I hate getting HIV tests.
I actually hate all of the blood tests I get. I get one for my liver every six months, which I hate even more, I suppose because the consequences of that coming out poorly are much worse, and there’s not a whole lot I can do to eliminate the chance that what feels like pounds of epilepsy drugs are destroying my liver. I flinch every time I tip my head back and swallow them all.
Part of the reason I sometimes pay $20 at the doctor’s office to get one of these things rather than at the free clinic is so that I can avoid all the survey questions they ask at the free clinic.
Survey guy: “Have you used a condom with every sexual encounter since your last HIV test?”
Me: “Does having one break count as a no?”
“I’ll put down ‘no.'”
I think there’s something ironic about the condoms given out at parades and festivals and the like being the ones that are exposed to sun and heat all day long for weeks at a time. Which that one was.
He moves down to the next section of the form. “Have you had any sexual encounters with men?”
“Oh…” I lean back in the chair, “yeah.”
“Did you engage in receptive anal sex?”
“Would I go to a fancy French restaurant and order a burrito?”
“I’ll put down yes.”
“Put it down twice.”
I look around the office. There’s lots of posters. It feels like there’s piles of lube and condoms where decorative plants should be. I wonder why they’re not also hanging in a basket from the ceiling. I pick up a brochure titled “Myths About Condoms.”
I read the brochure out loud while he fills in boxes I’m not privy to: “Myth #6: Sex feels better without condoms. Fact: Sex with condoms is just as pleasurable as sex without condoms.” I put the brochure down.
“Yeah, I’m not sure about that one either.”
“Who wrote this? Has she had sex before?” I wished there was something more interesting to look at, like copies of National Geographic. I could look at the pictures of the naked women with the drooping titties or the diamond mines or the neck rings and forget that I live in this world.
He finishes checking some boxes. “Are you White, African American, Latino, or other?”
“Is this white in the sense that I’ve gotten all the advantages of looking white?”
“The question doesn’t really go into specifics.”
“Do I have to pick one?”
“Just take your best guess.”
“I’ll put down White.”
I am thankful that I brought something to play with during this conversation, and it’s my favorite thing even, which are rubber bands. I’ve dismembered a lot of paper clips during tedious moments, but comparing paper clips to rubber bands is like comparing Advil to time release morphine.
“I guess I’m fine with White.”
“How old are you?”
“27.” It occurs to me that I’m one of the lowest-risk age brackets, and the fact that I’m seven steps away from the highest suddenly makes me feel old, in a way unlike anything else has. It occurs to me that my preferred name for my generation is also an explanation for our HIV rates, the “When MTV Was Good” generation. I find my moniker far superior to “Generation Y “or Z or some other bastardization of a Douglas Coupland title.
“Have you had sex with any transgender women, that is, people who were born men but now identify as or look like women?”
“Finally an easy one. No.”
“Have you had sex with any transgender men?”
“Umm… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I mean, I never asked. Is that something people ask?”
“You would probably know.” He stared at me.
“I’ve never asked someone to wait for the gel electrophoresis results before I stuck my dick in their mouth.”
“I’ll put down no.”
“I guess that explains all the micro-pipettes I’ve been seeing at the Eagle.”
He filled in some more boxes. “Since your last HIV test, have you had bareback sex after drinking or using drugs?”
“Well I was unfortunately sober enough during that whole condom breaking thing to go into a four-hour Google searching panic. So no.” The edification of said Google panic is that nobody knows the actual statistical likelihood of getting infected from having sex once. “What’s the next question?”
“Again, these are all since your last HIV test. Have you had any anonymous sex?”
“Well that one should be pretty obvious, someone you don’t know.”
“Do you ever really know anyone?”
“No.” I could tell he immediately regretted responding quickly.
“Wouldn’t that make it all anonymous?”
“Well, have you had sex with someone you just met.”
“You know…” he sighed, “you just met them, at a bar or over the internet, and then you have sex.”
“So,” I said, “five or six dates is not anonymous.”
“But sex in the Eagle bathroom with a blindfold on is anonymous.”
“What if they take you to Waffle House first?”
“I’m just going to put down yes.”
“I still feel like I knew him better than my last boyfriend.” I keep snapping the rubber band. “We saw each other again after that. Does that make it not anonymous?”
“Since your last HIV test, have you had sex with anyone you knew to be HIV positive?”
“Did you confirm that all of your partners were negative?”
“I don’t see how it would be possible to know that. I mean even the test you’re giving me now has a thirty day latency.”
“Well, what I tell people is to assume if they haven’t confirmed it is that the person they’re having sex with is positive.”
“I just assume there’s a possibility that they are.”
“Well that’s fine too. So long as you’re taking protective measures.”
“I mean I do, I just had a condom break, so… here I am.”
“Do you want to get tested for other STDs today? The full panel does have a charge.”
“Well my understanding is that the only accurate blood test is for syphilis and hepatitis.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much the case.”
I snapped the rubber band again, and thought back to a conversation I didn’t have a paper clip for. A guy told me that he didn’t have any STD’s and that he just got tested and he said he wanted to know if I was confident that I didn’t have anything:
* * *
“Well,” I said, “technically no.”
“No?” His polo caught the side of his torso as his body twisted, like a sail disconnected from a line.
“Well I got the hepatitis vaccine in high school and I get tested for HIV, but for most STDs if the infection is dormant, you can’t test for it.”
“I dunno dude, maybe we shouldn’t hang out.”
“You realize we’re just making plans for dinner, and even if you had notarized test results from yesterday, and for whatever reason I was so horned up from one date that I wanted to do it, I would still use a condom.”
“Yeah but I don’t think I’m comfortable going out with someone who isn’t sure that they’re, you know, clean.”
“Setting aside my feelings about the word ‘clean,’ I think I would be more justified in worrying about someone who thinks a blood test will identify a surface bacterial infection.” I know things have really started to spiral down the drain when I’m using phrases like “surface bacterial infection”.
“I kind of have a lot of work for school, maybe I should do that instead.” I felt the immediate pang of regret that comes from failing to set more shows to record on the DVR.
* * *
I snapped the rubber band again. I was back in the free clinic. “What did you ask? Sorry, I was zoning out for a minute there.”
“It’s ok. Do you know how to rub the swab around in your mouth and all that?”
“Yeah, I think I got it.”
I took my seat in the waiting room.
I watched twenty minutes of The Mask on the television until the beeper went off.
“Congratulations, you’re negative.”
“Well that’s good. How frequently are you supposed to get these things anyway?”
“The CDC recommends once every 3 months.”
I stepped outside the brick building. It was so bright outside. It reminded me of leaving an East Berlin nightclub at 6am. I wondered if the LabCorp office was still open, and if I had time to go get my liver checked.
Three months. I snapped the rubber band. Three months. I looked out the narrow driveway on the left, and at the endless array of “no parking” signs on the right. Three months. I calculated the date in my head for my return. It was still the fifth of February, 1918.