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My kumare, Chona Babes, tells me stories about Leroy, her 8-year-old son who at a very early age knew he was different from other boys. Leroy once told his Mom, “Mommy, yung classmate ko bakla rin.”

Bakla RIN? So Chona knew the boy had awareness of his identity. Good thing, the mother in her is just so supportive for the bakling duckling in Leroy. “Siyempre mahal ko yung anak ko, ano man siya. Eh ano naman kung bakla?”

One day, Chona relates another Leroy story, the school bullies were heckling him, “Ah bakla, ah bakla!” they jeered, when Leroy suddenly turns to them and blasts, “At least, buhay!”

Chona and I couldn’t contain our boisterous laughter as she told this story. “Oo nga naman! Aanhin mo ang straight kung dedz naman!? Eh ano nga naman kung bakla?” we cheered together: “At least, buhay!”

I wonder how the kid thought this retort up. Maybe it’s the seedling of wit a lot of his elder counterparts are quite known for. Or a whip of his survival gene as a defense to the harsh honesty of the world. Or perhaps, it’s the wisdom of youth speaking.

People, hear ye, listen to them young ones.

Minsan nakapanlulumo rin. Well, choice ko naman kasi ito, but still, it doesn’t take away the fact that I feel like this right now. To regularly stay at the darker folds of the rainbow, it can wear you down, it wears me down.

Almost every weekend, I spend volunteer time sa isang HIV testing clinic. Halos walang mintis I get clients na who turn out to be positive sa HIV. It’s my job to ensure that at that moment they get to know about their status, they have someone to talk to, they are supported with the right information, the right next steps to take, etc. etc. There were quite a few times when my poz clients would instantly break down. Understandable naman. Bilang HIV is, ika nga, a lifetime achievement award. Tattoo sa dugo, walang erase-erase. Habambuhay nilang dala-dala ang katotohanang sila ay may HIV. On the one hand, it’s not all that bad, many of my poz friends lead normal, happy lives. On the other hand though, of course, it’s not the same as when you’re HIV-free. They got to deal with so much — the meds, its effects, the adjustments in lifestyle, the stigma, the major secret, the fear of being rejected, the guilt, etc. Sa madaling salita, mahirap talaga kapag may HIV.

One time, pagkatapos ng isang mahaba-habang conversation, matapos makauwi ng aking kliyente, nakatanggap ako ng text mula sa kanya.

“Salamat ha, Migs. I think this is going to be a tough battle pero kakayanin ko ito. I’m a strong person.”

“Yes, of course kaya iyan. Basta if you need someone to talk to, just let me know, ok?”

“Salamat. I really appreciate being able to talk to you. Salamat talaga. Kaya pramis kapag namatay ako, dadalawin kita.”

Yes, some of my clients have a demented sense of humor. But I guess okay na rin iyon. Ganyan naman talaga tayong mga bakla, one of our best armors is humor.

Another text conversation with another newly diagnosed PLHIV (person living with HIV) client:

“Hey Migs. Just got home from the treatment hub, had my baseline and TB tests.”

“Hey hey. Good good. O, kamusta?”

“Ayun, may TB pala ako. And since my CD4 is 148, safe to say I would have died next year had I not seen your blog. Lovely.”

So, yeah, this guy is kind of saying, “it’s tragic, but thanks.” At least that’s how I interpret it. May sarcasm na halong gratitude na halong ewan. But basically, as I always say, knowing your HIV status is still the best place to be. It may be tragic, dramatic, or whatever way you want to call it, but it still is where you have the best control of the situation. Those who have died too soon mostly knew their status too late, or never even.

Admittedly this being at the darker folds of the rainbow comes with sparks of light and bright. Andiyan ang realization na kahit papaano, nakakatulong ka. Kahit papaano, may kabuluhan ang presensiya mo sa mundong ibabaw, para nang sa gayon, kapag pumailalim ka na (sa mundong ibabaw), masasabi rin namang may nagawa kang kabutihan. Pero more than this, ang napansin ko lang ay ganito. Sa araw-araw na dumaraan, bagaman pagod at pagal sa trabaho at adbokasiya, maraming beses na hindi ko mawari kung bakit may nararamdaman akong kakaibang kaluwagan at kaginhawahan sa aking dibdib. Naisip ko, ito siguro yung tinatawag na grasya. Biyayang kahit narito ka pa man din sa lupa ay may katiting na langit nang nakasilid sa iyong kalooban.

