I have a new headshot — as HIV positive

**This is the first article I ever wrote about finding out I was HIV positive. This was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Super Section last December 5, 2008. The online version can be found here. This was five days after I had come out public with my HIV status and three months after discovering I was infected.**

Good enough for Twilight? Euw! Hope not. Good enough to start an advocacy? Cause that is what it did.

The crowd trickled onto Fiamma last Dec. 1 to witness the unveiling of super photographer Niccolo Cosme’s latest exhibit: Headshot Clinic Aware.

This would be Cosme’s third or fourth for the year. One would think the idea would be getting redundant except Cosme is not just a man with a camera; he’s an artist with a vision.

Using profile pictures on people’s social networking sites (such as Facebook) as a virtual global gallery and taking everyone’s inherent vanity and using it as platform to send out positive messages has been the ongoing evolution of Cosme’s Headshot Clinic.

After the success of his first clinic last year, he presented One World series last May to help promote world peace and unity through pictures. This time, the message is to spread awareness of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); the exhibit coincided with the World AIDS Awareness Day and is backed by the UN AIDS and Frenzy condoms.

Famous people and not-so-famous people were given a glossy photo treatment, with colors saturated and a red mark found somewhere on the face or body. All the participants looked like they belong in a poster for Twilight.

Niccolo asked me to join. My headshot finds me in one of my more brooding moments with a red line right underneath my nose that runs down straight my lips to my chin. Staring straight into the camera and tapping all my top model potential, I wanted to reach out to people so that they learn from my story: I’m HIV-positive.

State of emergency

Awareness is more important now than ever because the number of people afflicted with HIV is growing at an alarming rate. According to a monthly report in the Department of Health website (www.doh.gov.ph), there are 3,515 reported HIV cases in the country. Last year, 342 people tested positive for HIV. In 2008, from January to October, there are 454 reported cases. And I’m one of them.

Of the 3,515 people living with HIV in the country, 481 are between 15 and 24 years old.

Maybe we don’t talk about sex and sexuality as much as we should and so we aren’t aware of the rate of promiscuity in the city, much less the irresponsible practices, like not practicing safe sex or not using condoms.

I can live in my glass house and throw stones at others. But then because I was negligent and careless, I have caught an infectious and incurable disease I never thought I would get. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. I didn’t think I would get it because it didn’t seem like a real threat or danger to me. I didn’t even know anybody else who had it. HIV was something people got elsewhere like in Africa or America.

Now I know someone who has it. I look at his face in the mirror every day.

Niccolo Cosme’s Headshot Clinic Aware became the jump-start of my advocacy to help stop the spread of HIV in the country. It all begins with awareness. The more you know, the less you will be afraid. The more you know, the more you will be responsible.

There is no vaccine against HIV. It’s always best to abstain and if you have to sleep around, wear protection. If you’ve been sleeping around, it’s time you got yourself tested.

Stay negative, be positive

Borrowing from the old GI Joe cartoons that knowing is half the battle won, information is really our only weapon against this foe. A new website will be launched on Dec. 15, which hopes to be a complete source of information on all HIV and AIDS-related topics for both people living with the disease and for people who want to know more about it. The website, www.positivism.ph, has a catchy teaser page with the tag line: Stay negative, be positive.

Now my Facebook profile page sports my new headshot. The red line cutting across my closed mouth seems so inappropriate now that I’

m speaking up. But a picture is worth a thousand words. Hopefully, people will start to listen.

For more information, check out http://www.headshotclinic.com, http://www.doh.gov.ph, http://www.unaids.org, http://www.unaids.blogspot.com and watch out for http://www.positivism.ph on Dec. 15.

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