when I become relevant

My photo for Headshot Clinic Aware, back in December 2008 -- what started my life as an HIV advocate

My photo for Headshot Clinic Aware, back in December 2008 — what started my life as an HIV advocate

It’s just a couple of weeks left before we arrive at December 1, World AIDS Day. This time of the year, I get really busy because I get invited for any sort of HIV awareness activity that comes into play. They find it highly advantageous to invite me to some speaking engagement because, after all, I am one of the few people who have publicly disclosed my HIV status. I’m openly living with HIV. On December 1, World AIDS Day, I become relevant again.

I’ve already posed for my headshot for Niccolo Cosme’s Project Headshot Clinic, his annual social media HIV awareness drive. I’ve had, about, four or five different head shots done by Niccolo already, and he has taken quite a few photos of me for magazines in the whole HIV awareness thing. It’s always great to get to work with Niccolo. This is almost a given every year.

Strangely enough, the calls come a little too late and all these groups think that I would say “yes” at a moment’s notice to come and speak at their events. I think some of these groups have forgotten the whole point of me being a person living with HIV. I live with it. Meaning I am still alive and I am going through my day-to-day and making a living and paying bills.

What I don’t understand is that I get requests for television interviews two days (and sometimes even the day before) the scheduled interview. It drives me nuts. Everything is always rushed and they might have been planning it for ages but they never let me know until it is right before they need me. I find it challenging. It’s my advocacy and I would like to do what I can; but I can’t always adjust myself to their schedule. It’s kind of insulting, sometimes.

Just the other day, I got a call from the TV show Positive. I shared my high hopes and expectations about the show. They wanted me to come to the taping of The Christmas episode. I would have loved to come but they needed me really early next week and I had already made plans to go up to Baguio to judge the poetry competition at Mt. Cloud Bookstore for the second instalment of the Scarlet Letters from Baguio HIV poetry slam. I was there last year and I had a blast. I loved the whole idea of mixing poetry and HIV awareness and I haven’t done any work in  Baguio before so spreading the awareness and information there was pretty awesome, for me. They had asked me back in October and I had already blocked off my schedule.

I hate to sound like I’m complaining but I just wish that people organised these events and speaking engagements with a little bit more efficiency and with a little bit more courtesy with my time. I don’t get paid to do it. I’m lucky if they do, but it’s not something I ask for. I’d do it for free. That’s the whole point of it being my advocacy and all. But I just wish they didn’t think I could drop everything just to show up and talk about it. I’m not in it for the fame or the glory. Please. Anyone who thinks coming up in front of an audience to tell them you use to be a “promiscuous bastard” (my own words to describe myself) and you got infected by HIV because you were stupid enough to NOT practice safe sex is nothing to really be proud of. I just don’t want people to go through what so many other people are going through. I was lucky. I say that all the time. I have amazing and wonderful people surrounding me at all times that I still have my life intact and I am living without fear or shame of what I had done to myself. Not everyone is lucky.

Padma Perez of Mt. Cloud Bookshop, opening the poetry slam (taken by me, last year)

Padma Perez of Mt. Cloud Bookshop, opening the poetry slam (taken by me, last year)

But I’m glad that I am going up to Baguio for a while. I’ll be staying with some good friends and though I may hate the cold; I’ll have some time to be alone, surrounded by the gorgeous vegetation of Baguio and will be immersing myself in poetry along the artists of the mountain city. It can get intense. But isn’t that the whole point? Truth of the matter; if the people are moved to the point of changing their lives for the better, then we’ve done our jobs. And the AIDS Society of the Philippines are good people. They work very hard. I’m glad they asked me back up and I get to do this again.

In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be relevant again, unless HIV takes a back seat over the more pressing matter of rehabilitating the Visayas due to the catastrophic destruction of Typhoon Haiyan. That’s more pressing and more vital for us at the moment. I’d be surprised if we even make a dent in the headlines or the front pages of the paper.  The HIV epidemic is a long-term struggle — the people of the Visayas need help now. So we’ll see how all of this goes and turns out.

I got to prepare all my nice shirts in red for whatever engagements I might still be able to be a part of. It’s that time of the year. And I don’t mean Christmas.

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