I almost went in disguise the first time I was tested for HIV. It felt like a game of Russian roulette. Was this the moment everything would come to a halt? Did I make a “mistake” along the way I would regret forever? I could hear the voice of my youth pastor in my ear: “You have no one to blame but yourself.”
Where I’m from in the South, people only talk about sexually transmitted infections in health class, linked back to sex with an overlay of shame. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized it didn’t matter if I was afraid to get tested (that wasn’t going to stop the virus). What mattered was my willingness to know my status, then to act on it — whatever the results might be.
Refusing to get tested out of fear invites more fear. Eventually it morphs into anxiety, paranoia, guilt, and shame — a vicious cycle that can be broken in the 15 minutes it takes for a full checkup. I finally realized the obvious: I wasn’t afraid of getting tested, but rather of testing positive. Admittedly, it was easier not to know. But ignorance supplies little protection, especially when most people living with HIV can take one pill a day, get to undetectable, and live a life much like anyone else in terms of sex, relationships, and careers.
Knowing your status is the most responsible thing we can do to protect ourselves and our future partners. The only thing standing between us is the fear of HIV stigma, and that needs to end today.
Stigma corners us inside a box of fear. The more we tell ourselves it’s better “not to know,” the heavier our shame weighs. Getting tested should never feel like we’re walking the green mile. We are taking control of our health by allowing ourselves to know. Knowledge is powerful — more powerful than fear. That is something to be proud of.
Without testing you cannot take the next steps to stay healthy. Having PrEP as an option to avoid getting HIV is a major leap forward in prevention, and it should be adopted unapologetically. For those who test positive, getting on treatment and lowering your viral load to undetectable levels makes it virtually impossible to transmit HIV.
Getting tested impacts more than one person. It produces a ripple effect in our community that encourages men to be empowered about our sexual health. Get tested today. Proudly.
DAVID ARTAVIA is the managing editor of The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @DMArtavia.