More than 24 hours have passed and still everyone talk about the famous line that was "walang wang-wang, walang counterflow, walang tong". It seemed as if the whole nation was swayed by another wave of promises, that hopefully (I place my bet on this) will put a more serious tone towards real change in governance. I am a G1BO supporter, but I have to admit I was touched by Noynoy's inaugural speech.
Ok, this is not what I really wanted to write all along.
A certain acquaintance had just announced to the world that one of his friends was tested positive with HIV.
Consequently an upsetting feeling of sadness ensued. And with as fast as how Lady GaGa can re-invent herself with another gorgeously-garish outfit, friends started to throw in their responses. Me included. Some of the responses were more proactive, others took a conservative approach. But at the back of my mind, I started to think that everyone may be thinking to themselves, "well, may magagawa pa ba ako sa taong yun?"
Thing is, this acquaintance of mine is a well-known guy. He's an outspoken activist and a knowledgeable historian; a self-professed Manilaphile. I can personally attest to his awesome cool. And then came that tweet from him this afternoon.
Now I could probably bear his not-so-conventional ways of provoking thoughts to people...from angst-ridden political tirades to random bursts of the word fuck. I mean, yeah, a lot of people have been swearing fuck on their shoutouts nowadays. I realized, given the frequency and the prominence of such matters, you can always swear a lot without any linger of guilt, or fear of derision. And with that realization, came another. I realized we may also have gone this far with the issue of HIV.
Two years before I was born, a certain Dr. Luc Montagnier discovered the virus that causes the disease. The world was put in a state of shock when the medical study was published. And along with that shock came fear, discrimination, denial. Fastforward 29 years to today, the words "HIV" and "AIDS" are whacked to our heads everyday that we don't even feel the shock value anymore.
I suppose that's how so many people think about the issue of HIV today. Take out the people who actually don't know much about the disease, and you'll come up with a statistic of billions of people who know about how he/she can contract the virus. Take out the people who were educated about the real score, and you'll come up with another statistic of billions of people who just don't give a fuck about the real score. This is, at the back of my head, is what people see today about this kind of tragedy.
Almost 5500 people die of AIDS everyday, according to the 2008 report from USAID. If this report was published back in 1981, it'll be at the headlines of every newspaper here in the planet, causing instant panic. But let's say I conduct an experiment today with my friends here in Facebook, where I'll show that very same report to them. Chances are, their initial response would be "well, may magagawa pa ba ako sa mga namatay sa AIDS?"
That got me thinking. Gas-gas na ba ang salitang HIV at AIDS sa pang araw-araw na bokabularyo natin? Has that person who tweeted about his friend's diagnosis got so used to the issue that it has already bordered on normalcy? Not that I am putting this guy in a negative light or anything, but I was just surprised at how casual we've become to tweet something as delicate as a case of HIV infection. I asked myself if it's a good or a bad thing. Is the HIV/AIDS issue already so indifferent, so perfunctory, so lackadaisical that we don't think anything in this world except God can take it away from us? If many people have come up with the definition of "indifference" such as this, I don't wanna know how they define "ignorance".
Unfortunately, the very word "ignorance" perfectly describes the sad and frustrating state of our world today. And when I mean "our" world, it's the world where I am in. The world of us, gay people.
A good friend of mine did a very interesting experiment in a notoriously-famous social networking site for gays, where men can contact other men for sex. He created around 10 bogus user profiles, posing as real users, with pictures of handsome and well-built, gym-toned naked bodies with penises hanging between their legs that are more than 8 inches (you know how everyone can admittedly become size queens, right?). He then tried to message every gay guy on that site - guys with the same features depicted on the pictures of the poser profiles -- with a status message that says "looking for sex". Out of every 10 replies, one will say "no", 2 will say "let's use condoms, please", and 7 will agree to do bareback sex. What's ironic is that those 7 people have the words "always safe sex" written on their profiles.
Incredibly disturbing. That experiment was later published in a school term paper in UP.
