HOUSTON VOICE www.houslonvoice.com
JUNE 25. 2004 13
Oillt STEPHEN FALLON
Despite new oral tests and rapid results,
HIV testing is still a horrible experience
full of fear and shame. As well it should be.
Why it's OK to
hate HIV tests
OLD-TIME HIV TESTERS LIKE ME TELL
war stories about the bad old days. Back
then getting a test meant scheduling an
appointment weeks in advance, driving to
some musty facility far away, getting
grilled by overworked counselors, and
ringing the clinic's phones for weeks trying to pick up lab results that were almost
always late, lost, or unavailable.
These days, with the Centers for
Disease Control & Prevention pushing to
ft MORE INFO
HIV National Testing Day
To find a testing site:
get all at-risk people tested, it's a whole
different scene. But the experience of
going through HIV testing is still pretty
horrible, just as it should be.
The government has managed to shake
free a bit of money, so now most testing
sites have enough staff members to handle walk-ins. The tests have improved, too.
Alarming false-positive results, once common, only occur in 0.0000005 percent of
tests, and the Western Blot rules out even
those few mistakes.
The newer tests have also shortened
the "window period," that lag time when a
recently infected person might get a false
HIV-negative test result. Generally, a test
conducted three to four weeks after taking
a risk gives you good idea of your status,
while a test conducted at least three
months after your last risk behavior
approaches 100-percent accuracy.
EVEN BETTER, THESE DAYS YOU CAN
customize your HIV testing experience.
Scared of needles? A special oral swab
is just as reliable as a blood draw test, and
available at most clinics.
Can't wait weeks for results? Last
year's new rapid test yields very accurate
results from a finger prick in just 20-40
minutes. Some clinics even offer this test
in an oral form.
While convenience and technology have
lowered some barriers to testing, there's still
no escaping the gut-churning anxiety that
an HIV test triggers. Don't let any cheerful
slogans convince you that testing isn't scary
During the time it takes you to drive to
your rapid test appointment, or to wait for
your standard HIV test results, you will
almost certainly feel each of these emotions:
Scared: Even though medications have
helped positive people live longer, HIV is
still a serious condition. People living
with HIV suffer a variety of ills caused by
the virus and the meds that fight it.
Ailments include fatigue, diarrhea,
nausea, high cholesterol, depression, vomiting, loss of sex drive, liver problems,
nerve problems, muscle loss, fat loss or fat
build up in strange places, and more.
Worse yet, nearly 17,000 people still die
each year of AIDS related conditions in the
Ashamed: We spent the 1980s and
1990s educating ignorant politicians and
ministers that HIV is not "God's judg
ment." It's just a stupid virus that will
invade anyone if the opportunity is there.
While there's no moral shame in
becoming HIV infected, most everyone
feels hugely embarrassed when they think
they might have caught HIV.
Angry: Your mind will faithfully replay
scenes of every risky fling or impulsive night
of unprotected sex you've had since your last
test. If you fear that one of these encounters
might have infected you, you'll quickly conclude that the sex wasn't worth the possible
outcome. You might become angry with the
other guy for coercing you into risky sex, or
mad at yourself for allowing it.
SO WHY WOULD ANYONE PUT HIMSELF
through that experience of HIV testing?
The enemy is invisible and persistent. HIV
sneaks in when we let our guard down.
It's easy to discount your own personal
risk of infection, or the seriousness of
HIV disease that could await you. That is,
it's easy until the cold certainty of a lab
result hangs over your head, and you find
yourself whirling through the abyss of
horrible emotions I just described.
HIV testing is supposed to be horrifting. In
the old movie "A League of Their Own." Tom
Hanks played an irascible baseball coach.
When a player whined that the game was too
hard. Hanks snapped back. "It's supposed to
be hard. It's the hard that makes it good."
Stephen Fallon, Ph.D., runs a Florida-based
consulting firm and can be reached at
Oillt ANGELA MOFFITT
I am happily single with no plans to marry,
and I see issues more important to black gays.
Why should I care about same-sex marriage?
Picking sides on
AS A SAME-GENDER-LOVING WOMAN OF
African descent, who is proud of my African
heritage and unapologetic about my sexual
orientation, I Find that sometimes these two
categories of identity clash.
If ever there were an issue that so powerfully probed the intersection of the multiple identities of race, class, gender and
sexual orientation, it has been the recent
controversy over same-sex marriage.
When the issue of same-sex marriage
dominated the media, my reaction has
been that this is nol my issue. This is a
fight primarily led by gay, upper class
white men. The masses of black people
are forced to negotiate basic survival
needs before we can address the issue of
gay marriage. How dare they attempt to
equate gay rights with civil rights.
I was happily single with no intentions
of marrying in the foreseeable future.
More importantly, as a conscious African
clear that combating black racism is a categorically different animal than combating
homophobia, I was deeply i iffended at the
attempted equation of the two struggles.
I WAS BORN BLACK. I CHOOSE TO BE
lesbian. My beautiful black skin is an
immutable characteristic, over which I
had no control. My sexual orientation is a
sexual preference, which I may elect to
conceal when it suits me.
Racism attempts to posit that I am an inferior human being. Homophobia seeks to posit
that I am an immoral human being.
I was elected in March co-president of a
New York-based political club of gay people of color that had recently signed on to
co-sponsor a news conference where black
LGBT leaders would affirm their support
for same-sex marriage, despite polls that
found the overwhelming majority of black
Americans were opposed.
On the night of my election, I fully
intended to assert some reason not to
attend that news conference. Our guest
speaker for the evening was Phil Reed, the
only openly gay male on the New York
City Council and an African American.
He had been expected to talk about his
run for Manhattan borough president, but
as one of the lead sponsors of the imminent news conference, he opted to speak
primarily on same-sex marriage.
He asked us on what side of history do
we, as LGBT people of color, want to be on
the issue'of same-sex marriage. That
question gave me pause.
SIX DAYS LATER, ON A SUNDAY
afternoon, I was standing on the steps of
City Hall at the news conference. Among
the speakers, the one who had the greatest impact upon me did not have a marquee name. Regrettably, I don't remember her name.
She was a butch-looking lesbian accom
panied by her femme-looking lover, who
lovingly stroked her back as she
addressed the crowd. She introduced herself and her "wife," which drew a cheer. I
was nearly moved to tears.
Later I heard a radio commentary by
noted civil rights attorney Connie Rice on
the subject of same-sex marriage. She
argued that black Americans, rather than
demand a monopoly on the term "civil
rights," should take pride that oppressed
peoples all over the world look upon our
civil rights struggles as a model to be
emulated. What an empowering way to
approach the subject.
I now embrace the growing trend to
use terms such as "black civil rights" or
"black civil rights struggle," so as to
acknowledge the uniqueness of the
struggle for equal rights by black
Americans, but to concede the point that
African Americans do not have a monopoly on "civil rights."
I have undergone a transformation on
the issue of same-sex marriage. While 1
am still not inclined to equate the struggle
for gay rights with the struggle for black
civil rights, I no longer take the position
that same-sex marriage is not my issue.
Angela J. Moffitt is an attorney living in
New York and co-president of the Out
People of Color Political Action Club and a board
member of Black Pride NYC, Inc. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org