(Reblogged from Jan 2011)
Here’s the story:
Back when I was a true believing straight-acting married Mormon, I once donated blood as I regularly did. A few weeks later, on a Friday afternoon I received a voice message from the local blood bank telling me to call them regarding tests that were performed on my donated blood. By the time I got the message, it was already after hours and I had to wait until Monday morning to call and actually have the conversation.
It was a weird weekend.
First of all, according to everything I knew about HIV and other blood-born diseases I hadn’t done anything that qualified me to have one. I’d been sexually faithful to my wife and couldn’t recall any blood transfusions or needles in the recent past. I obviously wondered slightly about my wife, but never verbalized that fear. There was actually a louder nagging thought that screamed at me all weekend, “You’re gay and you don’t actually need to have sex to get this AIDS disease!”
I know that it sounds ridiculous now but I actually had reason for that inner voice.
In the very early 90’s before I got married, I occasionally house-sat in the wealthy, upscale community where I worked. It was some extra money and it enabled me to avoid a long commute to work. One of these homes where I occasionally house-sat was owned by a professor at the local University well-known for having a respected community of biomedical researchers. This particular professor led a minority group of researchers who claimed that HIV, the virus, didn’t exist. If I remember his explanation clearly enough, his claim was that no scientist had yet isolated the actual virus and that AIDS only seemed to be spreading because each year the category of diseases that indicated an HIV infection grew larger. It was a paperwork phenomenon. In other words, it was a false epidemic. He claimed that the homosexual and drug addicted individuals were inherently unhealthy, that they’d always been dying of the infections that were now categorized as “AIDS.”
For me this was terrifying! Even though I hadn’t even admitted to myself that I was gay, deep down I knew it. Were my attractions to men (Which I was trying desperately to control) merely a symptom of something unhealthy about me? Was I inherently at risk for these other deadly illnesses? What if you could contract one of these “AIDS” illnesses without ever having sex or shooting up with infected needles?
I lived with that for a weekend…actually longer. Because when I called on Monday, the blood bank technician explained to me that I had indeed tested positive for HIV. But she quickly explained that for safety purposes their tests were highly sensitive and therefore they ended up with quite a few false positives. After quizzing me on my personal intimate behavior over the previous several years, she recommended that I wait seven weeks and then go get retested at a clinic where their methodologies were not likely to return a false positive. She also reassured me that if I was being honest with her that I most certainly had nothing to worry about. “Nevertheless” she said, “due to your having tested positive with us you are forever disqualified from donating blood.”
So, I waited seven weeks and still wondered to myself… outwardly confident, but still half scared inside.
That second HIV test returned a negative result as have the dozen or so tests that I’ve had since then. No, I am not HIV+.
At the time it was a testament to me of “clean” living. Imagine the terror I would have felt if I HAD been hooking up with men! As the following fascinating description of one woman’s experience with genital herpes explains, it doesn’t always take a lot to contract a disease.
Today, this is all just a curious anecdote of my past that helps me remember to continue to make wise, healthy decisions when it comes to intimacy with others. Even after that experience, I still had a lot to learn regarding sexually transmitted diseases once I came out of the closet.
If any of you reading this have lived in the closet for some time, you may THINK you know all there is to know about STD’s but my experience is that very few actually do. I suggest you go to a clinic that offers free anonymous testing and get tested …even if you’ve never engaged in risky behavior. It may seem like an odd suggestion, but the folks who run these clinics are trained professionals who have a sense of mission to prevent and educate. They will be your best sources of information. They WANT to answer your questions… the questions you’re too embarrassed to ask your family doctor.
And might I also add the same suggestion for straight folks. I have friends who work at the local AIDS Foundation and they tell me that the number of straight men and women infected is just as significant as the number of gays. Don’t just rely on the media to educate you on how to protect yourself…There’s more to it than you think there is.
Answer their questions honestly (believe me, they’ve heard it all and much worse).
Follow their advice.