by: Justin Huang
Yesterday, I drove to an office building in Beverly Hills on La Cienega, nestled in that tourist trapping row of luxury franchise restaurants like the Stinking Rose and Lawry’s. I park my car in the dank garage beneath the ground floor and step into the elevator headed up. I have come to this place on the second Monday of every third month for the past two years, but like every visit, this visit is steeped in a fresh apprehension.
In the elevator, I check my appearance in the cracked mirror above the floor buttons. I always dress cute for the occasion. I’m not sure why. You’d think I was going out for drinks. It comforts me though, that I look presentable – no, more than presentable, I need to feel like I’m on top of my game.
It’s right outside the door of the office when I really start to feel a slow burning sensation of frantic terror. I always pause for a second, pretending to read the signs on the door. Taking a deep breath, I push the door open and step into the HIV testing clinic.
There’s one thing that’s nice about the Beverly Hills office: The male nurses are all really cute. The same one who sits behind the front desk greets me every time as if it’s the first time he’s met me. I don’t know if he’s got a bad memory or if I’m unmemorable or what. Maybe it’s office protocol. I suppose it would be disconcerting to be greeted like a VIP at an HIV clinic. “Hey you! Welcome back, you dirty, dirty boy!”
I guess in this case I do prefer being unmemorable.
I sit in the waiting room and try not to look around, because everything, and I mean everything, is HIV-themed in that fucking room. There’s a TV streaming a channel that is solely focused on viral epidemics, there are posters with HIV virus diagrams the size of my head, and the walls are covered with every conceivable pun. (“Live positively!” “THRIVE!”) The reading material isn’t much better. Turns out Plus Magazine is not for plus-sized women.
Can’t they make it look… friendlier?
The chairs in that room are uncomfortable and squeaky. They’re also arranged in a curious fashion so that it’s impossible to look into the nurses’ station without craning your neck. It makes sense to me; if I even suspected that the nurses were talking about me and throwing glances my way, I’d flip a shit.
So this time, I’ve brought my Kindle, and I stare blankly at it, rereading the same word over and over again for the next few minutes until the door pops open, and Cute Male Nurse #2 calls out my name. I begin to sweat.
In the examination room, the interrogation begins. The questions are pretty predictable. “What’s your sexual orientation? What’s your sexual position? Do you practice safe sex? How many sexual partners have you had since your last test?”
This last question caught me off guard during this most recent visit. It’s been a busy summer, so to speak. The slow burning terror returned. Or was it an actual burning sensation? “How many sexual partners?” he asks again. I count on my fingers, and I can feel my eyes widening. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK! I don’t think I’m imagining the judgment in his eyes.
I’m drenched in sweat by the time I hold out my finger to get pricked. A drop of my blood forms on my skin and I look at it accusingly. “Be clean!” I silently demand it. The nurse collects the blood and puts it in a tiny tube, and leads me back out to the waiting room. “It’s going to take just 15 minutes,” he says.
Just 15 minutes. And so commences the longest 15 minutes I’ve experienced in three months.
* * *
When I first came out to my mom as a gay man, it was a really difficult time for us. There were many reasons why my mom was so upset about it: religious, social, cultural. But she told me, in tears, that the #1 reason she was so frightened was because she didn’t want me to get AIDS. “Your health is all you have,” she told me, “why would you compromise that?”
Within the gay community, there is a whole subculture of HIV-positive men, commonly referred to as “poz.” I think that some of us feel gypped; we can’t get each other pregnant, so why can’t we have sex like cavemen? Condom-less sex is called “raw” or “barebacking,” and it has been elevated to fetish status by the online gay sex community and gay porn.
On gay dating sites like Adam4Adam and ManHunt (though calling it “dating” is being pretty generous, unless you consider an anonymous 2am blowjob in someone’s filthy living room a “date”), gay men casually list their HIV status right next to height and weight. There are a lot of HIV-positive men who freely admit they are living with the virus… so imagine how many don’t.
Adam4Adam even gives you the option of stating whether you have sex with a condom or not: You can choose “Safe Sex Only” or “Anything Goes” (yikes, “Anything Goes” is not something you want to say to the online gay community, kids).
This really bothers me. I feel like the gay community survived a plague that everyone thought – some even hoped – would wipe us out, and it was through perseverance and education and miraculous willpower that we are still here and stronger and hotter than ever. Whenever I meet an older, HIV-positive gay man, I feel an instant kinship. He was just like me a couple decades ago, enjoying the fruits of youth and sex in a world that was far less educated and tolerant than mine today. They were all young and beautiful and completely unaware, and I can’t fathom what it must have been like for him to watch his loved ones inexplicably wither away and die.
The AIDS epidemic is still very real in America. More than 1,000,000 people have HIV in this country. Many gay men still don’t use condoms. I think it’s because there’s still a lot of self-hate in the gay man’s psyche, and a lot of us are prone toward self-destructive behavior. There are even gay men who refer to themselves as “bug chasers,” who are actively seeking to get infected with HIV.
Well I, for one, am not going to get HIV and I’m not going to die of AIDS. As the saying goes, there are much cooler ways to die. (On second thought, let’s substitute “more painless” for “cooler.”) I plan on contributing to the fabulous quotient of the human race until I’m dragged away, kicking and screaming, to that eternal rave dance party that Christians call “hell.”
You see, going to the HIV clinic is a reality that I need to routinely confront as a sexually-active gay man. I accept it as something that I’m obliged to do for the rest of my life.
At the same time, those 15 minutes, where every second feels like an hour and I’ve finally given in and opened Plus Magazine and discovered that all the pictures in it are of super hot dudes, are the most humbling and grounding minutes that I, in all my over-liberated sexual glory, can experience… and I need that. Sweating a puddle onto that squeaky seat and wondering if I’ve overdone it this time, it’s a stark reminder of my own mortality that I don’t think many other 24-year-old guys are used to feeling. It makes me appreciate every moment, not just the sex, but being young and virile in general, with my whole life ahead of me.
* * *
The door to the nurses’ station pops open and the male nurse walks up to me. I instantly cringe. He hands me the results, which I frantically read over, following it with a long exhale and a goofy smile. The nurse chuckles at me, smiling at me for the first time. “You’re kinda dramatic, aren’t you?” he says, before going back into the clinic. He’s even cuter when he smiles. “See you next time.”
On the way down to the garage, I wonder if he has a boyfriend.
Note: This piece was originally featured on the author’s blog and was republished with permission. You can find the originally here.
Justin Huang is 25, Asian, male, gay, overly cocky, popular, insecure, shy, gassy, loudmouthed, promiscuous, guilt-ridden, nonjudgmental, hardworking, goofy and dead serious. Huang is a film editor and a personal fitness trainer in Los Angeles, both of which mean I sit in coffeeshops and gyms a lot trying to look cute. Follow me @justinhuang.