The ‘chesty cough stuff’ didn’t work and I endured the sore throat for a good few more weeks into the Autumn of 2009. I must have journeyed to the GP at least three times, each visit being told I would be alright and whatever it was causing the cough was just being stubborn and would sort itself out of it’s own accord (spoiler – it didn’t).
During the final trip the term ‘persistent virus’ was used and the cogs started to turn in my mind. Persistent virus; the virus? I lived with the inner turmoil of contemplating a life with HIV along with denial for a number of weeks before heading off to the clinic in late October. I’m glad I was exhibiting an external manifestation of the war playing out in my bloodstream. I sometimes wonder how many more months (and men) would have passed by without a visit to the sexual health clinic without the sensation of a cough or choke brewing in my oesophagus every time I swallowed.
Since the early days of the HIV epidemic one of the public health hurdles has been connecting with people and making them aware of how much at risk they are. Over time this problem has probably got worse rather than better, as equal rights movements have grown in confidence and tenacity. The determination in many of the LGBT community to claim that HIV ‘is not a gay disease’ is just one struggle that needs to be addressed. The distance that some gay men want to put between themselves and HIV has been all too apparent with recent events regarding PrEP, with men wanting to distance themselves from so-called ‘promiscuous’ gay men who have sex with more partners than they believe they do themselves.
Slut and bottom shaming is an unhelpful distraction and only serves to inflate incorrect assumptions namely along the lines of ‘I don’t sleep with many partners as they do = I am not at risk/ I only top = I am not at risk’. Shaming peers and failing to acknowledge the prevalence of HIV amongst men who have sexual relationships with other men is dangerous.
The bastard in my throat pushed me into returning to the clinic and getting checked out. The outcome wasn’t what I was hoping for but it could have saved me from an even bigger spell of ill health than a relentless cough, by the time I received my diagnosis my CD4 count had already taken a battering down to 213, I often wonder what a few more months without medication could have resulted in.
Whether you want to think about you and HIV in the context of risk, behaviours or demographics – know where you fit, know that HIV is a possibility and most importantly, know your status.