Ryan Gee discusses his internalised fear of HIV/ AIDS as a gay man, and his plan in case he contracts the horrible disease. While a humorous and insightful portrayal of the scare gay men experience on a daily basis, this article also stresses the importance of practising safe sex and getting tested.
Have you ever seen a movie where someone coughs, and then they immediately fall deathly ill with cancer, or some other terrible disease? Well, I experience something similar in my life. The moment I start to get sick, my first thought is always, “This is it. I’ve finally contracted AIDS.” Which is ridiculous, I know, but it’s true. The reality is that there are liars out there, and contracting HIV (or any STD) is a terrifying possibility for any sexually active person, especially gay men. That’s why I’m always certain that this time, HIV has finally snuck up on me.
Of course, I don’t have HIV or AIDS. Not to brag, but I don’t have any STD at all - I’m fairly safe when it comes to sex. I use condoms (most of the time; for certain acts)! I only sometimes meet up with random men, always making sure they don’t seem too shady. And, if you needed more evidence: I just got tested. I had fallen ill, and my paranoid mind went straight to the worst. That’s how I ended up worriedly calling my college’s health clinic to ask if they did testing, and, upon arriving, being told how brave I was by the receptionist who could clearly tell I was losing my mind.
The doctor quickly came to get me, and I was assured that everything would be alright. She swabbed my throat, and then went to go get a needle to draw blood with, leaving me alone in the cold examining room. Even though she had told me she didn’t think it was likely I had contracted anything, I was still sure I had. My mind roamed. I started making plans for my future.
You see, in my AIDS nightmare, after being told I’ve contracted it, I give up all my worldly possessions and become a vagabond, living off the grid in various national parks until I succumb to the disease. My life in the forests is peaceful: I befriend deer, whistle songs with birds, and lay my head under the stars every night. It’s a fairytale. Except, of course, for the fact that I’m dying of AIDS.
I am aware it’s possible to live a normal, healthy life even after contracting HIV. But that just wouldn’t do for me. Not nearly interesting enough. So I was busy preparing the speeches I would give to my parents, my friends; to whoever it would concern.
When my parents call for our weekly chat about how I’m doing: “Well, Mum, Dad, I’m actually moving to the woods and never coming back, so I’ll talk to you never.”
My teacher wants to know why I haven’t turned in any of my assignments: “Sorry, I can’t complete my course work, I’m diseased now.”
Responding to an event I have no interest in: “No, I can’t come to a picnic in two weeks, I’ll probably be dead by then.”
The doctor walked back in, interrupting my twisted fantasies, and said, “If only they made better tasting condoms.” Which would have been very funny, if it wasn’t so shocking. I laughed a little anyway. She took my arm and rubbed iodine on the inside of my elbow; prepping for the needle.
“I used to give blood all the time,” I told her, reminded of those days when I’d made tri-monthly trips to the red cross.
“Why’d you stop?” the doctor asked. At first, I thought this was another joke. But I could see in her eyes the question was genuine. I wasn’t sure what to say. I guess she didn’t know.
“I can’t,” I responded. “They don’t let you donate if you’ve had sexual contact with another man in the past twelve months.”
She was very quick with her, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s not your fault,” I told her.
Which is true. And it isn’t the Red Cross’s either; they’re just following the FDA, who you can and should blame, for having have ridiculous, outdated and bigoted blood donation policies. It used to be easy to lie and say I hadn’t ever had sexual contact with another man in MY LIFE. Because that was the old FDA guideline. Eventually it became about the principle of it, because I shouldn’t have to lie.
After she finished drawing the blood, she sent me on my way. It was a long weekend, waiting to hear the results, but when she called to tell me all the tests came back negative, I was so relieved. And then I realised how ridiculous my delusions were. I’m not trying to make light of anyone who does have STD’s. I know it’s a serious matter. But this is my experience, and I’ve got to make fun of myself.