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Getting Tested for HIV at Orlando Pride

Many things happened last Saturday at Orlando Pride, but in this post, I wanted to share about how I ended up doing something I hadn’t even thought of as a possibility during the festival; getting tested for HIV. My friend Crumpy and his friend New Baldy (both nicknames obviously) mentioned the possibility of getting tested right there, right then. So, I did.

The last time I was tested was the first time I was out in the ’80’s. Back then, to get an accurate test result, you had to wait for 3 to 6 months after the risky behavior. Early on in the pandemic, it seemed like almost everything was risky behavior. Many of us lived in constant fear of AIDS. When you got tested back then, they drew vials of blood and sent them off to be tested in a lab. Then, you waited for what seemed like an eternity (at least several weeks, one time for me it was longer) for the results.

It was always scary to get tested back then because so many people and friends had passed away very quickly after they found out. The first man I ever was “with” in that most intimate of ways passed away from AIDS. He didn’t know he had AIDS until a few weeks before he passed. I can remember, with crystal clarity, the night I found out he had died. I was in a Krystal fast food place after the bar closed and literally broke down in sobbing grief when a mutual friend told me. One, because he, Ron, had died. Secondly, because of our sexual history, I thought for sure I had contracted HIV, too.

Compounding the problem, the religious and cultural stigma of gay men was horrible to begin with. That same systemic bigotry used HIV/AIDS to only make things worse as gay men. It was an incredibly difficult time.

Now, decades later, here I was walking up to a mobile clinic (a fancy truck/van), and everyone was super nonchalant about it. As I walked up a couple of stairs into the mobile clinic, I didn’t show it, but I was genuinely fascinated that this could all be done in a “mobile clinic.” I understood you could give blood in mobile blood donor buses, but had never thought you could do something like this as a mobile testing service AND get the results right there. Amazing. Even so, fascination changed to fear as the doctor introduced himself. My gut turned inside out with a flash of sorrow as long-ago memories and a moment of fear tried to resurface.

Regardless, I sat down in this itty-bitty chair in this itty-bitty mobile clinic doctor’s office, where a very nice doctor with an Indian accent and blue rubber gloves covered all his educational and legal bases. Then he took an itty-bitty pin needle punch type of mechanism and pricked my middle finger. He squeezed out about two drops of blood (instead of two vials.) Then mixed my blood with three itty-bitty solutions (looked like the mixing was done in a particular order) and then he said;

“Mr. Thomas, we got the result as you can see by the one blue dot, you are HIV negative. Did you expect this result? Are you surprised in any way?”

I said that I expected it to be negative. I didn’t go into the fact that the only sexual activity that I have had with another person in 25 years was a guy I dated last year. He and I had deeply honest conversations/preparation so by the time we did come together, we knew neither of us had STD’s and were HIV negative. No, I wasn’t surprised by the result, and yet a part of me was relieved.

Sitting there I was astonished at how simple and fast the test was. It took less than ten minutes; maybe even less than five. When I walked out, I smiled at the youngins’, New Baldy and Crumpy with his new flip fan (I let him have mine that they were giving to people who got tested.) As they chatted on and on, I didn’t say anything to them but I thought how grateful I am that they live in a world where you don’t have to live in fear of being seen to go get tested. I was happy they had mobile clinics with quick results instead of living with high anxiety for weeks or months on test results that were not anywhere near as efficient and accurate as today’s tests.

And as Crumpy and New Baldy laughed and picked on each other for various reasons, I remembered Ron and some of the friends we lost when they were that age. Today, I was glad these young men still take this health issue and process seriously. I also felt peace to know that if any of us did find out we were HIV+, there are many options, resources, and possibilities for living a long and beautiful life like many of my HIV+ friends have.

If you have not been tested, please do.

Being free is good,

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