This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 as a move eyed 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 email@example.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.
Prior to taking an HIV antibody test, Jake* recalled having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) “which I had for months, and there was a time when it got so uncomfortable that I sought a doctor,” he said. Right after the doctor diagnosed what Jake had as STI, he immediately recommended for him to also take the HIV antibody test, and “so I got tested right after that consultation”.
The test result came back positive.
Jake was, at that time, in his early 20s.
Initially, “I was shocked,” he recalled. It was “as if time stopped – I could not even listen to what the HIV counselors were saying during the post-test counseling.”
Jake thinks he somehow knows how he got infected. “I have some suspects (in mind),” he said. “I did disclose my status to (my sexual partners) through SMS, but I didn’t get any response from them.” He takes this as some sort of confirmation “that they have it too”, even if the intention is also “for them to voluntarily submit themselves for testing.”
Jake’s family found out about his status somewhat accidentally. Several weeks after he was diagnosed to be HIV positive, his mother – who he said is fond of doing random inspections with his things – saw the confirmatory test result. She, therefore, confronted him about it, and “so I disclosed my status, at the same time that I disclosed to my parents that I am a homosexual”.
That it didn’t end up as well as he wanted it to goes without saying.
“At first, stigma and discrimination were there, and it even started within my family,” Jake recalled. His mother actually imposed for him to have his own eating utensils when he dined at home. His uncle, meanwhile, sent him away, separate from everyone, to live on his own in a detached apartment for about two months.
“It was quite a nightmare,” Jake said, “and I think nobody deserved to be treated like that.”
Now, though, he waxes positive – having learned from what he went through.
“That stigma and discrimination (that I experienced) molded me to become the better person I am now.”
In fact, “being a person living with HIV made me strong and determined. And it made me appreciate life more; I became optimistic with, and in life.”
Jake’s family – with the members eventually coming to terms with what happened to him – is now somewhat supportive of him. And so his family is a major source of support that keeps Jake going, as well as “my friends, those in the HIV-positive community, and from all the people who I have reached and who believe in me,” he said.
All the same, “every day is a challenge for me. Every day I am faced with different problems,” he admitted. He remains optimistic, all the same, that “as long as I am holding on to what I believe in and remain firm with my decisions, then the impossible is possible.”
While Jake’s CD4 count remains above 350, so that he still is not on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, he believes “I am ready for it”.
And how does he feel about disclosing his status to others?
“Disclosure gives me a sense of fulfillment. I don’t only do it because someone tells me to do so, but I’m doing it for myself and because I feel the passion to do it. I see disclosure as a means of reaching out to people, educating them, empowering them, and also to encourage them to be an advocate of change,” he said.
As an HIV-positive person, the best lesson that Jake said he can teach others (whether they are HIV-positive or -negative) is “”never to do the same mistake again. You know yourself better than anyone, so be responsible, protect yourself and your partner, get tested when in doubt, and know the facts about HIV.”
*NAME CHANGED, AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEE