Out of the Closet, Nothing to Declare
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
I went back and forth about whether or not I should write this post but I decided that this was a safe space for me to discuss possibly difficult or embarrassing topics and for me to be 100% honest with myself and with whoever may be reading this.
In Boerum Hill, Brooklyn there lies Out of the Closet; a thrift store that also has a free HIV testing centre in the basement. A friend had told me about it and I decided to check it out- the clothes that is… But while I was there this friend urged me to just get tested, so I did. I had nothing to lose really, I knew I didn’t have it but it would be nice just to have peace of mind. Although, while I was sat in the waiting room amongst the second-hand furniture, it dawned on me that, despite having a woman come into school to talk about her experiences living with HIV, I really didn’t know much about it. I had heard about things like PrEP from listening to Jonathan Van Ness’ Getting Curious podcast, and I had seen the epidemic depicted in the media like the POSE series, but my knowledge was limited. If I’m honest, I was a little hazy on the details of how it can spread.
My number had been called. I went in and the guy administering my test gave me a few facts about HIV, including that there had never been a documented case of it being spread through oral so it is highly unlikely to be transmitted that way, which was something that I had no idea about. I’m not sure of whether this is just my ignorance or if others are just as clueless as me… I fear that the former may be the reality. My test came back NEGATIVE. I was pleased but expected this result. He then went on to tell me about a clinic that they open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 5pm that screens for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
I decided to hang around the area until 5 and then return to go to this clinic. If you decide to go, when you enter the vintage shop, go through the red door on your right and take the lift to the 2nd floor. The test was just an oral swab, which the guy that was carrying out mine accidentally called a “swallow”- Freudian slip much… and then a urine sample. In about 5 working days I would receive an email telling me to check my result on my online account. Negative, negative, negative, negatives across the board!
In an attempt to combat my ignorance, I decided to take action and educate myself on the basics and to share it with you guys. I think the first step is to differentiate between HIV and AIDS; HIV is the virus that damages your immune system cells and weakens your body’s ability to fight everyday infections and diseases, whereas AIDS is the name that is given to describe the number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that occur when the virus severely damages the immune system.
HIV is found in bodily fluids (i.e seamen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and even breastmilk- BUT NOT SWEAT OR SALIVA). I think this is where the stigma still lies; it does not only concern homosexuals. While reading up on the virus, I found out that a pregnant mother can even pass it onto her child during pregnancy, at birth or while breastfeeding*. Many assume that because they are heterosexuals, they are incapable of being infected. This is why I am so thankful for my school for bringing in a woman, who contracted the virus from a male sexual partner, to speak about her experiences.
The open and honest conversation was eye-opening for everyone that was in that auditorium as there wasn’t an us and them divide. However, through asking family and friends, this seems to be an isolated case. Many schools seemed to have glazed over the subject of STIs and spoken about the basics of protection and testing, leaving them to have to find out more on their own time. This is dangerous. It’s dangerous because there will still be the belief that ‘this doesn’t concern me’ in those that identify as straight. Proper education on the subject of STIs and human relationships, I believe, should be taught across the country and for it to be effective, they must be inclusive and exhibit diverse types of relationships.
This is why the implementation of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and The No Outsiders project is so important in schools. They are aimed to teach children about the different types of loving relationships there are in the world, the Equality Act 2010 and British values, which I believe is essential to eradicate homophobia and transphobia. Phobias like these only exist due to a lack of understanding and the only cure for this is to teach and learn.
There has been a backlash from religious parents in Birmingham who are protesting against these programmes, citing that education about LGBT experiences and homophobia contradicts the teachings of their respective faiths. Due to these protests and petitions, the lessons have been postponed. I’m sorry but this is ridiculous. Growing up I would have loved to have had lessons like this as part of the curriculum. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so lost and clueless for 21 years of my life. I find it hard to believe that these parents would rather their children be uninformed than be able to be comfortable with themselves and also to be proactive in their safety and know the risks. I believe that religion shouldn’t have an influence on laws, especially as the worldview has progressed since the original texts were written. Education allows us to open our minds and challenge our own perceptions. Why deny a child their right to explore the world in a controlled environment?
*I have only given an overview of HIV and AIDS, but please do read more on this topic on a notable website. I have taken this information from the NHS website and would love to learn more! If you know of any podcasts/articles about HIV, please do leave a link in the comments!