I was in Iloilo last Thursday and came back home on Saturday. I was invited, again, by St. Paul’s University Iloilo to give a talk for International Women’s Day. Their theme was Gender, Sexuality, and HIV/AIDS and it was breath of fresh air for me because, for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t about me and my story, The focus was on women and I tailored my talk to fit the theme. In SM City Iloilo, I spoke in two sessions to over 400 people. The morning session was filled with students and the second was a mixed crowd of students, health workers, seamen, and government workers.
I felt like I did really good. I talked about everybody’s right to good health, which includes our rights inside the bedroom, our sexual rights from our partner, whether it’s a long-term relationship or a fuck buddy, some casual fling. I stressed about the disparity between what is okay for masculine behaviour as opposed to feminine behaviour and the double standard that a man can sleep around and that’s okay, he’s just being “a man,” and a woman who sleeps around is considered a slut. I talked about how it was so unfair that in heterosexual sexual relationships, men in the Philippines feel like it’s the woman’s job not to get pregnant and just take the pill and not have to use a condom because it “doesn’t feel good” for the man. It’s not fair, especially since a condom is not just for birth control, it is to protect both partners from getting sexually transmitted diseases — like HIV.
At some point, of course, I spoke about myself and my own experiences. I had to. I had to ground what I was talking about into something personal and relatable. I couldn’t just stay on high concepts and not make it real. But it wasn’t about me, per se. It was just an example that I was using. I liked it. I liked that feeling that it didn’t have to always be about me.
The faculty and administration of St. Paul’s University Iloilo took such good care of me. They took care of my flight, lodgings, meals, and transportation. I totally and completely appreciate the effort they gave in helping me bring my message far and wide and making it at my utmost convenience.
Someone asked me, in the open forum of the afternoon session, “What inspires me to do what I do?”
“All of you,” I said. “Knowing that every time I come up to do a talk, there are people who actually come and listen and participate in the discussion. People who go out of their way to learn more about their world and the current issues. They inspire me.”
“And all my family and friends,” I added. “And all the wonderful people I don’t even know who have ever given me support and encouragement when I first discovered I was HIV positive. They inspire me. They inspire me because if they could give me so much love and affection, then I know it can be that way with everyone too.”
It’s true. It just came to me, at the moment. It is something that I never had to think about before. Asked, point-blank, in front of all those people, and it was the first answer that came to me. And it was honest and raw and true. 800 people. That’s a lot. I got to share with them what I know. I was useful. For one day, I was useful. It felt good.