What can be inferred from this experiment is that many sexually-active and promiscuous gay men today simply ignore the dangers of unprotected sex, in exchange for thirty minutes of carnal pleasure. But then more thought-provoking questions ensue. What happened to every propaganda... condoms, gay prides, pink advocacies, all that foster and promote safe sex? Has HIV and AIDS become just another virus like the common cold? That AIDS is something we'll be able to cure just as simple as downing a pill of Excedrin? Did the campaigns backfired and made AIDS sound so conventional, even mainstream? Yeah, you can always inform everyone that your neighbor just got the virus. That HIV is on the rise. Did it help curb the rise, though? There's always another case of HIV infection being reported almost everyday.
Did we actually put AIDS in a positive light that it became positive to become positive?
Nowadays, to actually ask someone to use a condom when having sex may sound annoying, even forceful, when that person doesn't feel like using one, and provided they assume the risks. But then you may also ask, why would that person don't want to use a condom at all?
I could derive my own conclusions, drawing from life experiences from people around me, but here's a very noteworthy excerpt from an article about barebacking, published in The Body website. This article explains perfectly well how I feel about those people.
"I don't doubt the validity of these explanations, but I think the answer must lie deeper within the psyche. The emotional need that drives men to bareback must be so powerful that they will literally risk their lives to satisfy it. If you ask me, barebacking is an attempt to escape from the awful sense of isolation that we all experience as human beings. That isolation is perhaps an inevitable consequence of our separate existence as individuals. But it's particularly acute for us gay men, who have grown up in a society hostile to our identity. Having spent so much of our lives on the outside, alienated from members of the majority (straight) culture, we gay men have an intense need to feel truly connected to others like ourselves."
Perhaps after you read the article above, one may think that there are already measures in place, that we're already trying to address the problem. Yes, we already have the gears set in motion. There are individuals and groups of people who are dedicating their time and efforts to fight the misconceptions about HIV and AIDS, more so the disease itself. But I believe most of the strategies applied today by advocates may not be as effective today as it was, two five, or 10 years ago. There is a very complicated web of factors that expose many young people to the disease. Stress, today's lifestyle, misinformation and miseducation, are just some of them. The bigger factor though, is the fact that many homosexual men are still tied to the repressive state of living, either domestically or socially, that unprotected sex has become their means to cope. I can think a lot more of these reasons, but there's just so many to tell.
I believe, more than Malate Gay Pride parties laden with safe sex promotions, and Robin Padilla advertisements (which kinda was an effective push aimed at heterosexuals), groups like The Library Foundation (an LGBT advocacy group campaigning for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention) and the Department of Health must focus on the very underlying causes of why men engage in this unsafe practice. The reasons identified in the article are very compellingly psychological and emotional, and it won't be long before these reasons can implode in our very own world and we may have no way of getting out of it.
Perhaps it's about time we identify and try to understand those very needs of men who resort to bareback sex just to feel a temporal sense of intimacy and union. Perhaps we can tweak our current programs so we can effectively aim at preventing HIV infection, right at the source...and not just giving away free condoms or slapping Youtube videos about safe sex to people we know who are, or who could be sexually promiscuous. Perhaps we can talk it out openly to these people who are in dire need for a feeling of belongingness, whether coming from family, friends, the society, or someone they desire. Perhaps we can actually listen to these people who are looking for answers on questions about their purpose in life - purpose that need not be cut out by this kind tragedy.
Perhaps this is the cure we've been looking for all this time.
Looking back at the younger years of my sexual liberation, I was also exposed to the dangers of meeting guys infected with STDs. Then life took on a different direction -- a grace from a Higher Power and the good news of testing negative back in December last year (the two weeks of waiting for the lab result was the most agonizing time of my life). Nowadays I can say I am fortunate to focus on far more significant matters in life than satisfying worldly delights. But what about those whose lives are still treading the roads leading to the dead-end? What about those people who have yet to find their sense of belongingness in a repressive world? May magagawa ba tayo sa mga taong yun?
A resounding YES.
The reality is this: the virus is here to stay, for now. And as much as I hope that an effective vaccine against HIV will soon be formulated and made available, there's a greater hope for us to take the people out of the miserable, vicious cycle of blinded dissolution and transcendence, and stop the gears that move it. I really do hope.
P.S. Four months ago I wrote a note about my anger towards someone who posted something about what she wants to do with people who have HIV. Now I finally understood why she said it.
~ Joel Aldor
(please click here to see Joel's original FB note. Thank you Anon 1150 for directing me to it.)