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Hi Migs,

I’m writing this letter because I’m confused about the mixed messages I’m getting. I completely adore your efforts to help gays (like us) overcome the HIV issues. It seems you have obligated yourself to this personal crusade and for that – you have my respect.

However, on top of the HIV awareness and all – should our people (gays) do more than that? Looking from my perspective who lived my years from a province, we have tolerated much of our sexual urges and such, the real root cause of this disease we’re trying to battle. Your confessions and to the rest of the contributors have openly proved that statement. I’ve been with the same guy for 6 years and I’m hoping you can educate me why do we continue to exploit these urges? I mean, look at your blog… Most of the pictures are coming from guys with only 1 garment…

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Here’s a primer on what to expect when you go for a proper HIV testing process.

Step One: The Form. When you arrive at the testing venue, you will be asked to fill out a form. The form is shown below.

Most people’s first question is — should I reveal my real identity? The official answer is YES, because all information written in this form will be handled in strict confidence. My personal, non-official answer is this: it is up to you. When you fill out this form, the name you write will not be cross-checked with any other identification documents (passport, IDs, etc.) This means, whatever name you write in this form is taken as is. If you so decide to put an alias or fake name, just be sure you remember it so there is no confusion during the time you are given your results later on.

Regarding other demographic-related questions in the form — here are some of my personal thoughts:

Permanent Address/mailing address: not important, you may specify only your area and city, e.g. Sampaloc, Manila; or South Triangle, Quezon City.
Contact Number: VERY IMPORTANT, please specify here your personal mobile number that you use most often. This is critical because it will be used in case there is an urgent need to give you important information regarding the results of your test.
Other demographic information (birthday, sex, age, etc.): fairly important, used for statistics keeping of the DOH — I suggest you put your real information here just to help the DOH-NEC to capture accurate statistics. These information will not be used to identify you.

For the rest of the form (employment history, travel history, history of HIV test, etc.), you may or may not be asked to fill these all out. A counselor may help fill this out with you during the next step of the process. The information you give here will be used to assess your risk, which will help your counselor in providing life-saving information and recommendations appropriate and customized to you and your situation. I recommend that you be “honest-to-the-bone” when you answer these questions, as this will directly impact the recommendations that will be given you for your own well-being.

Step Two: The Pre-Test Counseling. After filling out the form, you may be asked to wait for a little bit, depending on the number of people who have come to the testing venue ahead of you. When it is your turn, a friendly HIV counselor will approach you and lead you to a private area for a one-on-one counseling session. The counselor will look at the form you have filled out and will help you complete it. He or she will also, in the most sensitive, friendly but honest and direct way, ask you questions that will help him or her assess your risks in contracting sexually transmitted infections and most specifically HIV. My recommendation: be totally honest. You may share with your counselor how you feel about the situation, perhaps your fears and inhibitions, and he or she will help you to the most of his ability. An HIV counselor is trained to listen and handle such conversations with complete confidentiality and sensitivity. S/he is there to help you.

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Sobrang busy ko in life the past weeks, ganito pala ang sumabak sa mga advocacy-advocacy. Ni minsan hindi ko pinangarap na magkakaganito ako. Dati kuntento na ako sa pa-blog-blog lang, you know, sulat-sulat about issues, pero never had the intention of really getting my hands dirty.

Pero, dahil na rin sa tindi ng pangangailangan na nakita ko, plus the fact that I’m personally affected by the HIV issue, sumabak na rin ako. Personally affected dahil 4 na ang acquaintances ko na pinitik ng HIV at ngayo’y sumakabilang buhay na. Apat na rin ang close friends ko ang considered as People Living with HIV (PLHIV). Ako mismo, once upon a time, ay nag-panic dahil akala ko positibo na ako. That experience of having myself tested was a life-changing one. I resolved to love myself more, and from that same thought came ever so naturally, the extension of loving others as well. The experience of my first HIV test made me feel, stronger than ever before, the oneness of the universe, particularly of humanity. Parang iisa lang talaga tayong lahat, such that when I love myself, naturally I am led to loving others too. Hence, my burning desire to ignite the awareness about the HIV situation here in the Philippines.

Shift tayo ng konti. Kasi may nakakatawa akong introspective experience. Well, nakakatawa para sa akin. Kasi naman, in the middle of all the flurry of activities around my HIV advocacy, may nakausap akong batikang community organizer. Napag-usapan namin iyong mga dating activities among MSMs (Men who have Sex with Men). Dati raw kasi mayroon silang ino-organize na discussion forums every Friday, of different topics and issues relevant to us gay men. Sabi niya, may namumukod-tanging topic na laging blockbuster talaga sa dami ng taong dumadalo. At ang topic na ito ay walang iba kundi spelled as L-O-V-E. Oo, basta usapang pag-ibig, ang mga bakla, gorah lagi sa balitaktakan.

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Last week, I’ve been preoccupied with my classes that will make me a trained and certified HIV counselor. On Saturday, I received my certification. Then, not even 24 hours have passed since my certification, I volunteered in an HIV Confidential Counseling and Testing session. It was my first time, a baptism by fire, as an HIV counselor.

* * *

During the pre-test counseling, he already confided to me.

“Madalas hindi ako gumagamit ng condom.”

I felt trusted, and appreciated his openness. That was how it’s supposed to be. An open and honest conversation. He was very honest, and naturally, jittery, his eyes glassy, on the verge of tears. He told me that he would have at least one sex partner a week, most of the time 2 or 3, and as many as 5.

“May partner ka?” I asked.

“Oo, kagaya ko rin,” he replied.

He’s a masseur. The kind who provides extra service almost automatically. He has a lean frame, smooth fair skin, and looks that would justify the number of clients he would have in a week.

“Minsan pa nga araw-araw ang mga kliyente.”

The counseling continued, and soon after I was walking with him to the testing area where a med tech took some blood for the rapid HIV test.

In less than 15 minutes, I was with him again, this time, we were joined by Doktora. We were about to give him the results of his HIV test.

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Di ako mapakali sa coffee shop, hinihintay ko sila. Si Bong, at dalawa pa naming kaibigan.

Umorder muna ako ng iced tea, para naman di sila lugi sa pagtambay ko doon. Makailang beses ko ring binasa-basa ang peryodiko, di talaga ako mapakali. Ilang sandali pa, dumating na sila.

Si Bong, nakangiti. Nauuna siya, palapit sa akin.

Si Jamil, naka-shades, di ko aninag ang mga mata niya, parang lulugo-lugo lumakad.

Si Jimboy, halatang-halata ang kalungkutan.

Wala pang sinasabi si Bong, nabalutan na ako ng lungkot. Alam ko na yata ang sasabihin niya.

“Sabi ko na sa iyo, Migs eh.”

* * *

Bago noong araw na iyon, ilang beses ko na ring pinipilit si Bong na magpa-test. Ayaw daw niya at natatakot siya. Ilang beses ko rin siyang kinukumbinse, “ganyan din ako no,” sabi ko. Pero ayaw talaga niya. Kaya nagulat ako isang araw, tumawag siya sa akin.

“Migs, on my way na ako sa Social Hygiene Clinic. Nakuha ko yung info sa blog mo.”

Natuwa naman ako at kahit papaano ay may nakikinabang sa mga info na pino-post ko dito.

* * *

Kinabukasan pa nakuha ni Bong ang resulta. Usapan namin, magkikita kami sa coffee shop pagkagaling na pagkagaling nila sa Social Hygiene Clinic.

“Sabi ko na sa iyo, Migs eh.”

Tumayo ako at niyakap nang mahigpit si Bong.

Walang anumang salita ang makapagpapaluwag sa nararamdaman niya nang oras na iyon.

Reactive. Positive.

Sabi nila, everything comes in threes. Tatlo na sa malalapit kong kaibigan ang HIV positive. Bakit may ika-apat? Si Bong ang ika-apat. Kilalanin siya at ang kanyang kuwento sa pamamagitan ng sarili niyang panulat.

Both Oliver and I were lying in bed. The room was dim, and we were talking in careful tones, as if even the four walls surrounding us shouldn’t hear the secrets being shared. Three months prior that evening, Oliver and John decided to split up. I came to the rescue by calling, it was the most I could do. That time, I didn’t yet know the gravity of what happened, I didn’t yet know the special bond between the couple, not just the fact that they have been together for 2 years, but the reality that they share a disease, incurable and unspeakable.

Oliver was lying on his back, eyes fixed at a spot on the ceiling. I was on my side, lying on the same bed, looking at him as he spelled out the sad reality of his situation– that it is the end of the line for him, that nothing bright can be expected after his story with John, that no one would understand. I challenged him. He resisted.

“No,” he said, “you don’t know me fully, Migs.”

What is there to know? I told him I liked him. He wouldn’t hear any of it. After a long pause, he drops the clearest of clues.

“I have something – it’s a deal breaker.”

I responded, a knee-jerk answer. “It’s okay, Oliver. That’s okay.”

“No, Migs, it’s not, you don’t understand.”

“Maybe I do.”

“You don’t, you don’t know.”

“I like you, Oliver. My only issue is if you still want to get back with John. If yes, I’ll back off.”

“He is my safest choice.”

“Not necessarily. There are ways.”

“You don’t know my situation, Migs. You don’t know.”

“Maybe I already know.”

A long pause.

“You’re a smart guy, Migs.”

“And you are fine, Oliver. It’s okay. There are ways, safe ways.”

“I don’t know.”