At sa araw-araw na pa-slide-slide ko sa rainbow, sa panaka-nakang pagsiksik ko sa darker folds nito, halong maigting na pasasalamat at taimtim na panalangin ang bulong ko — sana, ikaw na nagbabasa nito, alagaan mo ang sarili mo. May nagmamahal sa iyo, at bagama’t hindi pa tayo magkakilala, asahan mong isa ako rito.

World Peace.

Love yourself dude,
Migs

It was June of 2011, a friend invited me to a birthday dinner somewhere in Greenhills, in a nice Thai restaurant owned and operated by a gay couple named James and James. There I met several interesting people, mostly gay men, mostly members of the alta gays, as in alta sociedad (spoken with the obligatory lisp). But in the middle of all the chi-chi stuff going on, I noticed a very different species floating around, beckling beki of bekilandia proportions. His name, I would later find out, was Vinn Pagtakhan.

More than a birthday dinner, it was actually some sort of a meeting to discuss a new, emerging group that wanted to organize a community of volunteers to arrest the silent yet mind-blowing growth of HIV prevalence among young, gay and bisexual men in the country. I was there because I was personally very concerned. Earlier that month I had my very first HIV test, and while the result was negative (surprisingly!) I regardlessly broke down in front of my nurse-counselor. Why? Earlier that year, I’ve had 4 friends mysteriously and suddenly dying one after the other, dropping like flies. One day they were partying with me, the next I was in black attending their funeral. By the end of 2011, I had a total of 8 friends who died in much the same mysterious way. The whole thing was gradually but surely shaking me to the core.

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It starts like a painless prick in the mind — HIV? Me? Nah.

Then after a while, you remember those crazy times in the past. Yeah, you think, crazy but not too crazy as to put me at risk. Besides, the probability of getting it is too low. Malinis naman sila, I’m sure. You continue to attempt convincing yourself.

Time pass and you’re mostly successful in keeping those HIV thoughts at bay. Yet there were times, admit it, that the prick in the mind becomes a bit more intense. Did I really do it bareback? Can’t remember na. May condom naman yata. Yata? Shit, can’t remember na talaga.

Now it’s selective memory lapse. You think you were safe naman, most of the time, at the least. But you can’t seem to get the doubt off your mind. Suddenly, you don’t know, it is not clear if you really were safe.

Everytime you see those three letters HIV, there’s a slight skip in your heartbeat, a little lump in your throat forming. I think I have it. Maybe I have it. What if I have it?

It’s a creepy little bastard, because like a thief in the night, it blindsides you: you have started to trim your life plans and water down your dreams to accommodate the assumption that, maybe, you think, you feel, you have it. It’s a painless thought at first, a dull feeling after a while, but the longer you stay in the dark, the heavier it feels.

You busy yourself with stuff, with work, with parties, with anything that can fill your mind and keep it from focusing on HIV. Fuck that blog, now the only thing it talks about is HIV. You distract yourself to the hilt only to find a big white snorting elephant stuck in the meandering grooves of your brain. HIV, HIV, HIV, fuck.

You search online for symptoms. Fever, flu-like symptoms, rashes, diarrhea, but not for all, sometimes none at all. Symptoms only when it has advanced to AIDS, when the body has given up, when the virus has totally taken over. Scary shit. You slam a closed fist on the table, why wasn’t I careful kasi.

You consider getting yourself tested. You’re scared like a little kid about to get spanked, closing your eyes before you hear the leather belt whip and welt your skin.

You realize there is really no way out but through. If I don’t have HIV and I’m suffering this way, fuck, I’m such a worry wart punishing myself for nothing. If I do have HIV and I’m standing here doing nothing about it, then I’m really just letting this foul-smelling fear immobilize me. Like committing the most gradual suicide by slicing myself up part-by-little-part.

Part of you triumphs saying, it’s time. It’s time to unload the baggage. It’s time to use this energy, now in the form of fear, to propel myself forward. It’s time that I face that fear, ready to battle it tooth and nail.

* * *

Have you been thinking of getting tested? Perhaps you are not ready yet for testing but you want to talk to someone about it? Here’s the event for you. First, you will find here friendly, professional, and well-trained HIV educators and counselors. And, secondly, the event is scheduled on a Sunday! And very importantly, it will be held in a private (not in a government clinic) and discreet location, for your own privacy and convenience.

