A hesitant yes, but a yes. At least once a year, I make it a point to enlighten myself by asking my gynecologist for a full screening for sexually transmitted infections, including an HIV test. When I lost my virginity — It was over and done with before I could utter any questions about using protection.
There was time the condom slipped off — it happens. Or at least it did that one time. I knew better than to trust these hoes with my sexual health. There was the spontaneous Halloween makeup sex in the back of a minivan with a guy I was kinda in a relationship with.
This lapse in judgement happened to overlap with my period deciding to be six weeks late and my new gyno calling to tell me my IUD might have shifted and might not be effective.
After two intravaginal ultrasounds and a negative pregnancy test it was determined that, LOL, my IUD was actually where it was supposed to be all along.
I worried that doing the PSA would make me a hypocrite. I was someone who was tired of always being the enforcer in the bedroom. It made me feel like a finger-wagging mom-type: I mean most of us sat in the same weak-ass, fear-based Sex Ed class in high school. Black women represent one of the fastest growing demographics for new HIV cases. When consensual sex is the bare minimum, asking for anything more can feel like a luxury in your 20s.
I was asked to choose a location that somehow spoke to my being a writer. We settled on an office I work out of a few times a week with large windows that allow for ample sunlight. I faked typing a few sentences and looked intently at the gibberish on the screen of my laptop as if it were of great importance. I write for the LEO , an alt-weekly, so we spread around on the table a few copies of an issue with my face on the cover.
The head of the production crew had said my name was suggested for this PSA for two reasons: I gave her a third: Me neither, before I stumbled across that information on Twitter, in I liked this doctor because he was particularly generous with the freebie birth control samples. This was a time before the Obamacare mandate that health insurance providers cover the cost of birth control.
No, this one had cozy chairs and only the most recent glossies on deck. In the exam room, there were soft cloth garments to slip into and velour booties over the metal stirrups. The window in the exam room looked out onto jungle-like foliage instead of hot parking lot pavement. All this grandeur put me at ease. I was relaxed and still overly trusting of medical professionals.
That particular visit, as my gyno gave me my annual pap smear, we gabbed about my job and then somehow we got onto celebrities. I laughed when my doc said he could never be one.
The lobby was drab and overcrowded. The clinic was so overbooked the receptionist told me you just had to show up and wait all day to be seen based on urgency.
Who had time for that? The doctor was dismissive of my health concerns and behaved more like a sullen teenager working the ticket counter at a movie theater than a highly trained professional. Most likely the stat was pulled from a Washington Post piece that was already several years old. This ignorance is not for lack of medical access on my part. I saw a gynecologist for the first time at 14 because of a period that left me wailing in pain.
No doctor has ever initiated a conversation with me about fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome PCOS , or endometriosis. It happened shortly after seeing that tweet. I knew I had to get tested. My risk level felt high. I needed to find a place that did swab tests and where no one knew me. I found a clinic in Long Beach. A clinic counselor led me back to his office. There he asked me several questions about my sexual history and mental health.
I talked and talked into the camera until I found the right way to say that no matter the outcome, knowing your status matters. The counselor appeared used to this response. It felt like societally sponsored shame. Straight privilege had cast this veil that, for the most part, protected my dating life from judgment and hatred.
To admit otherwise would be to reveal your humanity and the humanity of those on the other side of the veil. The veil is stitched from lies that to be gay is wrong, that to be gay is to be promiscuous, that to be promiscuous is to be deserving of sickness and death.
It requires a cultural shift away from the stigma that has allowed the HIV epidemic to take the lives of , people over the past three decades. These thoughts were on my mind while filming the PSA. But in the present I could make the right choice, the responsible choice, and get tested.
I now have people in my life who are HIV-positive. They went to college, they have careers they can be proud of, some are in relationships with loving people. Knowing just puts you in a better position for making life decisions. There are mere seconds of me spliced in with other faces you might know from around town. The commercial probably runs between ads for car dealerships with salesmen screaming at you like a carnival barker — Step right up and get yourself into a new or used Honda Accord!
It has that soft, washed out, sun-faded newspaper look most local TV commercials have. And that more of us will find the power in knowing — the power to make informed choices about our health and our lives. Listen to our interview with Minda Honey on the Longreads Podcast here: She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.