This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.
(THIS IS PART OF A SERIES, WITH THE STORY OF PAOLO SHARED IN PARTS – ED)
“I felt a sudden jolt after I came/orgasmed inside the person that I was having sex with bareback,” Paolo said. He didn’t look particularly happy; he even had a blank stare.
But he was open about sharing his sexual experiences with me.
Particularly that part in his life, when he used to be a “participant of a small group of HIV-positive straight-acting gays who frequent different places in the metro and engage in different sexual activities.”
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST
“Maybe I’m the type who doesn’t dwell much on problems. I was aware that I will be battling a lifelong endeavor (being HIV-positive), but I didn’t want to think about it to the point that my life would be hindered,” he said.
When his boyfriend at the time broke up with him, right after he regained his strength from the ARV trial period he had to endure, he lived each day as if it was his last.
“I revealed my condition to some friends and they have been very supportive,” Paolo said. His friends were so supportive, in fact, that “we were going out almost every night.”
It was during one of those night outs that he met Red*.
Red is also HIV-positive; he was diagnosed a year later than Paolo. They became fast friends after their first meeting. “There was nothing sexual nor intimate between us. We were just really good friends,” said Paolo, who found solace in the company of Red.
Partying for Paolo meant frequenting the likes of gay bars, including Bed Bar and O Bar. “I was living my life to the fullest; like I’m HIV-free,” Paolo said.
Bar-hopping – according to Paolo – also happened in the likes of Fahrenheit, Palawan, Blue Fairies, and others.
Though Paolo admitted that he was a regular in those establishments, for a while, he went there solely to party. Picking up was not in his mind, as he was “still afraid and very cautious to have sex with another person. I was only doing oral sex that time.”
Soon, though, everything changed.
As shared by Paolo, during one of their “crazy nights” in a bar in Quezon City, “Red and I met a group of good looking and gym-toned straight-acting gays. We had drinks at (this) bar. And after an hour of laughter, we left the club and went to (a bar) in Ortigas,” Paolo recalled.
The night went by like their “regular night outs”. They watched the performances, ordered several bottles of beer, and flirted with different people.
Little did Paolo know that he actually signed up for a different type of fun that night.
“I think it was around 3:00 AM and we were all very tipsy, when one of our newfound friends, Marvin*, started kissing someone he just met on the dance floor,” Paolo narrated. “And then he pulled me closer to them and started rubbing my crotch.”
“Tara, sama ka sa amin (Come join us),” Paolo remembered Marvin saying with a smile.
The three of them left that bar and went to Marvin’s apartment.
“While I was getting head from the guy we picked up from the bar, Marvin positioned himself behind him. He started penetrating him without a condom,” Paolo recounted. “After several minutes, he held the bottom guy closer to him, holding his waist tightly, and shot his load.”
After their encounter, the guy they picked up just got dressed and then immediately left. And while Paolo was fixing himself, Marvin asked if he wanted to grab an early breakfast. He agreed.
Their conversation while eating turned from recounting what happened at Marvin’s apartment to being confrontational.
“’I saw what you took when we were at O Bar, and it wasn’t a party pill!’, Marvin told me. I was silent at first, and then he continued: “It’s okay, don’t worry, pareho lang tayo (we’re the same),” Paolo said.
SHARING “THE GIFT”
From then on, Paolo and Marvin’s group became this close-knit circle that frequented the bars, flirting and picking up random people, and inviting them to go with them for sex.
“It became my routine. I went to those places three to four times a week to meet different people. And I always performed unprotected sex with them. At that time, I thought I was satisfying my ego, that I had the upper hand and in control,” Paolo said, shaking his head.
He also thought “I was sharing the ‘gift’.”
It reached a point where he no longer joined Marvin’s group and just went out to party and pick up on his own.
“Last year was really the height of my inappropriate routine. As people flocked O Bar, for instance, my choices widened. Every time I went there, I always made it a point that I will be bringing someone home. It became very addicting,” he admitted.
And there were times that “after finishing someone, I would go back to bars to pick up someone again.”
Red*, who ended up knowing about Paolo’s “addiction”, tried talking him out of it. Paolo just “refused to respond to his calls and text messages.”
Last March, according to Paolo, when he went to a bar in Ortigas, “I met this really cute guy. He was about the same height as I am, and he had a really good built,” Paolo said.
They shared drinks together and danced to several songs. And like usual, he invited this guy back to his place.
Paolo had unprotected sex with him. But unlike most of the his one-night encounters, this new guy chose to spend the night at his place.
“We had sex three times that night – at all times, I came inside him. The following day, he gave me a call saying that he wanted to have lunch with me,” Paolo recalled.
They met and had lunch together. It was also then that he found out that this new guy really likes him.
“He also confessed to me that he was only 16 years old,” Paolo added.
Paolo paused and lit another cigarette. Suddenly, his phone rang; he excused himself.
He returned, looking apologetic. “Sorry about that. It was the 16-year-old guy I was telling you about,” he said. He lit another cigarette.
And then sitting across me again, he continued: “We started dating after that unfortunate night. I really like him. But at the same time I feel guilty. He is still young and I (may have given) him the disease. I was awakened. I wanted to die after learning that he was only 16 years old. I felt really sorry for myself… that I had to do those things.”
Paolo was misty-eyed while talking; he even rubbed his eye, looking more like wiping his tears. He cleared his throat, and then continued smoking, finishing his cigarette.
“I know that I’m a bad person because I did all those things and it took me a long time to realize that,” Paolo said. “If I could only turn back time, I would not have done all those things.”
He also added that if he would be given a chance, he would talk to all the people that he had unprotected sex with and ask for their forgiveness.
“Some people living with HIV do really go around to spread the ‘gift’,” Paolo said. There are those who “are out there victimizing HIV-negative members of the community.”
Being more aware, Paolo also believes in one’s responsibility over oneself – helped, obviously, with further education that empowers people to protect themselves. “Even if you’re having a fun time, never let your guard down. You should never completely trust anyone when it comes to sex, especially when you are at your most gullible and vulnerable self,” Paolo ended.
*FOR PRIVACY, NAMES WERE CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEE