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Nathaniel David: Finding voice as a poz

Meet Nathaniel David, who tested HIV-positive in 2010. Open about his status, thereby helping give face to HIV, he surprisingly experienced discrimination from other people living with HIV who did not want to be identified with HIV. He continues to hope for the “acceptance of PLHIVs. Dapat pag-usapan ang stigmatization (We need to talk about stigmatization),” he says.

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, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

Sometime in 2009, Nathaniel David had to go to a doctor because of a skin infection. “May zoster ako sa face (I had zoster on my face),” he recalled. It was “getting big, and since I was signed to a local modeling agency, this was affecting my work.”

At that time, the doctor only gave me “something to treat the skin breakouts. Mga ointment, mainly.”

But what he had only worsened, and – in a half-joking manner – he said that “kinain na ng virus ang mukha ko (the virus already ate my face).”

With his worsening situation, Nathaniel eventually added another doctor to check other deemed ailments. A year after he first visited to a doctor, “tatlo na silang naging doktor ko (I already had three doctors).”

None of these three doctors actually had him tested, or even recommended for him to get tested for HIV. Instead, “isa sa kanila, sabi niya, hindi gumagana ang gamot. Mahina daw siguro ang immune system ko (one of them said that my medicines are not working. That maybe my immune system is weak).”

So Nathaniel went online and started searching about “weak immune system”.

Dalawa lang nakikita ko na tugma sa akin (I only saw two situations apt for my situation) – cancer and HIV,” Nataniel said. And then “when I was reading about cancer, sabi ko, ‘Hindi nangyayari sa akin ‘yan (I said, ‘That isn’t happening to me)’.” However, when he was reading about HIV, “sabi ko, ‘Yan ang pinagdadaanan ko (I said, ‘That’s what I’m going through)’.”

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This was also particularly since he was sexually active – and unsafe at that – in the years before then. Having modeled, he said, had its benefits. And being attractive meant being able to “do it with whoever.”

So in 2010, “isang taon makalipas ang unang pag-visit sa doctor (a year after the first visit to the doctor),” Nathaniel had himself tested for HIV. The result, as he expected, was reactive.

Nathaniel admitted being depressed “for months”. He even had suicidal thoughts. One time, while walking past a bridge, he thought of jumping into the river. But “marunong naman ako lumangoy, so hindi ko tinuloy (I know how to swim, so I didn’t jump off the bridge).”

Nathaniel said that “kung may baril ako sa bahay (if I owned a gun at home), I’d have already shot myself.”

He got “over myself eventually,” said Nathaniel, who was also helped by the Foursquare Gospel Church, whose members “accepted me”; as well as a local HIV-centric organization, whose members “showed me I’m not the only one with HIV”.

And so, soon, he started taking his ARVs and started getting better. But by then, HIV already left an indelible mark on his face, and he could no longer return to his modeling career. Looking wistful, Nathaniel said: “Kung nakita mo lang ano ang itsura ko noon (If you could have seen me as I looked then)…”

There was a shift in him, though, as a person. As he started getting physically better, he also started becoming emotionally stronger. As early as 2011, around a year after his diagnosis, Nathaniel already wanted to publicly come out, thereby giving a human face to HIV.

People close to him (e.g. his mother) know about his status, and they’ve all dealt with it well, Nathaniel said. The surprise for him came from the PLHIV community itself – particularly when Nathaniel finally publicly came out through media interviews.

“They shunned me,” he said. “Ayaw nila ma-associate sa akin (They did not want to be associated with me).” It was like “nahiya silang makita kasama ako (they were ashamed to be seen with me).”

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In a way, Nathaniel said he understood, since “they all thought that to be seen with a person known to be HIV-positive, then they’d all be associated with HIV. Nahihiya sila (They were ashamed).” For Nathaniel, however, being shunned by other PLHIVs was “masakit (painful).”

If it’s any “consolation”, his relationship with the local PLHIV community was eventually mended when – years after Nathaniel came out – that same community that shunned him finally realized the value of having out PLHIVs. Other PLHIVs from Davao City also eventually allowed themselves to be interviewed by the media.

Nathaniel still has issues – e.g. he still gets depressed, such as when he broke up with a partner. But “I cope with life,” he said. The secret, if it can be called that, is in “staying optimistic; at least trying to be optimistic.”

Nathaniel eventually hopes for the “acceptance of PLHIVs. Dapat pag-usapan ang stigmatization (We need to talk about stigmatization),” he said.

For now, though, he wants to help out in further empowering PLHIVs. “Tulungan ang isa’t isa (Help each other),” Nathaniel ended.

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