Why can’t we be safe?

This morning, I ended up chatting with a friend. He was asking for another friend who had a casual sexual encounter with someone. Drugs were involved and unprotected sex and he was scared that he might have gotten infected with HIV. This person was asking my friend when was the best time to get tested and my friend shot me a message to make sure he was giving the right advice.

This lead to a longer conversation about HIV and the LGBT community and the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Speaking at the Candlelight Ceremony 2009

When I spoke at the Candlelight Ceremony at Quezon City Circle in 2009. How many times must I tell my story before people realise that we are all at risk?

I expressed my frustration. How I was feeling so helpless because I couldn’t seem to figure out how to get people to learn, to care about themselves and about everyone around them.

This is not the first time I’ve been contacted asking for similar advice. Some were friends, some were strangers, some asked for others, some asked for themselves, and the conditions were all similar in one form or another. And I know these encounters myself as I was a party to many of them in the past, which got me here in the first place. At the time, no one was talking about HIV the way were talking about it now. I’m not absolving myself of my participation in my getting infected but I can pinpoint the reason for my carelessness and recklessness.

These people, now, who get so frightened about having caught it because they got sick a week or two after a casual unsafe sexual encounter; what can be the reason that they were reckless and careless with their own bodies with all the reports going on about the rise in HIV infections? I can claim ignorance because it wasn’t so prevalent in the public sphere back in 2004 to 2006 when I was at my most sexually active. But as the HIV infections began to rise to over a hundred people every month beginning sometime in 2009 and 2010, what are their excuses?

That friend of my friend who was asking about when was the best time to take the test, apparently, he doesn’t even know the real name of that person he slept with. He took drugs and had unprotected sex with a person he really didn’t know. How can I judge? I may never have slept with someone and took drugs, but what does it say about me when I slept with people absolutely sober and still didn’t use protection? I can’t judge. But in this day and age and all that’s going on right now, how could anyone allow themselves to be in that situation?

I really don’t get it.

A Call to Action

I’ve been struggling, for a long time — having to keep answering calls and messages from strangers in social media and seeing so much hyper sexuality online — to call out the LGBT community for fostering an over-sexualised community. On Twitter alone, there are so many alter accounts of gay people looking for hook ups, engaged in sharing videos of sex and/or masturbation, and cheering people on for their sexual conquests. For every one or two accounts that advocate for safety, there are three or four accounts who don’t and brag about the different sexual experiences they’ve had.

And I know it’s not right to be sex-negative and that we should be more encouraging for positive sexual expressions because the Philippines has such a twisted and antiquated idea of what sex is, mostly informed by an extreme conservative view (i.e. fundamental and extreme Christian/Catholic ideology). Being sex-negative and having a closed mind about sex is one of the reasons why people are afraid to talk about it openly, why people still blush or giggle when confronted with real-life stories and issues about sex, and why there’s so much stigma and discrimination.

It’s why we have so many hurdles when trying to inform people about HIV prevention because we have a ton of layers of guilt and ignorance and misconceptions about sex that we have to get through first before we can start having a mature conversation about it. Over 90% of HIV transmissions in the country is due to unprotected, unsafe sex and so it must be addressed. This is not a question about morals or good and bad but it is a medical issue and, more than anything, it’s biology. People have sex. Some people want it more than others. Some people want it a particular way. And as long as it is consensual and no one gets hurt, people should be free to express and explore how they feel sexually without any form of judgment.

That’s what I believe.

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At a press conference with Ifugao District Representative Teddy Baguilat, Nenita Dalde of PLCPD, Bai Bagasao of UNAIDS on continuing to keep the discussion on HIV and rising number of cases in the press to raise awareness and push for stronger reforms and behaviour change

But when people’s lives are in danger because there is a hyper sexuality occurring in society — in the gay community, for example — and it is cheered on without necessary information and a certain value system being passed along then it becomes a problem. The value system I’m talking about is protecting yourself and your partner physically and emotionally. If we have a community that lauds a person’s sexual prowess/conquest without calling him or her out for how badly they might be treating their partners, then we become what the anti-LGBT people say we are.

If we continue to not call out the people who enjoy sex without condoms in this day and age when we have 600+ new infections every month or people who record other people’s sexual activities without their consent, then we have placed sex over our humanity. When we actively share scandal videos and private videos of people without their consent or approval or sleep with people who are in a relationship with someone else, or the worst in my mind, to sleep with someone when you have HIV and you didn’t use protection or tell the other person that you have it, then we lose your right to be called a decent human being.

I don’t want to be sex-negative but I have a serious issue about hyper sexuality and how we don’t police ourselves and our actions which lead to people getting hurt.

We have to ask ourselves why we keep having unsafe sexual encounters and why it is so important for us to risk our lives in such a manner? We have to start asking why is sex more important than being safe? Because it’s not just about HIV, but how safe can you be in a room with a person you don’t even really know? How safe can you be when you are on the influence of drugs and you put yourself in that vulnerable situation?

Is the transient, momentary feeling of joy that you get worth all the fear that comes afterwards? And if you do happen to test positive or you get hurt because you were with someone who didn’t know what he wanted was hurtful to you, was it worth it then? And will you wait until you get hurt before you realise that you are putting yourself in so much danger.

It’s Easy For Me To Say

And it’s easy for me to say all these things because I am no longer sexually active. And it’s hypocritical for me to ask these questions so violently because I was sexually active for a long time in my twenties, sleeping with multiple partners with a large portion of them unprotected. I learned the hard way all these things I now hold so highly: these values I’m preaching about.

How do I say these things knowing that these are not my problems? I don’t understand what’s going out there or what’s in the minds of the people who do these things. It’s easy for me to say because I already know I’m HIV positive. I’ve already failed in my duty to protect myself from my own recklessness.

And I know how dangerous these thoughts can be when we are struggling to fight for our rights as a community. I had these thoughts for over two years now but I kept silent because I didn’t want to put the community in a bad light while we are still fighting for equality. But I’m so exhausted and I’ve run out of ideas on how to reach out to people.

Be Safe

Safety comes in many forms. But it is also a mindset, a way of thinking and a way of life. (Image taken from an episode of Storyline by Paolo Villaluna and Patricia Evangelista)

I’ve always been about telling people to love themselves; that love is the key. That’s been my message. Love yourself and don’t allow yourself to be at risk. It’s in your control. Don’t put others at risk. Protect yourself and protect your partner. It’s a simple request.

It’s not coming through.

Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve never had a sexual encounter where the person I was sleeping with did not know my status and I made sure that he was still okay with it. And I always defined the parameters of what our relationship was going to be — just a one-night stand or just friends with benefits — so that he doesn’t expect anything more than what was being offered. I was being mindful of their physical and their emotional state. Because a relationship, even a casual encounter, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

Isn’t that all that we want from the world? To be treated with respect and to have our dignity? And so I’ve worked my ass off since my younger days to earn people’s respect and to keep my dignity.

And people have given it back to me.

I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have been a totally different story for me. Being an adult is so hard. But it is worth it. Knowing that you are going through life not hurting anybody or yourself, that’s a gift right there that you can give yourself.

I don’t know how to get that across. Because for every one person I might be able to reach out to in my talks or by living this life as openly as I can or on a random message through social media, there are 600+ new infections happening every month since last year.

I’m just not working fast enough.

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