By Linda Kokenge
I took an HIV test on October 4, 2011, four days before my 28th birthday. A week or so prior, I decided that I needed to accomplish three things in my life: get a job, move into my own apartment, and take an HIV test. The first two things were relatively easy to accomplish. It was taking the test that scared me.
A little background on why I decided to take an HIV test. I was black-out drunk when I met the man that I eventually called my boyfriend, who I’ll call Ronald. I had gone out earlier in the night with a close friend, but ended up stumbling home alone after drinking a few too many whiskies. It was during my walk home that he and I met. What followed next is hazy; I can only recall bits and pieces of the evening. The one thing that I know for sure, though, is that I had unprotected sex with him that night.
As I would later find out, in 2008 Ronald had unprotected sex with a woman who was HIV-positive. When he finally told me, I was devastated. I felt overwhelmed with thoughts of my own future and scared that I couldn’t trust him. Even though he claimed to be HIV-negative, thoughts about being HIV-positive were always in the back of my mind. When I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to take the test for myself, I had a long conversation with my sister and called Planned Parenthood to schedule an appointment.
It’s hard for me to describe the feelings of gratitude I have for the women working at Planned Parenthood. As I walked into the waiting room, the two women at the front desk recognized my feelings of anxiety, and were extremely professional when answering my questions. I immediately felt calm and more in control of the situation; I felt like I was in a safe space. These feelings of safety and support remained, even after I left an hour and a half later with my test result. Which, by the way, was negative.
I decided to tell my story for a number of reasons. Of all the emotions that I experienced while waiting for my test results, the feelings of guilt and fear created by the stigma surrounding HIV were the hardest to deal with. This needs to change. Accurate and real world accounts of people living with HIV should be accessible to young adults as they make decide to become sexually active. In order to be effective, these accounts must be based on facts and experience, not fear.
Along with the stress caused by social stigmas surrounding the virus, the stereotypes and misconceptions that are associated with taking an HIV test need to be addressed. I was terrified to tell my loved ones and felt ashamed when I finally told my sister. No one should deal with the anxiety of taking an HIV test alone, especially when the source of those feelings is deeply rooted in misinformation.
If you have never taken an HIV test and feel like there may be a possibility that you have the virus, go take the test. Find a Planned Parenthood in your area. Surround yourself with people who care about you and do whatever you need to do to get there. The anxiety that you are feeling now is far worse than knowing the truth. Whatever the result may be.
About the author: Linda Michelle Kokenge currently writes about feminism and social justice from her one bedroom apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio. A lover of dialogue and doomed sociologist, she hopes to someday start an after school program that puts critical theory to practice. You can find her on Twitter @feministeyeview or on her slightly neglected blog, Feminist Eye View.