The room was dim, and words were spoken in hushed tones, careful, so as not to utter the raw, pulsating truth. That perhaps, HIV’s scourge is not the physical death it eventually causes — but the ultimate demise of the spirit, a belief that ravages the soul with the venomous thought that once you have it, you are stripped of the right to love, and more painful still, of the right to be loved.

When I first met Oliver, I thought he was older. His demeanor, a certain gravitas, and the way he spoke – measured, soft,  and words I’d imagine were carefully picked inside his labyrinthine mind – all of these shone through a wisdom uncommon to guys his age. Oliver is only in his early 20s. So young. And sick. [from “Oliver“]

Oliver wasn’t always like that. Before he knew he was sick, he was invincible, or so he thought. He was very young, particularly good looking, and thought nothing can stop his adventures. Sex was delicious, and he had generous servings from almost anyone he fancied. He got himself another dashingly handsome young man as boyfriend, and for a while they were a force to reckon — a beautiful couple, both young and fresh, and everything seemed easy for them. Inside the couplehood though, after the initial high, brewed animosity of tectonic proportions. Oliver got out of the relationship bruised not only emotionally but physically, a broken nose as lifetime remembrance. He wouldn’t know until later that there was another ‘lifetime remembrance’ his ex-partner actually passed on to him.

He continued his colorful life after the break up. Sex was so easy to come by. In the mall, in school, in the car, in the dressing room, practically everywhere. The world was his playground, and boy, did he play. In one of his nights out with a group of friends in a bar, he met John, another fresh young face who not long after that night became Oliver’s next partner.

One fateful day, upon Oliver’s volunteering to donate blood to a sick acquaintance, the hospital staff requested a private talk. There he was told that his donated blood couldn’t be used. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He drove home from the hospital crying. He remembered his ex, and called him. Eventually he would be able to trace that it was his ex who gave him the ultimate ‘lifetime remembrance.’

And then he thought of John, his current partner. At that point, they had been together for some time. Just thinking of the possibility that he might have transmitted him the virus was killing him inside. He had to tell John, and have him tested.

And so the nightmare unfolded. John went for testing and found out that he too, at the peak of his idealism, at the pinnacle of his exuberant youth, was going to forever carry his partner’s ‘lifetime remembrance.’ John was crushed, Oliver doubly so.

He flicked his towel over his shoulder like a shawl, his head turning to face me. He smiled like a boy and looked at me for what felt like an eternity of bliss. Before I knew it, his hand was on the doorknob, and he was on his way to the shower. I was left in the room, speechless, wondering, pondering. This handsome young man has so much in store for him. That same thought made me feel sad, so sad I can hear tears silently crawling down the side of my heart, drowning the crass noise of all the gurgling inside. Just this one time, I thought, I’d allow the stench of regret to wilt my shining rainbow of optimism. Yes, it is not a death sentence, but it undeniably still will lead to that.

When I first met Oliver, I thought he was older. His demeanor, a certain gravitas, and the way he spoke – measured, soft,  and words I’d imagine were carefully picked inside his labyrinthine mind – all of these shone through a wisdom uncommon to guys his age. Oliver is only in his early 20s. So young. And sick.

Hello Migs.

First off, let me say that I had long been contemplating on writing to you but I always catch myself foregoing the decision for one reason or another. But your latest entry about young gay guys “dropping like flies” (if I presumed correctly – due to HIV-related complications) had pushed me to finally write this letter to you and I truly appreciate the concern you have shown about the growing HIV situation in the country by promoting safe sex, taking the test, and posting the names of clinics where HIV tests are done for free. I am a HIV-positive mature gay guy living and working in one of the cities in Metro Manila. I learned about my status late March last year after I took a rapid HIV test in a government clinic in the metro, along with my male partner of more than 2 years now, who is 10 years my junior. I received confirmation of my status almost two weeks after that initial test. My partner tested negative and still is. We are a classic example of a sero-discordant couple. I am thankful he came out negative when we both took the rapid test, considering that when I learned about my HIV status, we were already more than a year into our relationship and had engaged in unprotected sex during the early months of our affair. My partner has stuck it out with me despite knowing about my status. He didn’t ask me as to whom did I get it and how. Right at that moment after he was told by the nurse-counselor about my status, he just held my hand tightly and comforted me. On our way out of the clinic, he hugged me tight even as he put a brave front. We both decided to proceed to church where both of us poured out our emotions. As I write this, I am teary-eyed as I recall the events on that fateful day last year.

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Another young Filipino gay man, down. I hear at least one in a week, and it’s the third consecutive week.

Sad. Very sad.

And to think, I view death as a sweet crossing over to the other side. Still, I feel sad.

Young Filipino gay men, full of promise, full of zest, all of a sudden, dropping like flies.

This has got to stop.