, Philippine laws provide for the option of Anonymous HIV Testing, where you are not required to give your real name and address, and are allowed to use an alias or a codename for identification purposes instead. Neat, huh?

What types of HIV tests are there in the Philippines?

In the Philippines, HIV screening is frequently done through the Enzyme ImmunoAssay or EIA test, more commonly known as the ELISA test. In cases where the ELISA test produces positive results, confirmatory tests are performed. The most widely used confirmatory test is the Western Blot test.

Both the ELISA and Western Blot tests are performed on samples of blood. HIV screening results usually come out within one to three days. Results of confirmatory tests take longer – an average of two weeks. Warning: this may be the longest wait of your life. But, whichever way it goes, it really just pays to know your HIV status.

Where can I get tested for HIV?

Blood Banks and Organ Donor Programs thoroughly screen donors’ blood and tissues for many diseases, including HIV… for free! But since donating organs might be a lot to consider, you might find donating blood a hell of a lot easier.

Of course you can opt to go to Hospitals and Diagnostic Clinics to get tested. Your city or municipality should also have Social Hygiene Clinics that operate under the Local Government, where testing for and education about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are conducted. You may opt for the most convenient. But let’s be honest, for some people, the farther from their backyard, the better.