What: HIV Confidential Counseling and Testing – it’s FREE! No charge!
When: Sunday, 11 December 2011 (10am to 4pm)
Where: Playroom – 35 West Avenue, Quezon City

Dear Migs,

Warm Greetings!

I would just like to ask, I am 21 years old and I guess I’m still young but for the past years and how many relationships I’ve been, I can’t seem to find the right person to be my partner. I’ve learned that most people that you meet in BED Malate want no commitments, people you find in Planet Romeo are just horny. Where in Manila is that someone? You see Migs, most of my friends are straight men and they know I’m gay and they’re pretty cool about it but obviously they can’t help me find someone to date with unless I go to Malate. Is there any place where I could meet a pretty decent guy?

Gian

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I was talking to someone, a girl, a new friend, today. And because I am sometimes very straightforward even to new acquaintances, I asked.

“How’s your lovelife?”

Without batting an eyelash, she responded.

“I’m waiting to exhale.”

Later I would understand what she meant.

She has perhaps moved on, yet not totally. And she knows it.

* * *

Sometimes we’re like that. We hold on to relationships long-dead in a way that we have stopped hoping, we have accepted the demise, expressed the grief, and embraced reality. Yet we have not really moved on.

We have not moved on.

We go about our life, busy with many things, forgetting to exhale.

For people going through something like this, for those waiting to exhale, I send you light and love. I send you my wish that one day you muster enough self-love to empty your vessel from the suffocating, stale air. Fresh air abound, waiting for you to just let go. And let in.

It was dim, just the exact amount of light for a bathhouse to be effective — people look doubly handsome in this place. That day it wasn’t a bathhouse but an offsite HIV testing center, where volunteers of Love Yourself and doctors and lab personnel from the QC Health Center were feverishly busy, attending to almost a hundred people wanting to get tested for HIV. I was one of the counselors and organizers. We were two-thirds done with the hours, but less than half of the people have gone through the test. We didn’t expect the huge turnout.

In the middle of all the buzz, I paused to talk to this guy. He must be in his mid-thirties. He was silent, his eyes were wandering around, yet when I looked at him, he looked back at me, as if wanting to say something. I approached him.

“Are you Migs?”

I realized I was wearing a Love Yourself button, with the name “Migs” on it.

“Yes, I am Migs. How are you?”

We were in the second floor. This was where the tests were done, the counseling too. I assumed he was already done.

“OK naman ang results ko Migs. I’m sorry I’m crying.”

Only after he said that did I notice tears in his eyes, tears flowing down his cheeks. He was very apologetic, and I was puzzled.

“Pasensiya ka na Migs.”

“Why, what’s up?”

“I’m just so touched. I came here to get tested, because I saw it in your blog. Salamat, salamat.”

“You’re welcome,” was all I was able to say.

“Pasensya ka na. Iba kasi pala talaga kapag na-meet ka. I’ve been following your blog for years. Sa blog mo lang kasi ako nagiging totoo sa sarili ko. I’m not out, pero sa blog mo, doon lang talaga, doon lang.”

His statements were stacatto, yet I kind of understood.

I cant’ remember if I hugged him or not, but I think I did. I was touched, overwhelmed.

I am writing this story, a simple one, remembering how important this blog is to me. It gives my life meaning because through it I am able to touch people’s lives.

I am no saint, I am no role model, but this much I know is true: I am touching lives in ways I never planned to do. The universe is good, and indeed, God writes with the leg of a table. Thank you, universe, for this significant life.

Hi Migs!

I’m Jake. I’m in my mid twenties. I have not told my story and secrets to anyone and I feel like exploding so I want to share this to you and your readers. I’ll appreciate any of yours and your readers’ comment.

Up to this day Migs, it is still vivid how painful it was to be mocked during my childhood for being gay. Although my immediate family never really judged me, my other relatives almost disowned me; my classmates always teased me, and my playmates – almost none.

My relatives and our family lived near each other and every now and then there’s an occasion to celebrate. If you can just imagine the humiliation I received during those occasions when I unconsciously limped my wrist, or swayed in my walk, or even spoke softly. I got scolded for every effeminate behavior. However, I never admitted to them being gay. Because of this, I realized I needed to act and behave that of typical and “appropriate” to a boy, forever mindful of my actions and behavior.

