Thursday, July 08, 2004

HIV Test Results

Giving Results To Another

Last week I delivered positive HIV results to two very young brothas. Both of the above young men were under 25, black and gay. As someone who's job it is to prevent the spread of HIV among young brothas and as some one who is more than aware of the serious lifestyle change that a positive HIV test result demands, I felt very inadequate in the moment. While my cancerian ,mothering and emotional caretaking nature usually kicks in when I am dealing with people from this particular group, I was unable to do this with these young men.

While I have counseled hundreds of people in HIV testing situations, and even teach staff and volunteers at AID Atlanta to provide HIV prevention counseling I have never delivered a positive test result until last week. While I have been taught, theoretically, to locate myself with the client while maintaining the appropriate emotional boundaries I was unable to go to a caring place and say the supportive, reassuring things that I knew that I should say. Something was present in the room with me, most probably inside of me, preventing me from doing from behaving in and attending manner. In that moment I, more than ever, identified with the term "Cat got your tongue." Every time I tried to be nurturing something stopped me and kept me professionally distant from these guys.

In actuality nothing I could say would change the reality that at 19 and 22 years old these brothaz now have to take on a level of responsibility for their lives and there health that most of us are not confronted with until old age. I did not feel that I had the right to try to comfort them about having to abandon the carefree, invulnerable spirit of their youth in favor of life.

I did not.

Giving Results To Myself

So today, while trying to forget the positive results that we had given more positive results in days than we usually give in months, I was asked to demonstrate the rapid test procedure to a co-worker. I did. At first I tried to demonstrate with drawings and descriptions and even a little how-to sheet provided by Orasure Technologies. It did not work. After a minute of fumbling with unopened materials and unused lancets and other medical materials I decided to demonstrate the test on myself.

I did this very routinely without thinking much about it. I've found that I am one of the few people that I know who can actually pierce my own skin to do this procedure. I did that. I then mixed my blood with the test solution and place the reader rod in the test solution. It was only after I had performed the test on myself that every bit of sexual activity that I have participated in in the last few month came hurtling against my consciousness causing beads of sweat to form on my brow. I had not seen a negative test result in weeks and now I was testing myself infront of two people with none of the required counseling. I felt anxious. I was scared to death of what my result was going to be.

My result was negative.


It occurs to me that life, sexual life, for gay men is shrouded in an awful lot of fear. I have for a long time worried about becoming HIV positive even though I have avoided high risk behavior. I have not been penetrated without a condom in a number of years and in the last year I have not been penetrated at all. Well except that time in Dallas. So why am I scared of HIV infection? I think that the reason that I am afraid of becoming infected with is because ever since I understood that I was gay, and that the gay that I am is the same gay that the news casters where talking about when they spoke about AIDS, I have understood, also, that I am meant to get HIV. I have believed somewhere within me, as do many gay men, that HIV infection is somehow in my destiny. Unlearning this belief takes combating messages that I get through the media, through public health agencies and prevention programs and from family and church. In popular culture and common public discourse gay men are spoken of almost synonymously with AIDS and vise versa. When the conversations are being had about so called "Men on the DL," sex with men is conflated with a positive HIV sero status. How can one exist in this culture and not believe that gay men are by virtue of their sexuality HIV positive? I am still struggling to figure this out. I am still experiencing anxiety every time I get tested for HIV and every time I have sex.