Pride Month celebrates the successes of LGBT activism from Stonewall to marriage equality and more. And in every parade or festival is also a reminder of our push for research in HIV prevention and treatment, led over the years by activist groups such as ACT UP and GHMC. Even with the progress made, though, myths about HIV persist, and the decision to get tested for HIV is often still mired in fear and stigma.
However nerve-racking the process might seem now, here are five stories that will help you overcome your fear of getting tested.
Watch This Short Film on the Terror of HIV Tests, The Mess He Made
The first thing to understand about testing for HIV is that you're not alone. Matthew Puccini's short SXSW film explores the anxiety-inducing process of an HIV test. The test itself is simple: a finger prick, a drop of blood, and a 15-minute wait. At least, that's how it works with a blood test. It's that wait that Puccini focuses on in his film. Inspired by his own HIV scare the previous summer, Puccini said he wanted the film to highlight the emotional experience. "I wanted to challenge the audience's preoccupation with the diagnosis and instead present the humanity of the situation; sort of saying that regardless of the result, this is a real person with a real life and family and stakes who has found themselves here," Puccini told The Advocate.
How I Conquered My Fear of God and Got an HIV Test
Out comedian Sampson McCormick recalls the guilt instilled in him by religion before getting his HIV test. After hearing from pastors that AIDS was a punishment that God inflicted on those who partook in the "homosexual lifestyle," he had his first HIV scare at the age of 20. He recounts his desire to escape his sheltered upbringing, his first "date," and his jumping to the worst conclusions after waking up with a nasty cold. Knowing little about HIV aside from guilt-tripping sermons and symptom lists on the internet, he walked into a clinic and requested a test. It was at that very clinic that, for the first time, he heard that sex was not inherently sinful and that HIV was not a punishment from God.
Can Being Sex-Positive Help Keep You HIV-Negative?
HIV prevention specialist Raul Quintero argues that sex-positive education combats the shame surrounding HIV testing and discussions of sexual health. He grew up at the height of the AIDS epidemic and watched his uncle battle HIV. His first HIV scare resulted not in an HIV test but in a seven-year period of abstinence that ended only when he took sexual health classes in college. His various gigs as a sex educator led him to believe that protecting people from HIV would not be achieved through sex-negative education or abstinence but instead by teaching about safe sex methods -- in particular, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
Having Sex With Poz Men Helped Kick My Fear of HIV
Zachary Zane's life was riddled with paranoia about contracting HIV, and the stigma around an HIV-positive status didn't help. Zane used all of the tried-and-true means of prevention: condoms, PrEP, and trying to restrict his pool of sexual partners to HIV-negative individuals. One sexual encounter with a man who Zane later learned was HIV-positive was enough to send him into a panic and an eight-month-long period of abstinence. But it was Zane's sexual encounters with four up-front, HIV-positive men with undetectable viral loads helped him end his paranoia around HIV. If he can let go of this fear, so can you.
Getting Testing for HIV Is Still Hard -- and Still Imperative
David Artavia remembers, "I almost went in disguise the first time I was tested for HIV." He heard echoes of a homophobic pastor. He worried what it would mean to be positive, until Artavia realized that "refusing to get tested out of fear invites more fear." Fear of getting tested means more men don't know their status, and that's the real danger. Steps can be taken to prevent transmission and to live a healthy life, but the fear adds to "a vicious cycle that can be broken in the 15 minutes it takes for a full checkup."
One message from last year's national HIV Testing Day still resonates today: We're Fighting for So Much Right Now -- Don't Forget About HIV. Rea Carey and Jesse Milan Jr. noted that the Trump administration gives us a lot to worry about; even so, we have to take care of our health. In the 1980s, when HIV and AIDS were first primarily reported in gay men, researchers coined the term "Gay-Related Immune Deficiency." Though the term has been dropped -- we know that HIV does not discriminate -- it still disproportionately affects the LGBT community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an 18 percent drop in HIV incidence over the past few years, a decline that gay and bisexual men did not experience. Get tested, and help end one of the few disparities that still exists.