Friday, June 17, 2011

My 1st brush with discrimination

The discrimination I am talking about here is not at me but against another person living with HIV (PLHIV) . I don't know who the PLHIV is but I felt bad and I had to go to his defense without giving rise to suspicions that I am a PLHIV too.

Here's the story:

Thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with a male friend (let's call him Mr. Big - feeling like Carrie Bradshaw of SATC hehe) after a long time. We first met through a gay social networking website several years ago and for awhile, there was something romantic that went on between us but it fizzled when we lost touch with each other. Anyway, he saw my comment on a post of a common friend (let's call him Chinky Eyes) that we had in Facebook and Mr. Big sent me a private message. When I saw Mr. Big's profile picture, I told myself this guy looks very familiar until I added him up as a friend and saw his other photos. It was then I remembered who he was.

In our chat, Mr. Big and I updated each other on what has happened since the last time we met and what have we been up to. During the course of our conversation, Mr. Big mentioned that he joined an outdoor activity group in one of its out-of-town activities upon the invitation of Chinky Eyes, who was a member of that group. He didn't join the succeeding activities because he found some members of the group "wishy-washy" (I don't exactly know what he meant by that) and that one member of the group was HIV-positive. From the way he said it, it seemed like he found it gross to be with a PLHIV. He also also didn't want to be part of the group anymore because he was afraid that they might engage in drug sessions using injectibles with the PLHIV joining in as well (an unfair presumption, I must say). So I asked him how did he know the status of that group member concerned. He got it from three independent sources and all pointed to the same guy as a PLHIV. To quote, he also said the guy "had the look (of a PLHIV) and the skin tone." I told myself Mr. Big needs to be educated well about HIV and AIDS because you can never tell if someone is a PLHIV based on looks and skin tone alone - sigh. I felt sorry for the unidentified PLHIV and told Mr. Big that his sources committed a violation of Republic Act (RA) 8504 by identifying him and even revealing the status. Mr Big said the PLHIV still engages in casual sex (he is unsure if the PLHIV does it safely) because the PLHIV has an account in a gay cruise/hookup site.

I changed the topic as I already felt awkward but inside me, it was a scary thought that the PLHIV concerned may still be engaging in unsafe sex. I must admit that I still hear of some irresponsible PLHIVs who do so, with nary a concern for those they have sex with. I also felt utter disappointment at Mr. Big and his attitude toward PLHIVs. Then I wondered.... would Mr. Big still keep in touch with me again (after several years of silence between us) if he knew I was a PLHIV too? Your guess is as good as mine.

A letter of concern and support

I have been a subscriber of the Manila Gay Guy blogsite ( authored by Migs. It's a well-known blog where Migs writes about gay issues and stories. He also dishes out advice to letter-senders who seek his counsel on same-sex relationship, love and other matters.

I wrote Migs a letter in reaction to his post regarding young gay men "who are dropping like flies", presumably due to HIV-related complications/ailments. I used the pseudonym "Aries". I am reprinting my letter and Migs' reply, which were posted in Migs' blog last May 29.


Hello Migs.

First off, let me say that I had long been contemplating on writing to you but I always catch myself foregoing the decision for one reason or another. But your latest entry about young gay guys “dropping like flies” (if I presumed correctly – due to HIV-related complications) had pushed me to finally write this letter to you and I truly appreciate the concern you have shown about the growing HIV situation in the country by promoting safe sex, taking the test, and posting the names of clinics where HIV tests are done for free. I am a HIV-positive mature gay guy living and working in one of the cities in Metro Manila. I learned about my status late March last year after I took a rapid HIV test in a government clinic in the metro, along with my male partner of more than 2 years now, who is 10 years my junior. I received confirmation of my status almost two weeks after that initial test. My partner tested negative and still is. We are a classic example of a sero-discordant couple. I am thankful he came out negative when we both took the rapid test, considering that when I learned about my HIV status, we were already more than a year into our relationship and had engaged in unprotected sex during the early months of our affair. My partner has stuck it out with me despite knowing about my status. He didn’t ask me as to whom did I get it and how. Right at that moment after he was told by the nurse-counselor about my status, he just held my hand tightly and comforted me. On our way out of the clinic, he hugged me tight even as he put a brave front. We both decided to proceed to church where both of us poured out our emotions. As I write this, I am teary-eyed as I recall the events on that fateful day last year.

At present, I am doing very well, largely thanks to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment since my CD4 count was already below the threshold when it was measured in late April last year. My partner is very protective of me, particularly when it comes to my health. He sees to it that I take my vitamins and ARVs on time. I have also been working out to keep myself as fit as possible. After learning of my status, I have decided to embark on HIV and AIDS advocacy work, aside from my regular job, by counseling newly-diagnosed young persons living with HIV (PLHIV) via online or face-to-face, particularly on how to cope with it and what to expect. I also join online discussions on HIV and AIDS to spread awareness of those two issues.

As I mentioned earlier, the reason why I decided to write to you is because I am saddened by the spate of HIV-related deaths among young gay men. I have known of already five deaths and I am deeply saddened by it. The common denominator of those deaths is: late diagnosis. They were clinical AIDS cases and the complications were already so serious that it was too late to save them. The earlier a person knows his status, especially if he is positive, the better are his chances of coping with it well and even living up to his 50s and 60s,.

You are a well-known personality in the blogosphere and it is my hope that you will continue to help spread awareness of HIV and AIDS. A news report I came across recently said the health department had warned that 45,000 Filipinos would be infected with HIV by the year 2016 unless drastic steps are taken by both the public and private sectors to aggressively spread awareness of HIV and AIDS and promote safe sex and other means to stop the health menace from worsening. The health department, non-government groups (NGOs) catering to PLHIVs, and advocates like me can only do so much to keep the HIV and AIDS situation at bay. Everybody – regardless of sexual orientation – has to pitch in the campaign.

Thank you once again for your concern and more power to you.


* * *

Dear Aries,

It is my pleasure to publish your letter here. I can feel your overflowing generosity and desire to reach out to our community. I particularly liked your letter because it shows that HIV can be a non-issue between partners. As the original song by Nar Cabico says (dedicated to HIV poz friends), “you can still love, and yes BE LOVED.”

One of our regular readers here is Jake who is also HIV-positive and has embarked on an advocacy to help more and more people get educated and tested. It is my honor to connect you two. His email address is, please reach out to him.

I send you positive thoughts and wishes of well-being. I am so touched by your partner’s love and loyalty to you — hugs to you both! May you and your partner be blessed with vibrant health and many, many happy years together. World Peace!