You know how weird it is to think that I have never known a world without AIDS? I remember growing up and it was new and scary, and with family friends in the LGBT community* I always knew about it in some way or another. It is weird to think about it now as having been around for almost three decades, which is actually a really long time.
When I was about five my single mom and I lived with two gay guy roommates. One of them was the only person I would let brush my hair because I had such a tender scalp. I was completely unaware of it at the time, but they both tested positive. I remember one of them moved away to live with his mom in Texas. I didn’t know at the time it was to be in hospice.
Me, age 6, in front of that house not long after Rob moved away. I need to get my mom to scan me some photos from that era.
Not everyone is touched by HIV or AIDS directly, but I think everyone can do their part to create awareness, know their HIV status and practice safe sex.
You know sometimes STD screenings don’t automatically include every STD? It’s frustrating because I go to a sort of run of the mill not homo GYN and I am sure I am one of the only unmarried and queer patients. I always have to give them a laundry list of what I want to be tested for.
Sometimes it is weird to put words to asking for an HIV test, but it’s really important! I know WAY too many people (myself included) who have been cheated on in the most heinous and unsafe of ways. It’s really important to trust no one but yourself when it comes to getting tested.
Here’s a picture of me in an actual moment where I was unaware of the cheatin’ going on! Accompanied by Zoe, who had that fateful come to Jesus moment with me in a car on the way to the Paramus mall about confronting things.
I don’t ever want to think when I’m monogamous or whatever that there’s even a possibility my partner could have given me an STD but it’s real. Get tested, for everything, once a year. Think of how nice it will be to KNOW that your partner didn’t give you an STD that calendar year!**
Also I know way too many people who have died from ovarian cancer and other lady parts cancers. Get screened for cancer (as much as they can), too. The earlier HIV, cancers and other diseases are found, the easier they are to get treated.
This is also especially important for people who are not of normative bodies and genders. It’s really vulnerable to go to a doctor when you’re fat and are going to get the fat talk or when you are transgender and are going to get the [insert laundry list of fears, here]. Bring a friend who can be your advocate and hold your hand. It’s really important to get your bits checked no matter what kind of bits you have and how they line up with the outside.
Take it from someone whose routine trip to the GYN turned into a kerfuffle of mis[fat]diagnosis—when a doctor is supposed to be treating you for something and launches into the fat talk you can politely tell them “I am not here to discuss my weight with you. I am here to discuss my bits, my HIV status and whether I am at risk for cancers.” I like to have a mantra to prepare ahead of time.
And, luckily, since that terrible trip to the GYN, I haven’t had a fat hating doctor. I am about to get health insurance again and the first thing I plan to do is get my bits checked, my blood drawn and my HIV status confirmed.
If you’re uninsured and lucky enough to be in a town with an LGBT clinic, you can sometimes get low or no cost HIV tests and other exams. Use the resources available to you to keep you safe and up to date about your status. Those resources weren’t there when our loved ones started getting sick, but they are there now.
Do something to revere their memories.
*My mom, who is now Lesbian identified and gay married, was in and out of the closet a couple of times while I was growing up.
**I can imagine the girl talk emails that ensue. “OMG y’all, I didn’t get an STD from my monogamous partner! Woo hoo!” Considering the amount of girl talk emails I have gotten that had a different result.
I do remember life before AIDS. In fact, we kind of “came out” at the same time. In some ways it was extra hard to identify as gay when all the hoopla started up. In other ways, I was kind of bolstered. For whatever reason(s) I was never insecure about who I was. I remember feeling things like “this isn’t fair” and “it’s not our fault” when covers of Time and Newsweek, etc. displayed shocking headlines and pics of men I didn’t know but with whom I felt a connection and solidarity of some sort. That’s probably why, when the doc asks me if I want my HIV test to be anonymous and non-insured I say “Shoot, no.”
ah, i remember that photo: it was taken between the time i made a mad dash to the local lgbtq health center to get a full STI panel after finding out my boyfriend at the time was a total cheating douche and right before you found out similar news.
get your bits checked out ya’ll. always better to be safer than sorry.
btw: for those with cervixes, taking a daily dose of folic acid can help prevent cervical dysplasia. but still get your paps done anyway. the current guidelines are (so long as your last pap was normal) that you only need to get one done every 2 years. you still need an annual bimanual exam though (ovaries and uterus checkup).
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