World AIDS Day: December 1st
My friend John wrote this article a few years ago, but the question still resonates to this day: Why don’t more Asian & Pacific Islander Americans get tested for HIV? He touches on the major barriers–fear, stigma, and ignorance–but I think another contributing factor is that for some, HIV testing is foreign. It is unknown territory that is difficult to navigate, and even more so when already treading in the murky waters of our sexuality. As gay men, we don’t have an archetype that normalizes HIV testing, that makes it routine like a dentist appointment. Until recently, there were no sexy ads to entice you to spend an hour at a drop-in clinic. And in the isolation of the gaysian experience that is far too common in our community, we have few friends or role models that could guide us to the right resources or recount their own testing experiences.
What is interesting to me, though, is just how universal HIV testing could be if we just talked about it more. There are two watershed moments that nearly every gay man shares: coming out and their first HIV test. I remember my first test was before I even lost my virginity. I was volunteering at an HIV/AIDS resource clinic targeted at serving the API community, and realized how myopic my outreach was as I had never even taken the test myself. How would I be able to reassure a nervous client if I didn’t know the procedure first hand?
Yet even as a knowledgeable insider who worked in an HIV clinic, even as a virgin who had a 0% chance of having a positive result, I was still nervous throughout the whole process. And I realized it’s because I had learned to associate HIV testing with dread, with a game of Russian Roulette, as if the fate of my life were resting on the result. I held my breath for the next 20 minutes and let out a deep sigh when I learned I was negative. More than that though, I was relieved at just how much peace of mind knowing my status gave me, at how empowering it was to be in control of my own sexual well-being. Those are the feelings that I–and that we as a community–need to foster to de-stigmatize HIV testing and to ensure that gay API’s aren’t left behind or underserved.