As a gay man HIV is something I have been aware of from an early age and is often a subject of conversation between me, my gay friends and sexual partners. Recently I was made aware of the It Starts With Me campaign and HIV Testing Week which aim to promote the opportunity to both test for HIV and encourage others to do so. World HIV Testing Week 2017 – where to get free HIV tests A close friend of mine, who has had multiple HIV tests over the years, was surprised to learn that I myself had never had the test and inspired me to bite the bullet after ensuring me the experience is not something to fear. Although I had decided to take his advice I couldn’t shake myself of the apprehension surrounding going through with an HIV test, and the possibility of a positive result filled me with a sense of dread. I had never been so fearful and curious about something that so many of my close friends were convinced wasn’t a big deal. My preconceptions about HIV testing and people living with HIV had overtaken any rational thought. But the process of getting tested was surprisingly easy. The accessibility The first thing I had to do when arranging my test was to figure out where to actually go and get tested. After a quick Google search and advice from friends I found my nearest HIV testing clinic. I had the option to either book an appointment or attend their weekly walk-in session, and I decided the walk-in session would be best for me. I would advise anyone who is wondering where to find their nearest HIV testing facility to visit the Where to test page on the It Starts With Me campaign website – this brilliant feature shows you exactly where you can carry out your test based on your location. The people The staff were so friendly (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk) I had a preconception that somehow when I arrived for my test I would be ushered quietly into a room, have my test and then swiftly leave – perhaps this was because I considered the whole process something to be embarrassed about, which definitely stems from the unfair stigma surrounding people who live with HIV. The reality of my arrival to the clinic was the exact opposite of what I anticipated. I was greeted by a few different staff members and the waiting room was almost full to capacity, which was both a daunting and pleasant surprise. The staff I encountered couldn’t have been friendlier and I was immediately given all the information about the test I would be doing that day. After a few minutes I was given a form to fill out which asked for personal information and sexual history, which the staff assured me would be kept confidential – they were exceptionally attentive and this was impressive to see given the high volumes of patients waiting to be tested. The information Now onto a more serious aspect of visiting a HIV testing clinic, which is of course the information on offer about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases – which for gay men can sometimes be wishy-washy due to the utter lack of LGBT sexual education on offer in our school system, which I personally find disgraceful and discriminatory. However, there was no shortage of information on sexual health in this clinic. As soon as I took a seat in the waiting room I was inundated with posters, brochures and magazines which all provided extremely useful and easy to understand information about almost every sexual health issue. Although all the information I had received that evening had been fantastic, the most useful and genuinely shocking information I was provided with came when I carried out my actual HIV test. The test No need to be worried (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk) During the short wait before my test I was overcome with a slightly overwhelming sense of fear. Even though I had practiced safe sex all my life it wasn’t enough to silence the small voice in my head asking ‘what if?’ – I found myself planning how I was going to live my life as an HIV positive man, which in hindsight was ridiculous but typical of my tendency to overthink. The test was conducted in a small office-like room. I sat directly opposite the member of staff who was in charge of taking my blood sample who began to talk me through how the test is taken. I’m naturally a fairly awkward person and the idea of discussing my sexual history in detail with a stranger would usually make my stomach turn, however there was something comforting about the experience. After the introduction I held out my hand, a small plastic device was placed over my middle finger and before I could even prepare for any pain it was over. I’d describe the feeling as less painful than getting a tiny thorn stuck in your finger and after the event I felt embarrassed that I had been dreading it. After the test we had five minutes before the results would be made clear and even though the member of staff had assured me I was unlikely to be positive due to the information I shared, I was still slightly nervous, especially since he placed the test out of my view. During the five minutes I was asked about my knowledge of people who live with HIV. I am ashamed to admit that even as an adult my knowledge on the subject can only be described as dire. More: HealthBike brand causes outrage with sexist advertHere’s a calculator for working out how much Tampon Tax you’ve paid throughout your lifeWoman who lost three brothers to Aids speaks out about ordeal Once he was aware of this I was offered a small lesson in what it means to have HIV in modern Britain – and I learned more in those five minutes than the entirety of my school days. A lot of the information I was given during this time was genuinely surprising, but the staff at the clinic were not so surprised that my knowledge was so restricted. They told me that the majority of people who visit are fairly uninformed on some of the most important HIV facts which makes initiatives such as It Starts With Me so important. We ended up chatting so in-depth that for a moment the primary reason I was there actually slipped my mind. It wasn’t until I noticed his eyes linger towards the test that it dawned on me I was about to receive my HIV status. He picked up the test and immediately uttered the words ‘it’s good news, you’re negative’ – an instant sense of relief hijacked my body. The future Although I was relieved my HIV status was confirmed to be negative, I left the clinic with a much more positive outlook on HIV and the people who live with it. I am ashamed to admit that in the past my views of HIV positive people were formed based on fear and ignorance. Speaking with people living with HIV, who gave their own time to both test and inform me, has forever changed my outlook. My views on HIV testing itself have also changed dramatically. The clinic and its staff created an environment that helped people like me rid themselves of a sense of shame or embarrassment surrounding sexual health testing. I have since spoken with friends and other sexual health workers who assure me that my positive experience is something to be expected across the country. I would encourage any person, whether you think you need it or not, to go through with a HIV test and help join the movement in both promoting safe sex and breaking the stigma of HIV.
Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2017/11/20/national-hiv-testing-week-2017-a-gay-mans-first-hiv-test-experience-7079281/?ito=cbshare
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