At around this time, exactly seven years ago, I got a call from the clinic telling me my lab results from my HIV test had just come in and I had to go there to receive the news. That was exactly seven years ago, August 26, 2008. I consider sort of like my first death day (I will have another one in 2010 when I almost died from complications due to meningitis). How weird to celebrate a dying; especially since I didn’t die.
Seven years later, I didn’t expect to still be here. Alive and kicking and doing okay. More than okay. I’m well. It took me three years to get through the emotional rollercoaster, as cliche as that sounds, to a point when I started to really change for the better but I did. It took a second death day but I got out of it and I’m now here. I maybe broke but I’ve got a book of poems out, I’ve got a hit play under my belt as Dramaturge and Head Writer, I’ve got two fantastic films as screenwriter, a family that loves me and that I can be proud of, circles upon circles of friends that anybody would be so happy to have, and the promise and potential of even better things to come if I don’t lose my way again.
The HIV situation in the Philippines is scary and bleak. Every month, the numbers get worse — the rate of new infection is getting higher and higher — and no one seems to want to address the true cause of this exponential rise in the problem. What do I think is the true rise of this problem? A lack of education. A lack of education that comes with an understanding of what it means to be accountable and responsible for your actions. There’s a lot of needless risk taking being done and a lot of dismissive attitudes with regards to sex. I can say that honestly because that was me too.
I knew there was HIV and how to prevent it but that didn’t stop me from being reckless with my body and with how I was dealing with people and how I let them deal with me. Regardless of how many times I was warned to use protection if I were to keep up with my lifestyle, I didn’t pay any attention, and allowed people to say, “I don’t want to use a condom.” I still slept with them even if I knew. That comes from a lack of responsibility and a weakness of spirit. I didn’t know I could demand that sort of assurance of my safety.
We don’t teach this to people. We teach them math. We teach them science. We teach them to memorise concepts and formula and how to pass tests but we don’t teach them about making choices and about the severity of these choices. We teach them what they should do and what they shouldn’t do but we forget to teach them why. We tell people “study hard,” “get a job,” “pay your bills,” “don’t cause trouble” but we don’t tell them why. We just say, “If you don’t, it’s bad. You’re a failure.”
“Don’t have sex until you’re married.” No one ever asked kids if they wanted to get married. No one told kids that sex could be fun or meaningful or lovely. They taught us sex leads to pregnancy. What did they ever try to tell the gay kids? Back in the 80s and the 90s, they didn’t even exist in the curriculum. What were they supposed to do when they couldn’t even get married?
And yet, sex sells and it’s everywhere — in the images that we see on television and magazines, in how they sell cars, laundry detergents, fruit juice, and canned tuna — and by this time, we all know people are doing it. They are even trying it out younger than when people first experimented with it back in the 80s and the 90s and yet no one wants to address that in schools or at home.
We are still applying 80s and 90s way of thinking (maybe even older) to a situation that is clearly 2015 in scope and magnitude. We only had our parents and our school and the people that were around us and the books and magazines that we had on hand to inform us about the world. It sounds like a lot, just typing it down, but it wasn’t. Not in 2015 when the Internet has all that information and misinformation available at the other end of a Google search.
Seven years ago, I found out I was HIV positive. When I started to read up on HIV in the Philippines, I discovered there were 6,000 plus people who were registered and living with HIV in the country. In 2015, seven years later, there are now over 25,000 people who are registered and living with HIV. The number has more than quadrupled in seven years. Sure, maybe people are getting themselves tested more often but the growing number, the rise in the rate of infections tell us that people may be taking the test but people are not protecting themselves when they have sex (as over 90% of new infections are due to unprotected sex).
And we still don’t want to talk about it. HIV advocates keep making noise but the powers-that-be, run by conservative thoughts, don’t want to engage the public and the youth about reproductive health because sex is a power that they want control over. They wave the flag of morality over the issue when it has nothing to do with morals but medicine and science. They insist on their beliefs but do not address the fact that not everyone believes what they believe in and are still doing the things behind closed doors, in a dark alleyways, in the privacy of their own homes.
People are getting sick and there’s still no cure in sight. And goodness knows, when that cures comes, it’s probably going to cost an arm and a leg and spleen and half your kidney. This is a world that still runs on money and when people get cured, where’s all that money going to go? It’s a cynical and jaded way to think, and I apologise for it, but that’s money people want, for whatever reason, and they don’t want it to go anywhere else.
Well, not everyone. In the past seven years, I’ve met amazing people in the advocacy who are doing this so that people’s lives can get better and they don’t care about the money. They care about the people.
That’s what we need. We need to care. We need to care about what happens to ourselves and what happens to the people around us. We need to start caring. We need to get informed and make changes. It’s getting worse and we need to start making a difference.
It’s been seven years today since I “died.” It was like getting shot, straight to the heart, the moment the doctor unfolded that piece of paper, took a deep breath, and said, “You’re a positive.” I died at that very moment.
But I’m still here. I’m still alive. And I’ve made changes to my life and I’m trying to inspire changes in the lives of the people around me. If we are going to make a difference, we all have to do this together.