Years passed by, I grew up to be a fairly good looking teenager. In all modesty, many girls liked me but I only dated a girl in high school, and another one in college, which I never really pursued. I also gained respect and acceptance from my relatives for behaving like a real man.

I did not have any same-sex relationships nor would I like to have… until I had my first job and met Ben. We have the same situation – closeted, not even our closest friends knew about us. Because of our fear that our colleagues would soon find out the real score between us, we would only meet in hotel rooms, even ordering foods only to be served there. It was difficult hiding from everybody when we were together but I was willing to endure it, and fight for it. Unfortunately, we may have the same situation but we did not have the same attitude about it in the end. His fears have taken him over and he ended up the relationship. In my case, being in a gay relationship made me sure about being gay, without in it, I was uncertain once more.

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Yahoo News PH ran a story on the rapid increase of HIV infections here in the Philippines. The news was sad:

“New cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the country reached an all-time high of 204 in July this year, the highest number of new cases recorded by the Department of Health (DOH) in a month to date. The virus is now infecting seven Filipinos every 24 hours, up from last year’s average of five new HIV patients daily.”

But look at the comments the posting got from its readers:

CLAY: “ang solusyon dyan ay isa lang, PATAYIN ANG LAHAT NG BAKLA SA PILIPINAS. nyahaha”

EXPULSION: “Yan ang parusa ng dyos sa mga bading. Kahit kailan, kahit anong talino nyo kuno! Hindi kayo puwedeng sumuway sa utos ng dyos. Remember Sodom & Gomora.”

PAUL: “99.17% HINDI INOSENTE. TUMITIRA KASI NG KAHIT SINO. REGALO NI SATANAS YAN PARA DUN SA MGA TAONG HINDI INOSENTE.”

MAR: “wala kasi kulong sa ganyan tipo ng immorality so i think yan ang katapat na parusa..so beware.”

MERCILESS DUDE: “Led by none other than the gays who always shout “discrimination”. Come to think of it, what good things are they contributing to humanity?”

WEAPON_Z: “Yung mga nagka-AIDS dahil sa sex, buti nga sa kanila. Be faithful kasi. Wag tira ng tira. Magsarili na lang kayo. Mas safe pa. Pero yung mga nahawa dahil sa blood transfer, don’t give up guys, I pray that you will be healed soon.”

MICHAEL: “I know a lot of people won’t want to hear this, but it doesn’t mean its not true: ‘Its God’s way of saying: may mali sa ginagawa niyo.'”

AUDEMARS: “tama! sana dumating ang panahon na makapagpasa ng batas para gawing legal ang pagpaslang sa mga homosexuals. They are disgrace to humanity. nakakadiri pinaggagagawa nila. I’m a Christian and we were thought to love the pokpoks and the homos. but it is so hard cause they keep on doing the same old dirty things, pathetic disgusting creatures! ugh.”

* * *

Nagsikip ang dibdib ko sa mga comments.

Last weekend, isang grupo kaming mga volunteers ng Love Yourself Project ang sumailalim sa isang workshop — ito yung Peer Educators’ workshop na ibinigay ng TLF Collective Share. After ng workshop, we hope to become trained Peer Educators, meaning, puwede kaming magbigay ng short classes on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, ang layunin eh sa pamamagitan ng education at awareness, makakaiwas ang bawat isa na ma-infect.

It’s a 3-day workshop, so bale tapos na namin yung 2 araw, yung ikatlo at last, sa darating na Sabado. After that, hopefully, graduate na kami, at matatawag na namin ang sarili naming trained Peer Educator on HIV/AIDS and STIs. Doon sa dalawang araw na natapos na namin, may ilang parte ng training ang tumatak sa isipan ko. Isa na doon ay yung discussion ng iba’t ibang klase ng sexually transmitted infections.

Sa discussion na ito, ipinakita sa amin ang sari-saring infections na maaaring makuha sa pamamagitan ng sex. Andiyan ang gonorrhea at chlamydia, ang syphillis, genital warts, herpes, pubic lice, etc. Nakapanghihina dahil isa-isang nagpakita ng mga pictures kung ano ang itsura ng bawat infection na ito. Nakakapraning, grabe.

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